ABC’s of Relocating: Helping your Children to Adapt

My life was almost perfect. Everything was in place.  My son got accepted in a prominent school. My daughter went to one of the best nurseries in town. My house was located in a central area close to my parents, my husband’s family, the sports club and most importantly to school. Moreover, my husband held a good position at a reputable company. I couldn’t wish for anything better. All of a sudden, my husband got transferred and within a few months, we had to leave this “utopia” and move to another country. The shock was huge. How could we leave everything behind just like that? We felt like a deeply rooted old tree being strongly torn out of its roots. However, we had no choice. It was my husband’s only chance to sustain his job at the company where he had worked for years. We simply gave up stability to uncertainty.


After initially settling down, I thought the transition would go smoothly, but I was completely wrong. My daughter’s pretend play centered on her friends and teachers from her old nursery in Cairo. She used to look in the mirror and talk to them as if they were present with her.  This was heartbreaking. Although my son made friends relatively quickly and apparently adapted easily, after two months I heard him crying at night. When asking him what the matter was, he complained that he was missing his friends and family and that he wanted to return to Egypt.  Whenever he faced a problem, he believed if he were in Egypt, this problem wouldn’t have existed, despite the fact that it was a regular one that could be encountered anywhere like having a fight with a friend or being punished by a teacher. The grass always looked greener on the other side.  As for me, I felt I couldn’t help my children as such, because I was severely suffering from homesickness myself. A friend of mine, who’s been traveling ever since she got married, once told me: “ There are days that go by perfectly, but on other days I’m not able to stand anyone or anything because of homesickness.” This was also applicable to me and to many people I know. I felt I was totally on my own. For my husband, things weren’t any different. However, as Spencer Johnson realistically pointed out in his book “Who Moved my Cheese?”, “Things change and they’re never the same again. This looks like one of those times. That’s life!  Life moves on. And so should we”.  With time, I realized his idea that “The fear you let build up in your mind is worse than the situation that actually exists”.  The overall experience wasn’t bad after all. Being exposed to a different culture actually broadened our mind and made us more tolerant and flexible. We didn’t detach from our home country, as we visited it on every possible occasion. With time, we could clearly see the pros and cons of both countries and accept them as they are.


The years went by and we had to move back to our home country due to another change in my husband’s work conditions. Again leaving friends, school and “home”, wasn’t easy at all. Sudden major changes aren’t always easily accepted. Fitting back into the community took us some effort, as we realized that people changed and so did we. My son felt extremely stressed out at school. My daughter was too shy to approach her classmates. We became more in touch with problems like traffic, bureaucracy and dirt. “Ever since I’ve returned, I keep getting the “why” questions from my kids: Mummy, why are the streets here so dirty? Why can’t we go back? Why do the cars here look so old and broken? Why…why…why?”, says Heba, who has been away from Egypt for almost eight years. They’re happy to be among their family and cousins. To them, Egypt was the fun part, as we used to come during holidays, when they were on vacation, but now we live here.”, she explains. “The way the children talk at school and the words they use presented a complete shock to me and my kids”.

Although people react to change differently, change is never easy.  Alma, who has left her home country for six years, illustrates this saying: “Some people possess flat roots, while others have deep roots. My younger son made friends easily and adapted well to the extent that he strongly believes that he originally comes from Dubai, but my older one is still more attached to his roots.”  Nevertheless, there are a few steps that parents can resort to in order to facilitate this major change for the whole family:


1. Inform your children ahead about the change while talking positively about it so that they would be prepared.


2. Farewell parties give a sense of closure. Do your best to squeeze them into your busy schedule.


3. Expect that it will not be easy in the beginning.


4. Prepare your new home in a way to make it comfortable for everyone, even if it’s only for a transitional period.  After spending sometime abroad, I came to believe that home is where my nuclear family lives, irrespective of where it is.  Accordingly, where we live should suit us as a family. This helps with the adaptation process.


5. Become sociable quickly.  As soon as possible, try to establish a community for yourself and your children. If you don’t know anyone in the country to which you are moving, then you should approach work colleagues and other parents from school.  Invite people over and plan playdates for your children. This should help reduce the feeling of being complete strangers. Engage your children in sports activities. They can make friends and establish social networks through sports.


6. Always keep a connection to your home country. This is very important to maintain family ties and relationships with friends. Let the children visit their old schools or even the school that you intend to put them into when returning. “I’m really worried that we must return to Cairo someday.  My children don’t know or remember anyone there.”, confessed Sherine.  If your kids don’t have friends there, then you can start with their cousins or your friends’ children.


7. Deal with homesickness. Nowadays, it is much easier. Your family can be a skype- or viber-call away. Don’t allow yourself to feel down for too long. Engage your family in other activities to distract yourselves. Remember that maintaining a positive attitude reflects on the whole family.


8. Learn the language of the new country. This facilitates your day-to-day dealings and helps you make new friends. “Learning Portuguese was the key issue for me while I was in Brasil. I made new friends through the courses I took. I learned and learned to the extent that I was able to work there. This changed my life.”, says Heba.


9. Enjoy it while it lasts.  My husband once gave me this advice and found it truly valuable. Be an explorer. Go sightseeing, visit parks, museums, go to the forest, out to the sea or go skiing. Enjoy the benefits of the place where you currently live.

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