Raising Culture-Aware Kids, an Expat Mom's Experience
Some people might say it sets you apart from the cultural scenario you happen to be in when you mention you're an expat. I have lost count of how many times local people have (sometimes gracefully, sometimes not 🙄) walked away from a conversation we were having the moment I tell them which country I was born in, or when they notice I have an accent - no matter how fluent in English I happen to be (if you're really curious to know where I'm from, I'll tell you here). Being an Expat is very "glamurous" for people who stayed back home, but for some interacting with you in the new location, it is, depending "where" you're from.
I remember one time we were on a boat ride, with our dog, my husband left the boat with the kids to get ice cream and I decided to stay in the boat, enjoying the shade with our dog. Another boat came to port next to ours, and this lady came out with her dog. I started a conversation about dogs, asking which breed of dog it was, she told me, then I asked another question and she literally walked away from the conversation when I told her where I was from and she heard my accent. 😤
"Your character, your morals and your actions are more important than your birth certificate, the car you're driving, the house you live in, or how much money you have in your wallet."
My biggest fear raising kids has always been people's lack of respect for one another and how I would teach the kids to deal with that, being abroad. I was brought up to respect anyone, from anywhere, my husband was too, and we raise our kids under that same rule. Unfortunately, that doesn't apply to everyone in every country, and that has also nothing to do with cultural difference, but with a home learned sense of morals and respect for others. So, for us, it was more important to teach the kids to understand there will always be people who will respect them, and people who won't, and even though they won't have a way to change the manners of these people, they DO get a choice of whom they decide to interact with ( thankfully, that also applies to bullies).
I remember one circumstance when my daughter was being bullied at school. I presented a number of choices to her: "you can remain next to that person and be bullied, or you can excuse yourself and pretend you need to go to the bathroom, and instead go to the Principal's office and complain. Ultimately, you control the way YOU will react to the situation." That advice happened to be very useful to them in circumstances where they had no control over someone's actions. I remember when some boys were saying harsh things to my son about me (whom they never met 🙄), out of nowhere - simply because they came from a culture that has demeaning attitudes towards women. These kids learned these at home or in their social circles, and it was more important for my son to understand the cultural scenario these kids came from and stay away from them, than react negatively to a situation he could vane no power to change.
"If you can't change someone else's actions, change your reactions instead."
I don't believe in thinking you'll become "a citizen of the World" just because you happened to live a couple years in a few new countries. Rather than trying to behave based on all the differences you've learned in all countries you've been in, you might end up changing yourself too much, and that's not always positive - try to look at the similarities, too. Understanding cultural differences and how you would/should/could react to them is a self-learning process, and knowing the importance of YOUR OWN cultural and moral values in that scenario is key. Your own culture is as important to the people surrounding you, as their culture is to you. If you can respectfully accept and appreciate people's differences and enable your self-judgement to decide if you are being treated just as respectfully -and walk away when you aren't - that is way more important to build your morals than accepting anything that comes along "just because that's how they do it here". Your kids will crave stability after moving from country to country to country, losing friendships and bringing up identity issues that could last them a lifetime - this "Letter to parents of expat children" by Sharon Swift ( from Settle Australia's blog, published in HuffPost) will give you a (sometimes grim) look of how becoming an expat affects kids.
"Living in a different country will enable you to gain an entire new perspective when it comes to the things you value and consider to be of the utmost importance in your life, and your kids will learn that, too. When you adjust to a new culture, don't forget where you came from - your children shouldn't, either."
I have told my kids many times that "home is not where our house is, home is where we all are, together", eliminating the idea that “home” is somewhere else and they are likely to return someday. That location shouldn't drive your behavior - your sense of self-respect and respect for others should. This concept enables you to understand and experience cultural differences and know when some behaviors are acceptable, and some aren't - in any country - and that enables them to feel at home, nowhere, and anywhere.
"Be an ambassador of your own country, based on who you are."
Bottom line is: know who you are, and appreciate who you are with. Talk about cultural differences with your kids, engage into productive chats with them, and bring out scenarios and discuss how they would react to them. We used every opportunity we could to talk to them about it. And let us know how it's been working for you, leave us a comment below.