Hello there expats or soon to be expats. This post is going to be one of the most important resources you will ever come across, one that you come back to time and time again. This is a guide to give to your parents, this is all about how to parent an expat.
Your parents have raised you to be a brave, independent, world traveller and now they have to suffer the consequences. They have to put up with their baby being on the other side of the world, in a city they are unfamiliar with and can’t rescue you from when it all seems too much. Or if they don’t care that much and are just happy to see the back of you – there is always the fear of an international arrest warrant landing on their door.
So here it is, a guide for ‘how to parent an expat’ written just for your parents – print it out and stick it to the fridge for future use. Oh and just in case you were worried, this is going to be my first non-sweary post this year YOU’RE WELCOME. And in case you need some help here is a post for you too:
Ok parents, so your little angel has aged twenty years and jetted off to the other side of the world. First crack open the champagne and revel in how much food you have in the fridge (millennials will eat you out of house and home). Then the morning after when you wake up with your first child free hangover since 1987 you can sit back and wonder how your little millennial is coping with the tube and the crowds and hope they haven’t spent all their money in the pub yet.
You will emotionally veer between wanting to shower your little adventurer in love from the other side of the world and disapproving of their life choices – you are in for such fun.
To help you on your child free journey, here are my tips on how to parent an expat.
One of the biggest mistakes that first time expat parents make is to post presents that you can actually get in London. The cost of posting over chocolate will really cut into your child-free drinking budget, instead do an order on SANZA and let them take care of the postage for you. My parents rock at this posting present game, my favourite things over the years are:
- A lemon off the tree at home with a post-it note on it that said ‘DIY gin and tonic’
- Home made gingerbread men (yes you can post over home baked goods)
- Tea towels are light to post, practical and a NZ souvenir. Alongside the normal cheesy NZ ones, you can also get these limited edition ones from Starship every year which are adorable.
- Limited editions food (like the Easter Whittakers in the photo above, or those charity ANZAC biscuits they bring out each year)
- A good old Glassons merino cardigan
Another great present is photos from home which you can send the physical prints relatively cheaply or just go electronic. For my first year in London my dad sent me a ‘kitten picture of the day’ (a photo via text of our cats every day) it made me feel so connected even though I was a million miles away. If you really want to freak your kid out there are places in the UK that will print and send a life sized cardboard cut-out so your image can look at them disapprovingly from the corner of the flat.
Vouchers are another magical present; for your baby expat they are not a thoughtless gift they can in fact be survival. A voucher to one of the big supermarkets (Tesco, Sainsburys, Waitrose) so they can cook a mean feed for Christmas, a shop like H&M so they can buy a big winter coat, or a restaurant so they can experience some of the nice bits of London without worrying about rent.
If you know your darling is really struggling financially transferring $50 will give a little ray of sunshine. When I was fresh of the boat and my bank balance was in negative, my parents transferred some money to me with the express instructions to spend it on baking – something they knew brought me joy but I couldn’t afford to spend money on food that wasn’t survival based. I still think it is the best present I have ever got.
Try not to worry about the tears, and the stress and the breakdowns. Your little warrior will only contact you in times of severe emotional stress, and the early morning/late night time difference doesn’t help. Don’t try to problem solve for them, just listen and sympathise because this is just an awkward part of life that they have to go through. This is them growing up, and they need to do it alone. And try not to worry too much, they are having good times too it’s just that when they are having fun they are not thinking of calling Mum and Dad.
Don’t judge how they live in London, as I said this is a ‘figuring stuff out’ time of life. Yes you may question why they have spent £10 on a robot cat money box when they were just complaining about not being able to afford food, or why they think the guy with the tattoos and no job is so hot – but that is the sort of decisions London forces you to make. All you can be is supporting, perfect the ‘smile and nod’ technique of parenting and just accept the questionable choices your offspring makes. Most of the time it is only for two years anyway, then they will be back to New Zealand where you have to witness their bad life choices first hand.
Don’t expect much. London is an exhausting city, particularly when you first arrive, and a Skype sesh with the whanau can seem like climbing a mountain. Your offspring will forget you for weeks at a time (if your child does not do this and actually stays in regular contact then you should buy them a puppy because it is miraculous), and just look at your texts and emails without responding. This absolutely does not mean you should stop trying; emails and texts from home (even if you think they are being ignored) actually mean the world to an expat baby. And when you do get hold of your London child don’t spend all your time guilt tripping them about the lack of contact, it is a waste of the limited contact you are given. Instead enjoy the stories and be proud that they are actually doing it.
And when that 15th text goes unanswered and you are slightly worried if your baby is still alive then resort to social media stalking. Try Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or anything else that they use and just check that they are still updating regularly. Then parenting worries aside you can go back to your red wine and clean house and enjoy the peaceful child free life.