Sunday, September 12, 2010

From Sandals to Snowsuits

Guest post by Jo Parfitt

Having children is tough enough. As a parent myself, with my boys now 17 and 19, I know. But, for us we have had added to the list of potential problems by moving house, and country, every few years.

My husband and I are British. Our boys were born in Dubai, began preschool in Oman, primary school in Norway and then went to two different schools in England before moving aged 12 and 13 to the Netherlands where they, thankfully, stopped moving -- until my eldest went back to London for university.

And when I say it’s been tough, I don’t just mean the physical side of the move, the packing and unpacking of lives, the finding new schools and new houses, new playmates and a new way of being a family. It’s the emotional side of things that can be the biggest challenge.

When we moved to frozen Norway, it was January. In Muscat the weather had been glorious. Sam and Josh had never worn socks, nor vests nor coats and so, when we arrived to blue skies and white roads we went shopping for clothes. We headed out to buy gloves and hats and snowsuits, fur-lined boots and then raingear to wear over the snowsuits. Sam, aged four, had a meltdown. Torn from everything he had ever known, and used to playing outside on the beach every day, he refused to zip up his snowsuit. He also refused to go into enclosed spaces like lifts and movie theatres. Today, his claustrophobia is over and after 14 years in Northern Europe there is no way he would go out without a coat on, but the memory lingers.

Moving with children is difficult. Constant upheaval and moving schools take their toll and though, looking back, for us all, children included, the benefits of our peripatetic life way outweigh the disadvantages, each time there is a new crisis to cope with, that crisis is magnified. It is magnified by issues such as not being familiar with the new country, the language and the bureaucracy. It is compounded by the fact that you have no support from your close family and old friends. You and your immediate family can feel very alone.

This is why it is very helpful for children and parents to educate themselves about what it really means to be global nomads and how this lifestyle will affect their Third Culture Kids (TCKs).

Four books spring to mind that will help you to understand more about the effect of being expatriate.

This year, intercultural trainer and counselor, Simone Costa Eriksson wrote and published a story for children aged 5-10 called Moving Abroad -- The Mission of Detective Mike. In its pages you can follow Mike and his friend Ikem as they explore the reality of Mike’s impending move.

Ruth van Reken grew up abroad herself and her grown children are now doing the same. Her book, co-authored with the late David Pollock, called Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, explains to parents and grown TCKs everything they need to know about the experience. It combines research, with anecdote and practical advice.

Robin Pascoe, herself a parent of TCKs, wrote Raising Global Nomads, based on her own experience and a comprehensive survey. You will find it practical, insightful and humorous too.

Although she only left school fairly recently, Heidi Sand-Hart has written her memoir, peppered it with poetry, insight, research and anecdotes from her peers and called it Home Keeps Moving.

Before your four-year-old refuses to zip up his snowsuit and you endure the agony of watching him standing alone, cold and wet in the school playground, arm yourself with these books. I wish they had been there for us, when Sam and Josh were small too.

Jo Parfitt runs Summertime Publishing, writes, speaks and publishes books on expatriate issues and specializes in helping expat writers to get published. She runs workshops on writing books, articles and life story both live and online. Pick up a copy of How to Write Your Life Stories at her website:


  1. It was great to be invited by Susan to guestpost here. If anyone out there would like a personal connection to one of the gurus mentioned above, please get in touch with me.


  2. Thanks so much for mentioning my book again Jo! Great post - I have forwarded it on to my "travelling parent" friends.

    P.S. I just turned 30 this month but I guess that still makes me pretty "young"?! ;)


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