July 18, 2016

5 Ways Moving Abroad is Good for Your Children

As a parent who admittedly has been caught up way too much in the college prep race, I found myself thinking a resounding YES! when reading the following article:

I Don't Care Where My Children Go To College

Go on, read the article, but if you're a lazy reader and would rather go for the Cliff Notes, here is the essence:

"I’ve made a decision: I am not going to steal my son and daughter’s childhoods so they may wind up at Yale instead of Westchester Community College. I am not going to force them to be who I say they should be by signing them up for every class and making them stick with it. Instead, I am going to sit back and watch them find their own path. I am going to expose them to life and do it as a family. I am going on month-long family vacations in foreign lands and I am not going to worry about how it will look to the football coach or the college counselor."

After reading this article, it occurred to me that these sentiments expressed by Catherine Pearlman are exactly why expat life is such a gift to our children, no matter how much it may temporarily disrupt their lives.

Expat life can open up your kids' horizons in many ways. Our kids may have learned more from
various safari guides than they did in an entire school year.

Specifically, there are 5 ways moving abroad and living as expats is good for your children:

  1. Moving abroad takes them out of their comfort zones. Let's face it, we'd all rather hang out right on that sofa with the popcorn bucket and remote control wrapped up in a cozy blanket in the very epitome of a comfort zone rather than voluntarily venturing out of it. But lo and behold, when forced to venture into the big bad world, we learn to be courageous and self-reliant. Being the new kid in a school full of kids who speak with a different language or accent and seem to know what they're doing can be a very humbling experience.
  2. Moving abroad gives our kids (and - shhhhhh! - us) a chance to reinvent themselves. Who wouldn't like a chance to start over again, a chance to be a clean slate, a chance to remake, refurbish, and improve him- or herself? When we moved to South Africa, friends warned us that 13 (our oldest son's age at the time) was a terrible age to move. It turns out that 13 is also the age kids are most in need of reinventing themselves.
  3. Moving abroad expands your child's horizon. Before South Africa, our kids only ever lived in a bubble of privilege and entitlement. I'm not saying that they didn't live an even more privileged life in our very wealthy neighborhood in Johannesburg, but being the extreme minority for a change gave them a very different glimpse of how the rest of the world lived: the endless lines of people waiting for minibus taxis they would cram into at the end of their day on their way home to the shack settlements in Diepsloot, the lack of the most basic infrastructure in the townships we visited, the way street vendors their age had to make a living by hawking goods and services. Not only that, but living in a country with 11 official languages made them realize there are a lot of different cultures out there, with their own being only one of many. I'm not saying it's a given expat life will automatically have this positive effect. Expat children can very well grow up to feel very entitled. Read Entitled Expat Kids: How to Avoid Spoiling Your Expat Offspring to avoid common pitfalls.
  4. Moving abroad gets overachieving parents off their children's backs because now those parents have REAL issues to solve. Sometimes, the parents even rely on the children to navigate a strange and exotic culture, perhaps even a foreign language, because with this uncanny knack for fitting in as best as they possibly can, children often figure things out before their parents.
  5. Moving abroad lets parents escape the rat race of working so hard at their kids' future success, that hamster wheel of relentless pursuit of the best opportunities. It sometimes takes seeing an entirely different culture and their approach to raising children to allow us to take a step back and view our own parenting philosophy from afar. It can be an eye opening experience to see that there are other paths to our kids' future than just the one we thought was paramount, the one everyone else at home was working so hard pursuing. 
Expat life may very well keep us from being that one-track parent trying to keep up with the Joneses and overscheduling our kids. Because as expats, who the Joneses are and what they do changes with every move until you realize that there are happiness and success to be had in a lot of places, and that there is no one path leading there. 

Might as well enjoy the ride. And let our kids enjoy their childhoods.