The isolation of parenting overseas & raising children without a sense of "home"

(21 Posts)
thedevilsinthedogstail Sat 03-Sep-11 15:23:03

We have 2 small children and have been out of the UK for 3 yrs or so and have just moved from one european country to another. We were with a lot of english speakers last time but now need to learn the language and oldest child (4 yrs soon) is going to a local nursery.

I am a bit unsettled at present as everything is new. I have started to think about schooling for the children and changes of school (eldest was in a english speaking nursery for a yr and is now in mornings where we are but next yr both of them will go to another one locally that I feel is more suitable - no space until next yr).

DH moved as a child - 4 when he left South Africa then somewhere else for a couple of yrs, then the UK for 4 yrs or so then somewhere else again for a couple of yrs before being back in the UK at 14). He had no problems with that but I feel that his sisters did not adjust well (bullied in the UK comp for sounding posh) and generally I feel the moving around did not benefit them - it sounds exotic when you think of the childhood they had but they have struggled in adult life.

So I guess I am asking people about the choices they are making - going back to the UK at some time to give the children a sense of home, closeness to family etc (I know there has been a thread about living in the UK again and both my DH and I think about all the problems in the UK), or are people staying put where they are for a long time and does that make their children feel that that country is home. Or have you/will you move a lot with your children and what impact has that had on them?

The other bit of my post I guess is all about the isolation of parenting overseas - lots of people in the UK parent without support I know. I am feeling the cumulative effects of moving 5 weeks ago and 2 toddlers a lot on my own and I've crashed a bit from all the work of moving and am finding myself feeling a bit trapped by being with one of the children all the time and the other being in nursery just mornings.

Sorry all sounds rambling so hope someone gets it!

OP’s posts: |
MrIC Sat 03-Sep-11 20:57:20

I sympathise. DD was born in Madrid in Jan 2009 - we're both English and had only lived there for a year. As a result we both felt quite isolated, especially my wife who elected to the be the one who stayed home with DD, and this informed our decision to move back to the UK in July (although it wasn't the only factor). We aren't ruling out moving back to Spain in the future - we would like our daughter to experience living in the country of her birth and we're trying to raise her bilingually. However, if we go back, it wont be a permanent move and would probably be before she starts secondary school. So, I've got no real practical advice on the isolation front, as we essentially gave in and decided to move back to where my wife had a social circle and I had family nearby.

My parents (both English too) moved around a lot - Sudan before I was born, then Yemen, where my sister was born, then Kenya for eight years, then I went to boarding school (where I was teased for sounding posh) while my parents moved on to Tanzania. I don't feel that either my sister or myself were adversely affected and we've both adopted Bristol (where we both went to Uni) as 'home'. In the past though we would have thought of other places - particularly Kenya - as 'home'. The concept is mutable for us and I feel that we are somehow at an advantage to have less of a sentimental attachment to a 'hometown' - we move more easily than those with emotional 'baggage' connected to a specify place.

5moreminutes Sun 04-Sep-11 11:36:58

We live in southern Germany, moved here 4 years ago with a toddler and pregnant with dc2, and have since had dc3 here. When we first moved here I didn't speak the language. DH is from about 50km from where we now live but had lived in the UK for 7 years before we moved here.

My parents moved around a lot, both abroad and within the UK, when I was small. They settled in one place when I was 7 but chose not to send us to local schools, but to drive us to an out of area church school then a private secondary an hour away. They thought they were doing the right thing for "better" schools, but as there were very few children in the village they chose to settle in and my school friends did not live locally, it means I never felt any sense of belonging geographically, and don't think of the village or house I grew up in as home at all, nor of nearby towns, and going there is only to visit my parents and sisters, there is nothing else drawing me there so (as I am not close to my parents) I go back far less than somebody who feels they are going "home" and also looks forward to catching up with friends who have stayed local. I miss the UK for many reasons (mainly just that living life in your first language is so much easier) but do not miss a home town or feel homesick at all, which I think is both good and bad - I would like a sense of belonging somewhere.

My own upbringing has influenced our decision not to move the kids around if we can possibly help it, and to keep them in the local school system, going to kindergarten then school, and football club etc. etc. with all the neighbour children and being settled and feeling they belong. When the kids speak German they have the local accent and use dialect words and sound like their neighbours (their English sounds like mine, faintly northern in terms of flatter vowels but is otherwise rootless...)

