According to immigration experts and authors, Carola and Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, immigrant children are prone to taking two extreme routes – ending up in Ivy League universities, or as the unschooled or criminal. The difference you should be aware of as South African who has emigrated – is how you deal with issues such as finances, prejudice and the trauma of immigration itself.
The reason for emigrating
Most families who emigrate state one of three reasons for the move as their primary motivation for relocating:
- Better economic opportunities for their families
- Better education for their children
- Safety concerns in their home country
Although families often find their needs met with regards to the push or pull factors above, it is important they not be disillusioned about the realities of the new country they are moving to. In other words – you may not find immediate financial relief, your children may struggle at school, and you may be a victim of a crime during your relocation or initial stay abroad.
It is crucial that you get the family riled up about the move – but don’t promise a world which might lead to disappointment as this could intensify pre-existing resentment or create new fractures in a fragile family unit.
What parents of expat children can do
Be aware of language gaps
If you are moving to a country where English is not the first language, or regional dialects impede comprehension, be sure to help your children learn the local language and talk to their teachers about their drawbacks.
Also note cultural disparities
It’s unlikely you will find yourself in a place that has a culture like South Africa (and our sub-cultures). Try to explore local customs and traditions as a family, and talk to your children’s teachers – perhaps your child could teach their class or school more about their home.
Stick to a routine
Try to stick to a routine as much as possible, and if possible – the same routine you had back home. The predictability of a routine will help your children feel safe and secure.
Deal with marital problems swiftly and openly
It may sound counterintuitive – but if you have a marital spat, don’t hide all of it behind closed doors. Try to keep your kids in the loop as to what you are thinking and feeling. Chances are they may feel some of the same emotions or be aware of your feelings – including them in the discussion and helping them see how a resolution is achieved will teach them how to do the same. Of course this does not go for heated arguments which are damaging or disparaging. Try to keep those to yourselves or, better yet, don’t do them at all.
Openness goes for everything
Discuss what your plans are, what’s happening at work, when you’ll be going to the gym and what you’re going to do at the local store. This may sound stupid but, as with routine, telling your children what they can expect will eliminate stress of unexpected situations. As this is a foreign country it will also give them a swift and clear indication if something is wrong.
Get involved with school and extracurricular activities
You may not have been the soccer mom or debate-team dad back home, but you’ll have to step up to the plate – at least for a while. Getting involved in your children’s activities is the fastest way to integrating them in their peer groups and will help you make friends as well.
As South Africans, we have been taught how bad it is to judge others. This is a good way to live, but remember to teach your kids to trust their intuition as well. Have safe words to use during phone or social conversations which could clue you up if something’s wrong. Discuss meeting points, phone numbers and contacts in case of emergency and plan escape routes from your home in case of fire or other events.
Journaling or blogging
Whether you’re into old school quills or blogging – teach your children to write down their thoughts. And remember one thing – never read your child’s writing unless they actually show it to you. Remember that journaling could make emotions seem much more intense than they really are. It’s simply a way of venting and does wonders for the soul.
It’s also a good idea to discuss your financial situation with your family. Let them know what’s happening, when and how. You don’t need to give all the details, but telling them will teach them how to deal with their own finances going forward.
Of course, being a parent doesn’t mean you have it all figured out. If you need help with your international financial planning, finglobal.com can help you out. We’ve years of financial migration expertise and a 100% success rate in dealing with all the financial needs of South African emigrants.