Helping your expat child to stay grounded
Quite often, becoming expats means that we change not only our location, but our lifestyle as well. Having perks, like house help, luxury housing or extra income, is definetely enjoyable, but how do you explaine to your kids that this is not a permanent situation? How can you help them to stay grounded and appreciate these things without taking them for granted?
I talked to an expat mother, Capin, who moved to Jamaica from USA with her husband and an 8 year old, pursuing career opportunities. How does she manage adjusting to this new life and how is her kid coping?
1. Please, tell us about your daughter (how old she is, where she was born and how old she was when you relocated).
I’m the lucky mom of a quick-witted, charming and highly adaptable 8 year old named Lucki. I know, confusing… I’m lucky and she is Lucki. As an infant and toddler she moved quite a bit but always within the United States. It was in the US where she started preschool, made friends, cried tears the first day of kindergarten (me, not her). Just after Lucki’s 7th birthday we packed up and headed to Jamaica for the career opportunity of a lifetime
2. How did your (and subsequently her) lifestyle change after relocation?
In the US we were by all accounts hard-working middle-class Americans. We lived in a nice suburban neighborhood, worked respectable jobs, drove a Ford and paid our bills. This was basically the routine. Sometimes there was just enough money, other times we could have used more. One thing is for certain there was never, EVER a time when we had buckets of money laying around.
We wanted a better work-life balance and to actually see our bank accounts grow rather than tread water. Moving to Jamaica afforded us this opportunity. Some things remain the same. We still have respectable careers, live in the nice neighborhood and drive a nice car. Other things have changed, primarily school and of course, culture.
Lucki attends a top-rated private primary school in Montego Bay. Her school is located on a 5-star rated resort. She goes to school with kids from across the globe with names far more interesting than Lucki. The British curriculum is grueling for this American family. Also, the school teaches a year ahead. This means my 3rdgrader works out of 4th grade text books. Excuses are not an option and teachers are allowed to discipline kids in ways that have American parents leading rallies and calling lawyers. Lucki and her friend Pali were disruptive one day and had to stand at the chalkboard holding erasers up. She was mortified. Has she ever been disruptive again? Not a chance!
3. Do you have any privileges as expats in comparison to local families?
We work in the travel and tourism sector and this affords us the chance to experience the best tours and finest restaurants. Many Jamaican families can’t afford to eat out much less spend a day zip lining or swimming with dolphins. This is a regualr occurance for Lucki. She is a VIP wherever she goes. I have never seen a kid with so many extravagant privileges in that sense. There are also subtle things that I don’t always know if Lucki picks up on. For instance, if we go to the bank - a manager will usually grab us so we bypass the long line and get served long before others.
4. Does she socialise with expat kids or with local kids as well?
Lucki’s school is predominately Jamaican and the majority of children come from wealthy families. Jamaica is full of other cultures thriving in this country. Many of the kids at her school are born in Jamaica, therefore Jamaican, but their family may be of Chinese, Spanish, Ukranian, descent. It’s interesting to hear the funky accents all these kids have. Lucki is a little valley girl, American mixed in with a hint of Jamaica Patios. It’s fun to hear her speak to local kids. Their patois can sometimes make it difficult to follow what they are saying. Not for Lucki. I watched a kid ask her a question I had deemed completely unintelligible, she confidently answered, “I’m eight years old. How old are you?”
5. How do you help your child to be grounded? What advice can you give other expat parents in a similar situation?
It’s hard to keep her grounded! How do you teach a child with a full-time nanny to pick up after herself? (side notes – nannies and home helpers are commonplace in Jamaica. I swear I am not typically that pretentious) How do you help her understand that other kids don’t get to spend every weekend playing in the warm, crystal clear Caribbean waters. Seriously, EVERY. SINGLE. SATURDAY. As a parent I am so proud and excited for this amazing life story Lucki is creating but keeping her grounded, keeping all of us grounded is a struggle. For the first year we lived with the mantra, “Life was so different this time last year.” Now at 16 months in we will need to rethink a new family mantra. Any suggestions are welcome!
Read more about Capin's expat family experiences on her blog, Expat Capi.
If you're planning a move to Jamaica, check out Easy Expat's guide to Jamaica.
Yuliya, author of Expat Kids blog on Easy Expat, is also the author of TinyExpats.com, writing about expat life and travels of their nomadic family, sharing their journey with two tiny expats.