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When a loved one lives in another country

One question I get a lot from expats and travellers of all ages is ‘How did your parents react to you moving to another country?’ You’d think that when we get to a certain age, we wouldn’t care as much about what our parent’s opinion on what we should or could be doing. But as expats we often feel torn between our desire to go and explore and the people we have to leave behind in doing so.

Most parents just want their children to grow up to be happy and independent people who function well in the world. And sometimes it can be painful to realise that you’ve raised a child so independent that they go and explore for a long time far away from where you happen to live.

During my many years overseas I’ve gathered some useful tips on how you can manage being either the child or the parent far away from what once was your home.

Tips for parents:

  • Ask questions about their travels and experience. There are so many forms of communication available these days and most require little to no technical skill. When your child (regardless their age) can tell that you are genuinely interested, they will open up more and share other things as well, not just about their journey.
  • Go visit! Having someone that you love living in another country is a great opportunity to explore and see new places yourself. Even if you’re not a great traveller, your child will love the opportunity to show you their new home and take you to new places.
  • Be conscious of the questions you ask. Instead of asking ‘So when are you coming home?’ get really curious about what they’re experiencing. If they are planning to come home they will tell you, and they won’t come home any faster because you keep asking. Ask high quality open ended questions instead, like ‘What’s the thing you love the most about being over there?’ or ‘Is there anything from here that you miss that I can send across to you?’ By asking ‘When are you coming home?’ you’re most likely trying to show love and affection in that you miss them, but what you might be communicating is actually ‘you are not capable of finding your own way, you better come back here’.
  • They still love you. Even though they’ve moved away. And they’ll love you even more if you fully accept that their journey is theirs and allow them to enjoy it. Even if it pains you to have them far away.

Tips for children:

  • Be honest. Share your travel plans with your parents. Communicate clearly and share that this is something you’ve dreamed about for a long time and can’t wait to explore. Many people worry what their parents will say and so far my experience has been that the worry in your mind about how they will react is so much worse than their actual reaction.
  • Set up channels of how to stay in touch. Some parents find the technical part of staying in touch a bit hard, so knowing your parents, what means of communication is easiest for them? Email, Skype, FaceTime, Facebook or maybe just you calling their home phone every Sunday? Create a channel that works for all of you.
  • Show interest in them. Yes it’s a bit strange to ask them about the garden or Aunty Doris birthday when you’ve just climbed Everest and snorkelled in the Caribbean, but respect their world. They deserve to share their days as much as you deserve to share yours. When we show interest in others, they will automatically start asking questions about us as well.
  • They are speaking from their own experience. They may have travelled in their life of they may not have. All the advice and care they give you is based on their own experience (or non-experience). Receive what’s relevant and park the rest for later.

My own relationship with my parents has actually grown closer and stronger during my many years overseas. When you have physical distance between the people you love, you become more respectful of each other’s lives, dreams and wants. I also feel more in tune with showing love and appreciation through phone calls, gifts, messages and other things. How do you cope with having loved ones far away?

This blog post was originally published on Mouths of Mums.