The second most represented group in the recent repat survey was Pick & Mix Families, many of whom were moving internationally with children for the first time. To help gain some insight into what it’s like to move internationally with kids and, to get some advice for first timers, I sat down with Emily Rogers from Expat Parenting Abroad to learn her top tips.
How did you end up becoming a global nomad?
I moved myself to NZ from Australia in my early 20s and then met my Kiwi husband here. We were both in roles that moved us around NZ for a bit before heading off on our first overseas assignment, which was to Hong Kong. My husband is in hotel management so, since then, we’ve moved a number of times – Hong Kong to Mumbai, Mumbai to Christchurch, Christchurch to Delhi, Delhi to mainland China and then to Taiwan and most recently to Auckland, where we are currently based.
What’s brought you back to NZ at this time? Is this move ‘for good’, fixed term or unknown?
We applied for this role when it came up on the internal company job board as we wanted to give our kids an opportunity to live in one of their parent’s home countries while they are still young. It all happened very quickly – we packed up and moved within a month – and we’re not sure for how long we will be in NZ. The hotel industry is very dynamic and things change all the time so we may well be moved again, we just don’t know where or when.
Have you felt anything is different about a move back to a place you’ve lived before?
I was a little bit apprehensive since I have lived in Auckland before and I remember it being quite a difficult place for outsiders. It’s geographically dispersed which presents a few challenges and, the locals are often quite insular – established in their social circles and not really looking to make new friends.
But, we are lucky in that some of our friends from Mumbai and Delhi are now living in Auckland, so we’ve been able to tap into that social network of people with whom we actually share history and experiences. And, I do still have contact with some of my old professional networks and some old friends so we’re doing OK at the moment.
Along the way you’ve become an expert in expat parenting? How did you get into this?
In terms of my own experience as an expat parent, I’ve learned as I’ve gone along. My first child was born six weeks after we moved to Mumbai and my second, six weeks after we moved to Delhi. So I started researching and curating resources a long time ago, firstly to help myself and then, more recently to help other parents who are moving about with kids.
The business came from an accelerator programme I did a couple of years ago. That was run by a couple of organisations in the expat space – Tandem Nomads & Sundae Bean – and focused on helping expat spouses create portable businesses. Prior to that I had been full-time volunteering in each place we had lived but I felt like I needed to do something else, something for me.
When I started the programme, I had no idea what I wanted to do but they took me from ‘zero to hero’ and the idea for Expat Parenting Abroad was born. I launched the proto-type about a year ago and have been refining the business ever since in terms of what I offer to expat parents. Now that I’m back in NZ, I’m also thinking of developing some B2B services for companies who want to gain a better understanding of the role the family plays in overall assignment success.
A lot of my readers are moving with their children for the first time. What are your top tips for helping them with:
- Preparing for the move
The most important thing is to talk openly with the kids about the move and to normalise the fact that they will feel the full range of feelings – sometimes at the same time. Explain it’s OK to be happy and sad and scared and excited at the same time and tell them that you feel the same. One good option is to get them into journaling about their feelings and a great resource for this is Kids on the Move by Leah Evans and Jodi Harris. Teaching kids mindfulness practices and doing this with them, especially at bedtime can also help with processing feelings and encouraging calm.
Another important activity is to celebrate where you are. That might include having a last meal at your favourite restaurant or going on a final drive to your favourite place. Goodbyes should be treated like a Band-Aid – make them short and sweet – don’t draw them out!
Do as much research as you can before you arrive so you have a plan in place and can start setting things up. Schooling is the most important as children need structure, routine and the opportunity to socialise with other kids. If that isn’t possible, because you have to wait to get into a school or, it’s holiday time, try and find other networks you can connect with so that the kids can start to make friends. This is also the case if you are planning to home-school. See if you can find other home-schoolers in your area and make contact before you arrive.
When you’re choosing a school, reach out to members of your international community who already live in that location and ask where they send their kids to school. So, if you’re moving from England for example, your kids might feel more comfortable in a school with lots of English kids – at least to begin with.
Also think about your long term plans – are you in NZ ‘for good’ or will you be moving abroad again. With little kids this is more about helping them connect to a familiar community. With older kids, this might also be about finding a school that offers the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum so they can continue their education uninterrupted when you next move on.
To help us make the decision about schooling for our kids, I contacted someone from my professional network – who moved to Auckland from Asia and has a daughter of similar age to my own – to ask which schools she had considered and understand why she had made the choices she’d made. That helped us narrow it down and in the end we chose a private school in Epsom for a few reasons.
- Firstly, because their attendance is not dependent on zoning which means we can buy a house anywhere in the city. We’re currently still living in company accommodation so that was an important consideration.
- Secondly, we needed a school with pupils who have had similar experiences to our kids so that they can ‘find their tribe’ as it were. From my online research I discovered that this school has the highest percentage of Chinese pupils in Auckland which will provide some familiarity to my kids who have lived, most recently in China and Taiwan. There’s also a high percentage of PLU (people like us) expat kids in the school which helps provide a familiar feeling environment for the kids.
- Thirdly, this school offers boarding facilities which is important since, our kids may decide that they don’t want to come with us, when we move onto the next place. So that gives us options in terms of how we manage their education in the future.
2. The first few weeks after arrival
Again, talking and listening to your kids is key as is normalising whatever they are feeling. It’s also important to recognise that you are going through the same range of emotions and that it’s a highly pressurised time which means it’s really easy to lose it with the kids. Be mindful of this and give yourself some time out if you can feel an explosion coming on. At the same time, don’t beat yourself up about it – it is normal for parents to lose it occasionally and life will go on.
