Bridget, a British mother of two, tried to find a middle ground between her two children’s differing opinions on moving abroad again.
Before we went on our last voyage as globetrotting parents, my husband Lewis and I faced a surprising dilemma concerning our two children Maya and Max. They were both born in England and went to daycare and some kindergarten before Lewis and I found jobs in Tokyo. Maya was four when we moved and Max seven. Now, five and a half years later, I have a nine-year-old outgoing and boisterous Maya, and a twelve-year-old quiet and introverted Max. The kids couldn’t be more different: Maya has always been open to meeting new people and makes friends with amazing speed, while Max preferred to keep to himself, immersing himself in the comic culture of Japan.
Life in Japan was not always easy, yet we managed to find our routine eventually. Maya quickly made friends and Max immersed himself in his school books and Japanese comics. As our five year term at the hospital in Tokyo came to an end, we received our next block, this time six years in Tasmania.
When we explained to the kids why we were moving and when and for how long, they seemed alright with it at first, yet their reaction and feelings toward another uprooting in their young lives eventually slipped into their awareness and they became annoyed. Maya was none too happy at this idea and I had a few difficulties finding answers to her constant questions: “Why do we need to move again? When will I see Shiori again? Why can’t I stay here and you and Pops go to Tasmania alone and come visit me on the weekends?”
I wondered how I could make my nine-year-old daughter understand why we must move and why she cannot stay at Shiori’s house and have us visit on occasion? I talked to a few friends of mine who have gone through similar situations and the only advice they could give me, apart from “don’t move”, was to involve the kids in the move. So we did just that. We took them with us to the movers, they were able to pack their own boxes, sort through things they thought they would need immediately versus things that could go in the container and arrive at a later date, etc.
In the last few weeks before our flight to Tasmania, we took them to all their favorite spots in Tokyo and let them have as many sleepovers as they could muster; this applying more so to Maya than Max. Thus, they had, in a sense, a chance to say a proper good-bye to this city which was their home for five years of their childhood.
The actual good-bye was a lot harder, even for Lewis and myself, than I had expected and hoped for it to be. However, when we arrived in Hobart we had so many things on our agenda: getting the kids registered for school, for extracurricular activities, for sports, buying new clothes, letting them build a sandbox in the backyard, etc. that there was rarely any time left to miss Tokyo. We had regular Skype-dates with Shiori and her family and Maya would endlessly carry on about the various ice creams she had tested and how they have whales here, etc. I can safely say that Maya and Max seem to be thriving in Tasmania!
I always knew that going abroad with kids would make everything more difficult. Yet I hadn’t been confronted with the difficulty of having two independent minds discuss with me their negative feelings towards a move. As I have learned from experience your family moves with you and just because the parents are big fans of moving to and living in diverse foreign counties, does not mean our children must. My advice to any parents out there who are considering taking on an expat assignment abroad would be to involve your children as much as possible. Let them know why you’re moving and give them images of the positive aspects of living in a different country and culture. And do it early, trust me, it is so much easier to argue with a four- and seven-year-old than with a nine- and twelve-year-old!
Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons