“You can’t build a great building on a weak foundation. You must have a solid foundation if you’re going to have a strong superstructure.” Gordon B. Hinckley
Hopefully, parents who are planning – or already living – an ‘international’ lifestyle will be aware that they assume an additional layer of responsibility when raising a family. They should certainly be asking themselves some searching questions before making a commitment to uproot their family and move. According to Pollock and van Reken, some of those questions are:
Regardless of location, what are the family needs? Are there any specific demands on family life, such as disabilities, special physical or learning needs or a special medical condition? Does the new destination have the appropriate resources to cater for these needs? What ages are the children in the family? What schools are available in the host country for this age group? What are the specific needs of the children’s ages (and development) and is it therefore the right choice to disrupt them at a possibly crucial time in their education?
What are the policies of the ‘sending’ organisation? It is important for parents to understand what policies and resources have been put in place for families who relocate by the organisation which ‘sent’ them. Do they tick all the boxes for the needs of the family in the new country? What are the policies and supporting resources with regards to repatriation? Ideally parents would be put in contact with other families who have experienced relocation with the same organisation.
How will the move affect current relationships and routines with family and friends? The family may currently have a strong network of family members and friends who support the current set up but moving abroad would disrupt this and even cancel out any support system that the family was used to. Special consideration should also be given here in terms of cultural attitudes towards family and raising children. Are you in a society, familiar with large families and collective care for children or are you in a society that expects you to be more self-reliant?
Do both parents favour the move? This question can often be overlooked and is often the catalyst for problems with relocation. If both parents are not in favour of relocation but go anyway, this could jeopardise the whole family’s experience. Time and again bitterness or dissent creeps in at the early stages of the relocation. More harmful behaviour has also been identified with alcohol misuse, drug misuse, destructive levels of criticism and withdrawal. This undoubtably has a knock on effect to the entire family.
How do the family members deal with stress, individually and collectively? Cross–cultural moves tend to come with a degree of stress, not just for adults but also for children. Each person deals with stress in a different way; some have learnt to manage it; others may have had less practise or occasion to do so. It is important to understand to what degree your family and its members will react. It is advisable to seek support with relocation preparation or counselling to minimise the stress of a cross cultural move as it can manifest itself in longer term damage or issues such as depression and withdrawal.
How will the family take advantage of the cross -cultural experience? Understanding your new environment – its history, language, culture, geography, and politics – before moving can easily be overlooked or not taken full advantage of in the upheaval of the move. It is recommended that ‘the family’ prepares ‘the family’ before departure so they avoid arriving unfamiliar with the basics of the host country. This knowledge, together with awareness of cultural differences will allow the family to navigate and make sense of their new environment more quickly and easily.
How will the family prepare to leave? Once the decision has been made to relocate, it is important that the whole family goes through a deliberate transition period leading up to the date of their departure. This transition period can be extremely difficult; closure of one life to move onto another can be as distressing as it can be for those who are ‘left behind’. It is important for this to be as well managed as possible, to allow for a smoother transition and successful adjustment into the new host country.