Why is Empty Nest Syndrome often worse for expat parents?
Part 2 of 3 posts! Last week's post defined empty nest syndrome; this week's post will look at why this experience often feels most challening for expats.
Often, when adult children of expats fly the nest, parents are still living abroad. Whilst their children move to their passport country or a country, they have only visited briefly during college application process, parents still need to fulfill their contractual commitments abroad.
This means that the children haven’t just left the house, they might have moved thousands of kilometers and as such be on a different time zone in a culture which may be the home culture of the parents, but could be regarded as a holiday destination by the children, or they are in an altogether foreign culture for everyone.
The transition of adult children setting up their own life is difficult enough without the added challenge of expat life, but supporting your child from afar in a country which you may have a somewhat outdated knowledge of or hardly know at all is without a doubt a cause for concern for most parents and adds to the worry around your child’s ability to cope on their own.
Sometimes, parents might relocate on another posting setting up home in a country which the children don’t have any connection to meaning the children haven’t got a familiar home to return to: the nest is not just empty, the nest is in a country where you no longer reside.
For some, it may be a welcome distraction to keep themselves busy with settling into a new life in a new country. For others it may be difficult to create a circle of friends without the opportunities to meet other parents which having your children around provided (though this does fade as children become older and more self-sufficient). And the people you do befriend will not have known your life as a parent with children at home, but only as a parent of children with whom they have no connection.
Some expatriates enroll their not adult, but often much younger children, in boarding schools in their home country. Not only does this entail handing over the responsibility for your child’s emotional, social and academic development and wellbeing to employed staff at a school chosen from an educational prospectus and an open day at campus, it also means the parenting tasks are interrupted and interfered with before completion and that the separation of child and parents depending on the child’s age takes place before the child’s natural detachment phase sets in.
Because expats are often less connected to other aspects of life such as family and friends at home and perhaps haven’t got a full life in the host country, it’s not uncommon for children to take up a larger part of parents’ identity when living abroad. The family unit grows tighter and there might be a larger degree of mutual dependency than had you been in your home country for the simple fact that you come to rely on each other more – at least for a transitory period of time. If that’s the case, you will have benefitted from a close bond with your children and though this provides beautiful memories, it can exacerbate the pain of them moving onto the next part in their life – in particular if you have been a stay-at-home-parent making your children your sole priority in life. You might regret being abroad and resent the life you have lived as an expat.
As with most things in life, there's no way of knowing how you will react to your children leaving home until you are there, but there are things you can do to deal with the pain and to help yourself move on. Part three of this blog post series will provide tips on how to deal with this potentially challenging life transistion, including building a new relationship with your adult children.