The problems and pressures of being an Expat.

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Posted by: Sue Atkins

Jenny Mollon from Which School Advisor

I was delighted to be  recently interviewed, when I was in Dubai, by the very lovely Jenny Mollon from the world’s leading independent school reviews based web site that covers in-depth analysis of the world’s leading international private schools covering UAE, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia.

At WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, we often hear that expat parents have some quite specific concerns.  One of these is being disconnected from family and friendship networks at home.  What advice would you have for parents who are worried about this and the impact on their family?

First, I think it’s important to not look at home as the grass always being greener!  The same issues often apply at home – modern life means that often families are separated and living some distance apart even if you are in the same country.  Most people don’t live two roads up from their Mum anymore!  Those days have gone.

Secondly – this comes back to my c’s – connections!  I think women are often better at networking and making new connections than men.  Really put your focus on not being isolated because then you can get a bit down and a bit blue.  And, frankly, bit too intense as a parent!  Look up and look outwards!  Smiles open a door and help you feel connected!  I recommend you get your child to join a nursery or school and really place an emphasis on networking with the other parents.  Be brave and say to someone ‘do you fancy a coffee’?   ‘Shall we get the kids together to play?’.

Then, do make sure you hang out with like-minded people.  If you find people negative and if you start joining in with their negativity, that can be very draining.  Try and avoid judgemental people too.  Parenting is not a competition!

Many homes here are blessed with domestic helpers which is wonderful, especially in the absence of an extended family.  But help at home can also present a number of issues – parents often complain of children who feel entitled to be ‘looked after’ – what would be your advice here?

I am great believer in chores!  When my children were young I used to talk about ‘Team Atkins’ and be clear about everyone, really all of us having a part to play in that.  It is vital that we prepare our children for the real world.  If you have help at home well, that is wonderful but actually you need to hold on to expectations that your child can and will be a part of running the household.

Pause to ponder on how this aspect of your family life is impacting your child and your parenting.  Look at the bigger picture.  What sort of adult do I want to create?  For me, I want children to be resilient, self-sufficient, kind and tolerant.  Each family will have their own set of values that they want to instill.

Making children a vital part of your family life empowers them.  They feel part of the team, and their self-esteem and confidence grows.  Give them regular odd jobs, but don’t forget to thank them for doing those things.  Be respectful of what they contribute, however small in the beginning.

The UAE is a busy place, and many of us children included, live very busy lifestyles.  How do you suggest we manage this?

Firstly, mums are terrible at giving themselves permission to have ‘me’ time.  Friendship time, me time, reading time, time to take a bath and relax.  This is vital.  You come back refreshed, replenished and reenergised.  Otherwise, what do children learn?  That the world is always busy and that they should always be rushing.

We have a problem in the UK with children developing anxiety and depression.  I believe some of this begins because they are so pushed into so many organised activities that they have to do from a very young age.

I remember when I was teaching, I had an 8 year old who was very down and depressed.  Her mother was even giving her herbal remedies for anxiety.  But when I talked them – her days were so packed!  Horse riding, ballet, French – all by the middle of the week!  I mean come on!  Let her ride her bike.  We all want our children to have a wonderful life experience, we want to give them the opportunities we didn’t have ourselves.  But, and this is crucial, we don’t have to give them everything right now!  Can they not incrementally achieve things – wait for some of it?

Look at your own motives for how you create your child’s day and week – if you are ‘pushing’ children – well, ‘pushing’ is a term that literally implies resistance.  If we are lifelong learners – we don’t need to create stressed out children, learning everything at once – support them to learn their own time.

For me, the issue of busy lifestyles all come back to mental health and well-being.  Try to observe your lifestyle and your family lifestyle and press your mental pause button from time to time.  Balance is key.  In the end, however we try and create our children’s interests and passions for them, they tend to find what they love themselves!  Let them be and enjoy their childhood.

 

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