Family life can be a complicated issues for all expatriates. In my experience, there are two major problems that expatriates are facing in regards to their family life. The first is related to the family that remains back in their country of origin. This often relates to the parents, siblings and so on and so forth. The second one relates to the family that is travelling to the host country, which is mostly one’s spouse and children. In this article, I am going to focus on the first one, since this is the issue with which I personally have a lot of experience.
1) Make sure your family understands your reasons for living abroad completely
Family members can, at times, feel like you have betrayed them in some way. They feel that it is not important for you to spend your time with them, that you are being selfish for moving around the world, that you are only thinking about your own happiness, that you dislike your country and therefore move somewhere else. I am sure that none of these reasons are, by any means, your intention. I am sure that you love your family and that you would like to be able to spend a lot of time with them. I am sure that, at the end of the day, the fact that you are living far away from them feels like a sacrifice to you in order to fulfill your goals and your plans for the future.
That’s why, one of the most important things you have to do is to make your family understand completely why you are choosing to live overseas. If they do not understand these reasons completely or if they subconsciously do not believe you that these are indeed your reasons, then they will inevitably associate very negative feelings with your stay abroad. In those cases, for them it only feels like you are far away without doing anything positive for them. But if your family truly understands your motivation for doing so and if they see how important this is to you, then the chance that they will be happy for seeing you fulfill your dreams is much higher.
2) Make sure your family members feel like they are in touch with your life
One of the hardest things for many family members is the fact that they are may feel completely out of touch with your life. Understandably, this leads many people to feel incredibly sad. After all, they want to feel connected with you, they want to share memories with you and they want to know how your life is going. As such, it is very important to maintain good habits in terms of how to stay connected with each other, how to keep each other updated.
In that sense, the best option would be for your family members visit your host country and get a direct impression of what your life in the foreign country actually looks like. That makes the whole situation much more real for them. Now you can say to them things like: remember that ice cream shop that we went together? Today I went there with my friend Jeff and then this and that happened. You may be surprised by how much simple things like these increase the quality of your communication with each other.
Besides visiting your host country, there are also a ton of other ways to make your family members feel more in touch with your life. For instance, you could write a blog in which you write about your experiences and share photos with them. Or, you could regularly use video calls to show them different locations in your host country and what is going on there. Your creativity can be limitless here.
3) Go home as often as you realistically can
The less you go back to your country of origin, the more you will feel disconnected from it. If it was just for yourself, perhaps this wouldn’t be a problem. But your family members will notice it clearly the more disconnected you become, and it is likely that they will not like it. From the perspective of your family members, you should stay true to your roots, to where you have grown up and where your family is coming from. And of course, there is a lot of truth to that. No expat should ever forget about their roots.
By living overseas, you will inevitably experience a lot of changes within yourself. In terms of the way that you act, the beliefs you hold, the way you spend your time and so on and so forth. And there is nothing wrong with this. But returning regularly to your original home reminds you of where your roots lie and helps you to form the best version of yourself by combining elements from your host country with elements from your country of origin.
4) Explore your family members’ worries, anxieties and expectations
One of the most important factors in building a successful expatriate family life is simple: honesty. There will inevitably be a lot of worries and expectations from the side of your family members which you are not going to understand. Here, it is very important that you are very blunt in addressing these worries and expectations from your family members, so that you are completely aware of what they are as well as being able to come up with a solution for it. Of course this is also the case vice versa – to be very frank about your own anxieties and expectations in terms of being far away from your family members and so on and so forth.
5) Support your family members in every way you can
It is very important that your family members feel that you are supporting them just as much as you always did. Make sure that they feel your love just as strong from thousands of kilometers away as they did before. Ask regularly what is going on in their life and in which ways you can support them. Then, go out of your way to do whatever is in your power, whether it is from far or whether you have the chance to do it from far. Surprise your family members by coming back home on one of their birth days, or come home for solving an issue for them if possible. Make sure that you go out of your way to support your family in the way that they deserve.
What are the next steps?
Take your time and reflect on these issues. How well are you currently doing at handling your expatriate family life? How well are you in touch with their life’s? How much do you do to support them? How well do you maintain your communication with them and how honest are you in exploring any problems that are coming up?
Also, let me know what you think about the topic in the comments below!