I think it depends on the child, I never minded moving while it was happening as far as I remember, in fact found it exciting, but now I regret having no sense of belonging anywhere. I find it quite easy to relocate and pre children moved frequently and lived in several countries and parts of the uk. I think the decision not to integrate us locally through the school system etc. when my parents did settle down has almost as much to do with my feeling of rootlessness as moving - like children who are sent to international schools instead of the local ones the other neighbourhood children attend.

I share your feeling of isolation parenting in another country, where you don't speak the language or share a culture, and had some miserable phases our first winter here, but now I have lots of sort of very familiar acquaintances (almost all non English speaking) though no friends as close as the ones I had in the UK I find I am used to it and trundle along quite happily mostly. The kids are very settled and secure with loads of very local friends, they know everybody and they feel at home here smile I think that is what matters.

exexpat Sun 04-Sep-11 11:52:44

Have you come across the book Third Culture Kids? You might find it interesting reading.

My DCs were born overseas and lived there till they were 8 and 4 - we had no intention of returning to the UK, but then DH died and it was the only practical option. When we were in Japan, we came back to the UK once a year, and now we are back here permanently, we still travel a lot and return regularly to Japan and other places I have lived.

I moved back to a large-ish city, and the first school I sent the DCs to was, by choice, one with a fairly large proportion of non-British children (mixture of immigrants and short-stayers whose parents were at the university etc) and I think that helped them fit in, as plenty of their classmates had moved countries too. There were some good primaries I could have sent them to where everyone was white, British and very settled - I think they would have felt very out of place. I can imagine the school your DH's sisters went to might have been like that.

Nearly five years on, the DCs are integrated into UK life, but still feel at least partly Japanese (or not British, anyway - though genetically and legally they are only British). I see that as quite a positive thing - they have a broader outlook on life, and I would be surprised if they didn't both choose to spend some time living abroad when they are older.

I grew up entirely in the UK, but first went to work overseas when I was 17, and I've spent a lot of my adult life abroad. I now find that I find I have a more immediate connection with other people who have also lived outside their country of origin, and I think the DCs get the same feeling.

I think if your DCs are growing up outside the UK, it is possible to give them a British identity as well as a broader 'world citizen' sort of identity.

Shanghai Mon 05-Sep-11 05:31:46

I spent most of my childhood outside UK but I do feel that I have a very strong British identity - with a strong current of internationalism too! I genuinely believe that it was the best thing my parents could have done for us growing up - we are all broadminded and flexible. We have also learnt to get on with anyone but I still find that British and Irish people are the ones that I generally get closest to. I find it fascinating though how different people deal with it. This is my second proper stint abroad as an adult (I'm in my early 30s now) and we love where we are but we know we won't stay here - and we'll love wherever we go next I'm sure - it's all a matter of living a bit more in the here and now for me. My siblings on the other hand have reacted v differently. One lives abroad but has settled in one place and won't be moving I am sure. The other lives in England and shows no interest in travel whatsoever!
I am now parenting abroad myself and I feel that I've had the opportunity to learn from my parents experience (I won't say mistakes - they didn't have much choice at the time!). We have a house back in UK that we can stay in when we go back (and will be a permanent place for our children to go to when they are older too so they don't always have to beg a bed off relatives) and we pay for family to fly out here at least once a year. We also make sure that wherever we go, I have the ability to work as otherwise I'd go crazy!! For me it's a matter of making sure I have the things that I need in place (even if that means making sacrifices elsewhere). My son gets more of my time out here than he ever would back in the UK and he has friends from all over the place. I don't know how he'll feel later on but all I can do is make sure that he knows that home is wherever his parents are and wherever he chooses to make it - for me it's the people who make a home and not the physical location.
As far as the isolation of parenting goes, I find that it's easier here to make friends who are in a similar situation than I imagine it would be in UK. people here are all in the same boat and I think they are more receptive to new faces than the few places I've lived in the UK. There is a sense of "I have enough friends, I don't need to be nice to you" in the UK to an extent. Where I am, everyone knows what it feels like to be the new one and they don't know how much difference a small effort makes. I think it does take more effort and you have to put in the legwork to find your "clan" but it can be done. It also may need to be done several times over as people leave but, for me, it gets easier and the more I but in, the more I get out of it.
.... have got third culture kids on my bookshelf - am slightly afraid to read it as don't know what it's going to say! must get around to that!!