Get your kids into school as soon as possible to help provide them with structure, routine and socialisation which is important for both their physical, and mental health. This is also important for the parents since being a playmate to your kids for weeks, or months, on end can be emotionally and physically tough on adults as well.
Don’t underestimate the importance of cuddles and hugs, especially with younger kids. Sometimes they just want to be held and comforted.
3. The first year of settling in
It is important to help your kids maintain relationships with people in the places you have lived. To start off with this might be quite regular – sending an email, or facetiming, leaving a voice mail or video calling for an important occasion like moving into your new house. Google has a facility now through which parents can set up kids email accounts within their own account. That means the kids can manage that communication themselves and be more independent in maintaining those friendships.
Be mindful of who you stay in contact with – it won’t be everyone you’ve ever met, just a small collection of important friends – and don’t feel that you have to talk for hours every call. When we first arrived in NZ, my kids would record 10 second voice messages to send to their friends and that was enough.
There will be a natural point at which your kids stop wanting to have such regular contact with people in the other place. Pay attention to see when their interest drops off and, after that, you might just stay in touch on special occasions, like birthdays or at times of the year when there are special celebrations that you used to share. So, for example, in our family we celebrate Chinese New Year and that might be when we get in touch with some of our friends in China and Taiwan who are also celebrating at that time.
Rituals and routines are really important for expat families and this is something you can start before you leave the place you are currently living in. For example, you might start a tradition of always having pancakes for breakfast on Sunday, a tradition which you can continue here in NZ.
This might also mean continuing to observe traditions and holidays from the country you are in now. So, if you’re coming from the US, you might keep up the Thanksgiving tradition. If you’re coming from China, this might include celebrating Chinese New Year and if you’re moving from the Middle East, it might be Eid and Ramadan. And, if you’ve moved around a lot, it might be all of the above!
Also, be mindful that the first year can be tough on parents – both physically and emotionally exhausting – so it’s really important that you look after yourself as well. That means eating well, exercising, having your own social life and sometimes just having a few moments to yourself.
Is there a difference in the way you approach moving with younger kids vs. teenagers?
Most parents of expat teenagers report that there is a different kind of guilt that you experience as a parent. This is because, while little kids will happily accept your decisions without much questioning, teenagers will often argue back and challenge the decision you have made to move on.
Parents of teenagers also report that, because of this guilt, they tend to overcompensate by buying them gadgets or letting them get away with behaviour that isn’t really on. This approach doesn’t tend to deliver good outcomes and, can often create more problems than it solves.
What seems to be more effective is finding things to do with your teenager where you can be sitting or walking side by side e.g. making dinner or, going for a walk. This tend to creating a dynamic which makes conversation easier so your teen will be more likely to let you in on what’s going on in their mind. The key here is to not offer solutions or to try to fix anything – just let them talk.
What’s the one thing you wish someone had told you when you made your first international move with kids?
I had my kids oversees so that’s a tough question for me to answer. I did hear something recently, on a podcast from Sundae Bean and Ruth Van Reken about Third Culture Kids, which was that expat parents need to understand that they are not damaging their kids by moving around. Sure there will be some challenges and, the kids will naturally develop their own resilience, but you must let go of the fear that the expat life will somehow harm them – which is something I have now managed to do.
If people want to learn more about moving internationally with kids, where can they get more information?
The best place to start is on my website expatparentingabroad.com. On there you can read my blog and download a free e-book on Five Steps to a Successful Transition which is a great place for a first time mover to start.
If you feel like you need more support, and would like to join a community of parents who are going through the same experiences as you, I offer two kinds of Online Support Groups. The next one starts in late January 2020 and is focused on helping parents who are relatively new to the expat life, and those who might be making an international move with kids for the first time.
The second group will start later in the year and that is for more experienced expat parents who are looking to do something more for themselves. To get notified about these groups, you can sign up to my newsletter as well.
If you need more immediate support, I offer one-on-one virtual coaching and you can contact me via the website to find out more about that.
While you are here – complete the NZ Repatriate Survey
Are you a NZ Citizen or Permanent Resident who has lived abroad and already returned to live in NZ? I’d love to keep adding to the insights we have about the NZ Repatriate Community as reflected in this post. So, if you haven’t already, click through to read the introductory blog and find the link to the survey. It should take about 5-10 minutes to do both. Thanks! https://howtohaveahappyhomecoming.wordpress.com/2019/07/08/what-kind-of-repat-are-you/
About me & the blog
Originally from NZ, I spent 12 years living and working in the Netherlands, the UK and the US. In 2017, I returned to live in Auckland with my lovely husband and crazy cats. Inspired by the stories I had heard from those who had made the move before me, I started the blog to tell the stories of a diverse group of Kiwis who have lived abroad and returned to NZ. It’s a mix of interviews and insights, exploring the reasons so many Kiwis head off to see the world, their expectations and experiences and, ultimately, what brings them back.
Through these stories, I also explore the themes around what makes coming ‘home’ a really mixed bag of emotions and, pull out the key insights and tips on how to make this as happy an experience as it can be.
By sharing our stories we hope to help those Kiwis living abroad but thinking about moving back and those who have recently arrived. If you’ve got a question, a comment or a story you’d like to share, please feel free to get in touch via the contact page.
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