After two weeks of secretive discussions and hidden asides to friends, I finally decided to broach the subject with my 8 year old.
‘Darling, how would you feel about going back to live in Geneva?’ Silence. And then a determined, ‘No way!’
Over the following days, I gently approached the subject from many angles, not wishing to cause panic, not wishing to insist too much (especially before we had definitely made up our minds). And each time the reaction got more and more dramatic, the tearful conclusion being: ‘You can go there with Daddy and my brother if you like, I’ll stay here all by myself!’
And it wasn’t just the children. Grandparents, other relatives and friends, all had opinions and advice, and many of them were very sceptical of the move. All of this can be hard to bear when you are yourself in two minds about it.
Convincing others when you are not sure yourself whether you are doing the right thing… what a challenge! And yet, especially with children, you need to be strong and keep your doubts to yourself. Not in the sense of painting an unrealistic picture or emphasising only the positives. Here is what Oana, now 13, had to say about her parents’ claims when they first moved abroad when she was 9.
‘They told me I would make friends really quickly, expected me to pick up the language immediately, said I would love the new house and new places. But it took me months till I dared to say my first words in German. I felt everyone was laughing at me. The teacher was not as patient with me as the one back home. I was really, really unhappy and I felt lonely in the big new house. Even now, I can’t say I have as many friends, or best friends, as I did back home.’
Here are some things that you need to consider when you are trying to persuade your children that relocating abroad is a good idea:
1. Timing. At what point do you involve the rest of the family (beyond the spouse, I am assuming you are involving them right away) in the debate? Experience suggests it is better to give them time to get used to the idea, but not too early, just in case you decide not to go. Brian says he told his children they were moving to Bermuda and generated huge enthusiasm for the idea. A month later, they discovered Child No. 3 was on the way and changed their minds. The two older children never quite forgave No. 3 for his untimely appearance.
2. Do not oversell. Acknowledge that there will be difficulties (for all!) when adapting to a new environment. Of course, put as positive a spin as possible on things, but do not promise perfection or you are setting your kids up for huge disappointment (as in Oana’s case).
3. Drip feed. This is how we won our sons over. I drip fed bits of information, news, pictures etc. of life in Geneva. I got them involved in choosing the village, the house, the school. I casually mentioned Skype and webcams and having their own email addresses so that they could stay in touch with their friends in the UK. I may even have promised some trampolines in the garden or pets (negotiations are still in progress).
4. Build resilience. In yourself and in your family. Expect some difficult times ahead but do not let that fill you with fear. Instead, find ways to overcome those obstacles and support each other as a family. More details coming soon, as I hope to get the wonderful Julia Simens http://www.jsimens.com to guest blog for me next time on improving emotional resilience.