Dear Expat Parent

white water rafting in bcDear Expat Parent,

You’re not alone.

Quick disclaimer:  If you’re the parent who feels like you’re doing this raising kids abroad thing exactly right then yeah, actually, you may be alone.

The rest of you . . . are not.`

You’re not the only expat parent who is haunted with a nagging sense that you may have made a horrible, horrible mistake.  You’re not the first to feel like you’ve ripped your children from the safety and security of the “real world” and plopped them down on another planet, light years away from everything “normal” where they are doomed to grow up backwards and weird with no concept of home or roots or friendships that last beyond two years.  You are not alone – worrying that your life abroad has the potential to do more damage than good.

I know you’re not alone for two reasons:

1. I’m just like you

2. I’ve met a boat-load more who are just like me. 

Welcome aboard.

I get it — it’s only slightly comforting to know that the boat is crowded when it feels like you’re headed for a waterfall but before you jump ship there are some things you should know.

First . . .

You’re kids are getting something rich out of this.

It’s true.  It’s hard to see sometimes but something is happening in your kids’ core.  Something formative and good.  Exposure to other cultures (even the hard parts) shapes a person.  It sharpens them.  It equips them for real life stuff.  Your kids are learning to see people (this is so good) . . . as people . . . and NOT stereotypes or scenery or jokes.

That’s a skill that you can’t teach but there is not a scenario in the world where it’s not valuable.

This is gold.

Also . . .

Your normal is not their normal.

For me it’s baseball.  That’s the thing I miss for my kids.  Small town little league and major league stadiums. Great memories and I can’t help but feel like my kids are missing something big.

But that was my normal . . . not theirs.

There is no gaping baseball sized hole in their heart.  They’re not mourning something that they never knew no matter how much I think they should (or even wish they were).  They’ve got their own normal though and it’s good too.

Not as good as baseball . . . but really, really good.

And have you considered that . . .

Living abroad is probably not the source of ALL your problems?

I’ve seen the families on the other side.  The ones whose kids have never felt jet lag or tasted mystery meat or been stuck without toilet paper or had to say goodbye to their best friend . . . six times.  I’ve even seen the kids who actually know the answer to “where are you from?”

Know what?  They’ve got waterfalls too.  Big ones.

Living where they live would not solve everything.

The truth is . . .

This is a good boat to be on.

Not just for your kids — for you too.  All things considered and waterfalls excepted, would you trade this for anything?

Not me.

I love the people on this boat.  I love that we all feel a little bit lost sometimes and none of us has it figured out completely.  I love that when we do figure something out we share it with each other and not a single one of us acts like we already knew it (even if we did).  I love what my kids are learning on the journey and I’m pretty sure I even love where we’re headed (as long as we can steer clear of the big drop at the end).

So it seems to me like we’ve got three choices:  Jump and swim for more familiar waterfalls.  Scream like banshees and hope the plunge isn’t that painful.

Or . . .

Grab a paddle.

Upstream isn’t easy . . . but my kids are worth it.

I’d bet baseball that yours are too.


  1. Yep. 🙂

  2. I loved being an expat. After being away for 4 years our family repatriated in Feb, 2016 from Shanghai back to the East Coast of the US. I truly miss the “normal” that had become our lives. I miss the richness. And, some may say I’m crazy but, I miss the “safety” of living outside of the US. This repatriating is harder than the expatriating….. Thank you for the articles that confirm my “living abroad” and TCK thoughts and let me relive a bit of what we had the pleasure and gift of experiencing.

  3. Today I registered my oldest baby for kindergarten in the local school. I’m both terrified and so excited. Terrified because I’m about to be a first-time school mom. So excited because the hallways smelled EXACTLY like my elementary school back in small town Arkansas. Apparently, decades-old marble smells the same all over the world. It met my school-supply shaped heart-hole need. My kiddo, though, assumes that school is where you play in a foreign language all morning. Awesome.

  4. Love it. “Your normal is not their normal” – THIS. Also love the idea that they’re getting “something rich” out of the international experience. So very true. Parenting isn’t easy no matter where you live, and while there are additional complications to expat life, there are also additional opportunities and experiences to accumulate 🙂


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