ExpatAgain Mon 05-Sep-11 12:41:04

hi there, you've got it hard, 2 toddlers and only 5 weeks in, hope you get some time by yourself to get settled. OTOH hopefully you can meet people through playgroups etc..
I think you've raised a real issue which is so often neglected; I DO think there are significant downsides to being overseas, as you say isolation, being apart from family,no place to call home. This is exactly why having "seized the day" etc etc a few months ago, we WILL be going "home" to the UK in a year or so so that they can settle, feel safe and feel part of an extended family. I had no idea how important this all was until a few months in after leaving, was v naive! Good luck.

Francagoestohollywood Mon 05-Sep-11 13:01:59

Hi. Me and dh are both Italian, but we lived in the UK for a long time. We moved back to Italy 3 yrs ago, when the children were 5 and a half and 3 and a half.
I had similar issues as yours, but I feel that our children felt quite settled in the UK. We sent them to nursery from a young age (12 months), so that they could learn the language "naturally" and without pressure and in order for them to fully experience their English life, iyswim.
We lived in a small city in the UK, there weren't many other Italians, so it was impossible to live in an expat bubble, we had to immerse ourselves in the English way of life (which I now miss!).

I totally understand your feelings of loneliness, as I had experienced them very well, and it took me yrs to find real friends when we were in the UK. My advise would be to try and learn the new language asap. And perhaps going to a course will also distract you a bit!


mathanxiety Tue 06-Sep-11 06:39:55

I had my DCs in the US, with no friends or family near. That was the bad part and the good part. Good because I learned to stand on my own two feet and got to do things my own way, bad because I really had to get on my own two feet and do the standing because I had absolutely no-one else to do it for me. Bad because I didn't know what I was doing most of the time. (sorry, DCs)

The isolation really, really got to me (this was all in the days before the internet), and though there was no language barrier I still felt as if I was wearing my Irish flag on my sleeve every time I opened my mouth. I took the DCs to classes and groups and really threw myself into making it as good as it could be for them. I felt great when I found some other Irish women in the same boat. It was nice to be able to drink tea and gab as opposed to coffee and more restrained conversation.

Thumbwitch Tue 06-Sep-11 06:56:04

I had DS in the UK but we emigrated to Australia when he was 20mo because of DH being Australian. We were planning to have another baby here but so far it hasn't come to fruition (still working on it!). But for us, this is a long term move - DS has Aussie citizenship (and British) and any baby born here would also be an Aussie but would get British citizenship through me.

I have taken DS home to the UK 3 times already since we got here 2years ago, mostly through my homesickness but also because I want him to know his grandpa, auntie and cousins, and his godparents. I hope to be able to go back with him at least once a year for the next few years - it will get harder when he's in school of course but we'll manage.

I am lucky that I have met some very congenial women through the playgroups I take DS to - and would call several of them friends. DH was only congratulating me on this last night - he has no friends himself as he can't be bothered to maintain friendships, so I had to start from scratch when we got here. And lucky as well that the language is pretty much the same (not entirely but mostly! grin)

However - last year when I went back for the 2nd time to the UK, I notcied I had already started to feel slightly displaced - not quite at home in ether the UK or Australia. Disconcerting. I decided then that home to me is where my little family is - me, DS and DH, wherever that may be.

Francagoestohollywood Tue 06-Sep-11 11:45:42

Thumbwitch I totally relate to the displacement feeling. I spent so much time when we were in England missing my home country and friends and thinking "what if" and now that we moved back to Italy, I often daydream of the UK, missing our home there, our life and friends... missing M&S cakes...

flyingcloud Tue 06-Sep-11 16:02:25

Hi, ringing bells with me at the moment too.

I went to boarding school from a young age and feel that has left me without a strong sense of home and I have lived abroad since I was 18, so I no longer feel at home when I return to the country of my birth iyswim.

DH (French) and I moved to France in April 09. I fell pregnant quickly and I have a (rewarding) very full time job. I am expecting dc2 and am a bit hormonal at the moment. What I find hard is that I do nothing but work and look after dd. I love both those activities, but they do not bring me into contact with anyone else (work from home/travel abroad). After 2.5 years I haven't really made any proper friends (I have one close girl friend but I am not sure we totally get each other and she doesn't really get my constant stress of working/childcare).

I can't believe after all this time that I haven't made more friends and I feel out of place wherever I am. As for dcs - this is dd's home so I must make it mine, but I am scared of remaining an outsider while she becomes more French than me.

More rambling, must rush out!

thedevilsinthedogstail Tue 06-Sep-11 20:10:35

Thank you for the posts. I think the reality of trying to give the children a different culture and language started to hit home - hopefully they are both going to learn the language really well and that could leave us behind as we are both english and with the best will in the world will probably never be fluent.

