Should expat children have a voice?

So you’ve been offered a job overseas. Somewhere I don’t know, quite exciting. New York maybe, or Paris. Or perhaps somewhere tropical and exotic. Mauritius. Or the Caribbean. Anyway it matters not – you’re on your way home, full of excitement. Your partner already knows this offer was a possibility but up until now you’ve said nothing to your kids. You can’t wait to tell them about their new lives – new school – new friends – travel and adventure….

But guess what? When you finally sit them down round the dinner table and break the news, they don’t want to go. So what now?

A while back I wrote the story of how we told our own children (then aged just 6 and 8) that we would be moving here to Pretoria. I can’t pretend it was easy. They were both pretty upset, neither of them wanted to go. Whereas we were excited at the opportunity to live and travel in Southern Africa, all they could think about was what (and more importantly, who) they would be leaving behind. I could feel myself wavering as they sat there in tears in front of us but then I pulled myself together. No, we were going and that was that – as adults that was the decision that we had made for ALL the family and we had to stick with it. We told them we would get a dog and eventually they calmed down. It really was just the shock but once they were used to the idea, life got a lot easier.

Recently we have done all of this in reverse. For reasons mostly related to education we had to make a decision whether to stay another year or leave next summer (SA winter). Everyone in the family – apart from the dog – had an opinion. And, unsuprisingly, not all views were the same. I was caught between the two – knowing that I personally want to stay for the good life that I live here, but that it would be better for the children’s education if we left. I was torn between listening to my heart and listening to my head. And trying to drown out the constant pleas from both children (never mind my wonderful friends here trying to pursade me to stay!). In the end though it was me (with a little help from my husband) who made the final decision – we are leaving next summer – because as the adults only we have the ability to take all the information available to us and put it into the right context for our situation.

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No-one wants this reaction when they tell their kids they’re moving abroad…..

But should children have any input into these decisions at all? About whether to move abroad, where to move, which school to attend, which house, when to move home again? Are these decisions only adults can make or does everyone in the family deserve a say? And what do you do if your child eally puts their foot down and says they don’t want to go?

On a recent expat group Facebook discussion about this the view was pretty firmly that the adults needed to be the ones making the final decision. But even within this view there were varying degrees of how much the kids should get involved – as well as how important their needs were. Some people thought it was okay to involve the children in the discussion but not let them make the final call. Others believed it should be presented to them as a fait accompli. Some also thought the needs of the adults – in particular their careers – should overide everything else. I, on the other hand, feel that there comes a time when you need to put education before promotion. And all of this of course depends on the age of your kids – not just as to how much say they should have (it would be slightly weird to ask a toddler if they wanted to move to the other side of the world…) but their educational and social needs.

In the end though as adults we have to make a lot of decisions that won’t be popular – but that ultimately we know (we hope!) is the right one for the family. It’s tough and it’s called responsible parenting. But once the decision if made the most important thing you can do is own it – make it as positive as possible and ensure that you get everyone on board.

Even if that means promising them a puppy.

Photo credit: Marco Nedermeijer

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14 thoughts on “Should expat children have a voice?

  1. I think that it depends on the kids ages to start with. Beyond that, I think that the kids should be able to have input and be a part of the conversation, but the reality is, they don’t understand the complexities involved in why we, as adults, make certain decisions. My kids could care less that they are getting free private school education here and would prefer to be in a grade of 200+ kids where they are a small fish in a big pond. As adults, we see the value in this. But I think it’s important for them to also feel included in the conversation about big life changes.

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  2. I appreciate you bringing up this topic, I know we personally ask ourselves these questions daily. We are still in the beginning of our journey and I still hope everyday that we made the right decision despite how it feels that we left behind a perfect life.

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    • It’s so hard when you are just starting out and all you have is what you’re leaving behind. But you’ll soon be building new memories and one day have so many more exciting things to look back on. And it sounds like you’re thinking the right way and asking the right questions. Good luck on your journey!

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  3. We asked ours (11 and eight) and involved them in the discussion (ours is an Army posting, so ultimately neither of us get to choose anyway) but, of course as parents you do – consciously or subconsciously – skew your discussions with your children anyway, to support your preference i.e., “we are REALLY going to miss baseball back in England aren’t we?” “This’ll be the last year we trick or treat in shorts”. “What will we do for frozen custard back home?” “We will miss this ski slope 20 minutes from our house won’t we?”! It’s never easy, but travel for the kids for me, will always outweigh whatever they are doing at home.

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  4. We are in the middle of sorting out senior school entrance in the UK, as well as debating whether it’s time to move to mainland Europe in light of Brexit. DD is not excited about the prospect of having to uproot soon; she feels settled here in London and it’s so awful to think she will have to leave friends that she’s only just made!

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