Monday, August 6, 2012


Daughter's new feet. 2006.

 Parenting as an expat is weird.  It’s not the same as it is at home. I mean, parenting is strange and crazy anyway, but it’s different here.

A lot of people have written books about expat parenting. I read several of them before we left America. In fact, I began reading some of them quite a few years ago when we were just considering moving abroad. The books are meant to help your family weigh up the pros and cons of expat life and whether it’s a good fit for you.  I’ve had concerns about up-rooting my daughter and the books helped.

The husband is pretty used to shifting around; he has lived more years outside his home country than he has lived in it.  He’s considered a “Third Culture Adult” (this is a real term) or “global nomad.”  I’ve spent only four-five years of my adult life living abroad, but I managed to squeeze in three countries during that time.  Still, I guess I’m a bit of a newbie at this.  Our last overseas posting was six years ago.  At that time, we didn’t have a kid.

Having a child changes…everything, including parenting as an expat. It makes sense, right?  Our familial routines have altered and new people have a daily role in it. 

I admit it: sometimes I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, or how to even deal with the things that come up as an expat parent.

I’m not sure how to navigate the relationships of four more grown-ups in my child’s daily life.  They seem to care for her, but they also don’t have the same ideas about parenting as me.  They cater to her every whim.

When my daughter gets sassy and tells me she’s “never going to talk to” me again (did I mention she’s FIVE and not 15?!), and I send her to her room, the house cleaner eyes me, then later tells me how the child is just bored and that I will feel better when school starts.  I’ve caught my daughter sneaking off our property (none of the four adults asked me if it was OK!), going down a hill with her scooter (no helmet, no safety gear) only to see the house cleaner chasing after her.  When the daughter breaks rules and mouths off in the car, and I scold her, the driver goes silent, then later brings her flowers.  Get the idea? 

They care for her, but they’re indulgent and that only adds to my overriding concern of how to bring her up in this life, where she is extremely privileged, without having a sense of privilege and entitlement.

On this point, I’m clueless. I don’t want her getting totally used to having a driver and someone who cleans up her room.  I want her to be grateful for what she has, and not feel she’s entitled to it, or doesn’t have to work for it.  I want her to go back to the USA when this is all done and be humble.  

The other main concern I have is that I don’t want her to become rootless. I want her to have a sense of home, of where she comes from.   

This get slightly tricky because not only is she now a “third culture kid” she is also the child of a third culture adult (her dad) and she comes from a bi-cultural household. I’m from the USA and her dad is from England (a place which is dear to her).

Our child also really misses “home.” Daily, she talks about her family members and friends that she adores and misses.  She draws pictures for them, cries for them, and wishes they could come over and visit. It was heartbreaking for her to leave our dog in America (with wonderful friends who take very good care of him).    

She complains about living here, is quite open about not liking it, and has often asked why we couldn’t move to England instead.  Despite making many special new friends in Yangon, it doesn’t make her memory of home fade any less.

How do I help her feel a healthy connection to the USA and all those we love, while instilling positivity towards our new life here, and at the same time, honor her feelings of sadness for what she has left behind?  It’s not easy.  I worry I get it wrong. I’m not even quite sure how to do that for myself.  I keep trying though.

So, I’m not saying there aren’t a million positive things she won’t gain from having this experience. OF COURSE there are. They’re obvious. Our kid can probably recite them all because we tell her all the time.  We tell ourselves all the time, too.

But this post isn’t about all the great things our kid is going to gain from being a “third culture kid.” 

This post is about navigating a new frontier for me in parenting.  How to make sure my kid doesn’t become entitled, how to make sure she has roots, how to make sure she is able to make strong connections with people (in a transient life where people are transient), how to ensure she belongs.

We’ll do our best, make mistakes, and keep trying! That’s all you can do, really, isn’t it? Oh, and probably by more expat parenting books.


  1. I think parenting is harder now than when they were infants. Zak and I are constantly wondering "did we do that right?" trying something different with the second child and then wondering the same thing. We want them to be happy healthy thoughtful people and are never sure if we are doing it right. Being an expat sounds like it adds so many more layers to the parenting conundrum.  You are doing a wonderful job and she is a wonderful girl.  I'm currently reading "Drop the Worry Ball" :~)

  2. Thank you, Amy. It seems harder to me, too. More interesting, more exciting, but harder. They ask tough questions and it feels like decisions we make have further-reaching consequences. It's scary!

    S+B are amazing. Some of the most talented, kind, confident young kids I've ever seen. You are an exceptional mom. Z is a wonderful dad.

    Sounds like a good book! Will have to check that out! :)

  3. Just a quick comment from another expat mom (Cambodia 2006-2010) :) I think it is really worth the effort to try and explain or show or somehow communicate with your staff how you try to raise your daughter... Try to explain to them that correcting her behavior is not a punishment but how you love her and care for her and what kind of person she will be when she grows up. I know this is really hard for them to understand - I have really struggled with this a lot - and I still struggle with it, because my kids are still shaped by the time we spent in Cambodia. But at least it helps them and you if you understand why you react the way you do, and why you want them to support your way of raising your kid. I don't know if this helpful at all... but just a thought. Love reading your blog - I can relate a lot!

    1. Hi Signe,
      Thank you for your kind words. It was funny to read back through this post since it was back in August. Certainly, things are getting better...but the challenges with some of the expat parenting stuff change.

      Your recommendations/suggestions are very, very helpful. I've asked our house cleaner not to clean my daughter's room. Sometimes she does, though. Now that we're on Christmas break, my daughter's home during the day. I ask her to go pick up her room while D, our cleaner is here. I hope that helps her...but gosh, it's such a strange new world!

      Thanks again for stopping by + leaving a comment!! :)


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