Repatriating with children adds a whole new dimension to returning to your home country. Not only are you dealing with your reactions, but theirs too. Everyone adapts at their own pace and reacts to different things during re-entry. For you the issue may be being confronted with so much produce in a supermarket. To a child, that could be a thing of wonder.
To a child it may be much more confusing as to why their friends think they lived in Pakistan when actually you were in Kyrgyzstan. When watching your children adapt, it will be things that you don’t expect that can throw them. Teaching our children to queue for the zip wire in the local park is one of my abiding memories of coming back. They were used to barging with their elbows til they got to the front, or they wouldn’t get a go. But being good old Brits, they needed to learn that they could wait and take their turn, and it would come.
Here are a few thoughts on different aspects of repatriating with children:
The important thing is to let them be where they are with their emotions during re-entry – and if you set a precedent for that before you leave, then you will be in a better place to encourage it once you get home. We put a culture adjustment curve up on our fridge with various emoticons on it to portray angry, miserable, happy, excited and neutral faces.
On a regular basis we asked each other where we were on the curve and what it felt like that day. It gave the children a way of saying what or who they were missing, what they were angry with or what they were pleased about. And we as adults shared those things too: when we were feeling sad or happy, we tried to articulate that to the children. Then they knew it was normal and ok for them to do that too. Teens can be fairly inarticulate when it comes to emotions too, so using emoticons or even colours to help them describe where they are can be helpful.
Depending on the age of your children, you may or may not have to deal with schools. If you are able to start planning for schools before you leave, that can be really helpful. But if you can’t it’s not the end of the world. If you have the opportunity to meet with your children’s school teacher before they start, or shortly after, do. You can explain where they’ve come from and what they’ve been doing, and it can help both your child and the teacher to understand each other. Even if the teacher doesn’t seem to understand about re-entry, I think it’s worth trying to have the conversation with them.
If you’ve been home-schooling overseas and put your children back into the education system at home, it’s a big transition. You go from having complete control over what your children are learning to having very little knowledge of what they are learning at all. There are real advantages in having small children, as you will meet other parents at the school gate every day. In terms of having a ready community to dig into, it’s perfect for getting to know new people in a similar stage of life. So make use of it, get involved and even volunteer at school if you can. If you have older children, this unfortunately doesn’t work in the same way.
If you have sixth form or older children, encourage them to get involved with international students and societies. This can be a big help to them in feeling more at home. Even with my children being little when we came back (4 and 6), and having been here 11 years, they still often gravitate more easily towards children of mixed race or migrants, presumably because they find relating to them easier.
If you had family routines in your host country, such as family film nights or pizza evenings, then do continuing those traditions during re-entry, even if only for a few months. So many things change during that time, that to have familiar routines can help enormously.
It takes time
Just as it takes us as adults time to adjust to our home culture, it takes children time too. We noticed that about 18 months after we came back, our children suddenly had an academic spurt. They started achieving more what we thought they were capable of at school. It was as if they had spent all that time working out how to behave socially and adapting. Once that settling period had taken place they were ready and able to engage fully in all aspects of life. Yes, children are resilient and adaptable, but it still takes time.
Look after yourself
Perhaps more important than any of these, but at least equally important is to look after yourself as a parent – if you don’t take good care of you, you can’t take care of your children. If you don’t have capacity for life, then they will come off even worse. So please. Look after yourself. And let your children surprise you with their adaptability and the things they learn during their adjustment.
26th May 2021