Thursday, 31 March 2016

The challenges of being an expat parent

Little trip to the beach as a family

I'm trying to organise the summer holidays at the moment. The plan is to drop the kids to my parents in France in early July, they'll stay over for a month and we'll join them for a 2 weeks holidays in August. The price of the flight to take them over is extortionate, more than half the price of the ferry for our August trip. I still don't know how we're going to make it, but at the same time, I want them to see their grandparents, practice their French, and I need some rest as well. So I'll have to find a solution...

This is just one of the challenges expat life brings when you have kids abroad. And there are quite a few others...

No family around to step in

I'm glad my parents are still in good enough health to mind the boys for a month in summer, but the rest of the year is different. We are extremely lucky to have a good childminder and a friend for back-up, but what do you do when the childminder is off and your friend is not available? Take days off work, leave early, arrive late... We had to organise ourselves to minimise childminding costs like working different shifts for example, and we always managed to make it work, but sometimes I just wished my mum was around the corner to help me out. We've also said goodbye to nights out just as a couple or with friends. The last time it happened was one year ago...


When you live abroad and both sets of grand-parents live on different parts of the globe, there is not much choice for a holiday destination. We go to France once a year and to Mauritius every 2 or 3 years (although it has become so expensive with 2 children that we don't know when we'll be able to afford the tropical destination again...). I would feel bad if my parents didn't see the kids for more than a year. They're not getting any younger and I also want my children to know them.
This year, we've decided to treat ourselves so we're going on a short family trip to South west France in May. A place where we don't know anybody and where we'll be able to just chill out without having to schedule family and friends visits. I can't wait.

Adapting to a new education system

I'm still quite new to this as my eldest is only in First class, but the Irish system is a bit different than the French so I had to adapt. For example, I had a hard time understanding why there are no canteens in schools and why the day is so short (9 until 1:40pm would be considered a half-day in French schools!!). What bothers me the most is making sandwiches for my kids everyday. I wish they could eat a hot balanced meal at school, like in France.

The other thing is homework. It might sound a bit stupid, but I learnt everything in French, so explaining maths in English to a 7 years old (when I'm already very bad at maths in French) is hard work. Counting and numbers is the only thing I have to think about in French all the time. I can't make additions or subtractions in English. My brain just doesn't work this way.

Then there's Irish... It's quite funny seeing my kids talking to me in Irish, but I don't understand a word, so they won't get any help from me (unless I start learning the language myself).

English is another issue. I know I'm bilingual, but that doesn't mean I don't mispronounce words sometimes, and I'm afraid of passing bad habits. The good thing is I'm a spelling freak in general, so I can correct my child with written work. But what about the parents who don't have a good English? How are they supposed to help their children?

Bringing children up in 3 different cultures

This is probably the hardest challenge, but the most rewarding in the long term. My children are still a bit young, but it is quite clear that they define themselves as Irish, even if they have a Mauritian dad and a French mum. They know they have family in different countries, they try to speak French (when they want...) but Ireland is their home. However, for us, parents, belonging to Ireland and feeling Irish is something that will never truly happen. We love living here and are very well integrated, but we'll never be Irish (well, my husband is technically Irish now, but you see what I mean!). We speak French to each other, both our original culture are still very present in our home and our social lives.
The challenge here is to make sure our children know where they come from, not by forcing them, but giving them opportunities to learn about their origins in a positive and fun way, like a month long immersion in France or Mauritius...

If you're an expat parent, what was the biggest challenge you had to face?