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Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Is being an expat mom more confusing?

A while ago, I wrote a post on whether expat women get judged more. As you know, I had a rather traumatic experience with being judged and so am thinking about this topic a lot. And nowhere is this judgement as visible as in the case of parenting. Hence, this post asks a slightly different question: is being an expat mom more confusing?

When you become a mom, suddenly the world becomes a very confusing place. Everybody is so keen on giving you the best advice possible, and you soon find yourself overwhelmed with the different do’s and don’ts. The advice you’re getting often contradicts each other. Your parents tell you one thing, your in-laws another, and your friends and doctors something else entirely. And then, you have your books, articles, and Internet forums. Sometimes, it is hard to say who is right.

Now, imagine that you find yourself in a strange country. Your family and friends still provide you with contradictory advice, but on top of that, you’re also dealing with cultural differences in raising children. Your expat friends come from different countries with traditions and you will also get different answers to your questions.

Cultural differences are real, and many of us find ourselves overwhelmed with them. Check for example the wonderful blog of Kim of Mama Mzungu where she writes about living in Kenya and dealing with cultural differences. And I think this article on InCulture Parent shows a pretty extreme example of a situation where there are cultural differences on top of the usual issues between the young mom and her MIL. I wrote about this very topic as well because it can also come as a shock when being confronted with other parenting choices makes you question your own.

Whether you are an expat parent or not, I believe that having choices is never a bad thing. The choices may seem overwhelming, and often can make you feel unsure of your decision, but it is always better to have choices in parenting than raise your children in a certain way just because “everybody does it this way” and “We’ve always done it this way”.

Being an expat parent doesn’t necessarily have to be more confusing. Being away from your home country with its unique traditions of parenting can offer you some perspective and free you of societal pressures that may be prevalent in your country. Having distance on parenting issues can help you find whatever works best for you.

This may well depend on where you are and where you’re from. Some traditions may seem more confusing than others, because sometimes they seem to be really weird, and are maybe even discouraged in your home country. Sometimes you may find that the way children are raised in your new country isn’t so different after all!

But there is much more to parenting than just the way you raise your children, and this is where for me, it can really get confusing. There are formalities to be done, doctors to be found, and, later, schools to be picked. Each country has different requirements for documents and certificates. The healthcare and educational systems are different. I think this is more confusing that while you can either adopt or ignore other culture’s parenting practices, but you can’t ignore formalities and official requirements. Your children may not need a certain cultural parenting practice, but they do need a doctor and they need a school. They need passports, possibly visas, birth certificates, and thousands of other formalities. And everybody who has ever dealt with beaurocracy knows how confusing it can be.

So, while being an expat parent can be very confusing and overwhelming, it doesn’t necessarily has to be more so than being a parent in your own country. There are aspects of being an expat parent that are more confusing than others. Every expat family is different and a lot depends on how culturally distant the countries are from each other and how a family reacts to being confronted with the multitude of information they encounter when they become parents.

What were your experiences with raising children in a different country? Was it confusing or not?

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  1. Having only experienced raising children in a foreign country (Germany), I can't really compare it to what it would have been like raising children in my home country (UK) but I do find the cultural differences cause extra complications. For example,I have experienced and blogged about problems with my oldest son's nursery as I just don't always understand some of the German traditions and know what is expected of me (and my son) at those times. I think this has offended people sometime which is a little frustrating and of course unintentional.

    1. Hi Sarah, thanks for your comment! I also only have the experience in raising children in a different country, and I think in my case it would have been more difficult to do it in Poland since the pressure would be much higher on me. And, yes I agree with you, some traditions at Dutch daycares were also unknown to me and it was more difficult. And ye,s sometimes it is possible to offend people in other cultures without realising it.You have to be extra careful!

  2. I think this is an issue in intercultural marriages too. My husband is the expat, not me and we've made parenting decisions that go against the cultural norm & even my own preconceived notions. I get "helpful" advice that I somewhat agree with but out of love for my husband I don't practice. It's double hard to stand up for parenting decisions that I'm not 100% sold on. Being a spouse & being a parent sometimes means giving up the way you expected things to be.

    1. Hi Yogamama, great point, thanks for bringing it up! Luckily, in the majority of cases the children grow up to be just fine! I am also in a similar situation with my husband's family trying to be helpful...but I usually ignore them so no harm done :)


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