When you move around the world as an expat and are a parent at the same time, you have probably asked yourself the question whether it is good for a child to move around and be exposed to various cultures around the world, or whether it is bad to uproot them time and time again.
If you are a family moving around with your children, others may have a strong opinion on it too.
I once had a colleague, back when I lived and worked in Berlin, who tried to humour me by saying she would call social services because of what I was putting my kids through (needless to say, I stopped referring expat clients to her).
A tug-of-war scenario
Some of you may be thinking: “Think of the benefits of growing up in different cultures with different languages!” or: “Think of the cost of growing up in different cultures with different languages!”
It can even escalate into a tug-of-war scenario. But who is to say what is right?
To self-disclose, as we psychologists call it, I’m no less caught in the worries and joys of seeing my children growing up internationally.
We have already moved four times internationally just in their lifetime (the oldest is nine).
In fact, I’m a third culture kid (a person who has spent a significant part of their developmental years outside their parents’ culture) myself and know very well what it means to live between cultures.
I know that there are a number of positive psychological outcomes, as well as negative ones. I know there is no black or white, and that it is a question that can never be fully answered. Most kids turn out alright, some say.
Others say they don’t: that there will always be deep-rooted problems because of the superficial contacts you learn to build in order to guard yourself against the many broken relationships.
But even so, I wanted to find a clear answer to the question – in fact I yearned for a definite answer! Why? That is a good, and quite personal, question.
Answers lie inwards
And so to stop the self-disclosure, I think the answer is to look inwards. Are you yourself ready to move again to embark on a new adventure?
Or are you ready to settle down, done with the business of continuous rotation? Do you feel good in your current environment, and do you see your child thrive in it?
Or are you saying the place you are currently in isn’t good enough for your children, because it is you who is, in fact, not feeling good about it?
What if there is no clear answer as to what is the best for your child, because it is often a mixed blessing?
Well, then you can only do what is right for you, which is to take ownership and responsibility for your own situation: it is not okay to hide behind the children and use them as leverage.
But it requires some soul searching on your part. Because the better you feel about your situation, the better the children will feel.
Because when they are in doubt, they look to you as a parent to see what this strange international life is all about.
Karina Lins was born in Copenhagen but raised on Belgian waffles. She has lived in six different countries and speaks just as many languages. She is a psychologist, couples therapist and university lecturer. As an academic she has worked with expat issues for more than ten years. Find her at karinalins.com