OP’s posts: |
Longtime Thu 08-Sep-11 07:51:50

I guess I'm a bit late posting here. My dcs were all born in Belgium and went to Belgian schools. I gave up work though and both dh and I are English-speaking which meant they had lots of English as well as French.

English remains their mother tongue and they don't feel Belgian even after all these years. They much prefer to read and watch films in English. However, they don't feel particularly British either. I think this bothers some people more than others. My dh's family were in the same position. It didn't bother him particularly that he didn't feel he really belonged somewhere but it bothered my dsis-in-law. In our family, it bothers ds1 more than the others (though dd is only 12 so that might change).

I've been out of the UK for 26 years myself and don't know where I belong anymore. It's a bit odd sometimes but it doesn't bother me overly.

thedevilsinthedogstail Thu 08-Sep-11 10:04:00

I guess a big concern I have is schooling. I don't know how long we will live here and it is too early to say how DH and I will feel being here after a few years. He works for an international company so other moves are possible. I feel we have to be careful for the children how many moves we have and what language the school has - obviously it is easier to stick to the english speaking schools wherever you move and that takes one issue out of the equation.

Neither of us have a "home" in the UK - apart from where my husband's mom and dad live (DH moved there at 14 but uni and work took him away).

So some of it is not just about being abroad though living in an english place with english ways obviously helps. Part of me would really like to be settled somewhere , own our own house and have a sense of community. we have a lot of advantages being abroad and my DH has a good job but at some point for the children and us we need to settle.

problem is I don't know where that will be. I need to live more for now and today but I feel a huge responsibility to the children to ensure they don't feel dislocated.

OP’s posts: |
Longtime Thu 08-Sep-11 10:28:00

Have pm'd you a long rambling message!

admylin Thu 08-Sep-11 10:37:42

I think it makes it alot easier to be abroad if you've followed a partner to their home country. We live in Germany and neither of us is German so we sort of just don't get some things, mostly traditional stuff, culture, background. It bothers us more than the dc though, they have settled and feel quite at home here now. And the longer you stay, the more you 'get it'!

Bottleofmilk Thu 08-Sep-11 11:57:02

i wouldnt stress too much about schooling

i went to 11 different schools in 4 different countries all with different education systems, and it was fine. its only a bit of a stress when your kids aremuch older if they are say being educated in the US system and want to go to a UK university, but even then you can do it. i went from a UK system to a US university and it was fine.

as long as your kids are getting a good version of whatever schooling is available and as long as they are happy, it will be fine.

mathanxiety Thu 08-Sep-11 18:07:24

There comes a point when you are a parent where it gets to be all about the children and you fade into the background to a large extent, even in your own life. In a funny kind of way, this helps.

AmIDoingThisRight Thu 06-Oct-11 20:14:44

Gosh OP, I sympathise entirely with your post. I have 2 small children too and live in on the continent with no parental support and no real sense of 'home', wherever or whatever that should mean. I do worry what effect this will have on my two children but they haven't really known any different since they were born here. My husband is likely to move about in the future with his job, and I've decided that it's really down to us as parents to make them feel at home wherever we may be.

I think what I'm really saying is that home is what you make it - as long as your children have loving parents to care for them and make them feel safe and happy then that, for them, is home, even if you have to hare all over the place every so often.

Good to read about this kind of thing to know that I'm not alone as an expat with similar worries!

Portofino Fri 07-Oct-11 09:25:50

I think it can be very hard in the early days - I think it took me about 2 years to feel "settled". Once the dc are in school, they make friends, there are parties and activities, you get to know their friends parents a little. Despite working for a Belgian company, I still live in an expat bubble and for the most part don't socialise with other Belgian's -but I am lucky enough to live in a newbuild street where we all moved in at much the same time and hence I know all my near neighbours by name. The dcs all play out together.

DH mentioned the other night the possibility of going back to the UK. Whilst on one level that is very appealing, I was surprisingly quite shocked at the idea. The UK isn't home any more. My family is spread all over the place. I

Bonsoir Sun 09-Oct-11 13:26:36

"There comes a point when you are a parent where it gets to be all about the children and you fade into the background to a large extent, even in your own life. In a funny kind of way, this helps."

This is a good point, though I would phrase it differently. There comes a point when you are you, a fully-formed adult who is able to navigate the world you live in. You are no longer learning much, but rather applying the skills you have already acquired. You are very aware that your DC have a long way to go to reach the point at which you have arrived and your focus is therefore on bringing up your children.

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