When Your Children Want To Emigrate

Advice For Parents With Children Living Overseas

Many people who contact Rand Rescue for immigration services form part of family units who migrate to new regions together. In fact, one of the most prominent thoughts in most expat minds is “can I take my family with?”

But as families settle, children grow up and lifestyles change, it’s inevitable that your children would want to see the world on their own. Or perhaps your children want to leave before you’ve even had the time to consider emigration in the first place. Then there are those for whom emigration is simply not an option — whether due to health reasons, for financial reasons or due to immigration rules imposed by their preferred country. 

There are many reasons why families may be split apart by emigration, and it’s never easy for parents to deal with the distance.

Why is living across borders so hard?

Empty nest syndrome becomes a reality for all parents at some point, but it is much harder when your children live in a different country.

There are no quick weekend trips and family dinners on Sunday, no rugby braais where young and old gather around in unison. You can’t always get on the phone for a call: time zones make it hard and the cost of international calls can set you back thousands of rands.

You can’t discuss the events in your country with the same ease without having to detail the intricacies of daily life to those who have lost touch — connecting becomes an effort. But no matter how hard it is, it’s not something we simply give up on just because it gets a bit tough. Instead we adapt, grow and learn new ways to connect across borders.

How can I support my family?

The best way to support your family is by not letting your emotions cloud your own judgement. Often we want to sway others’ opinions by appealing to emotion. It’s acceptable that you want your family to stay with you, but it’s not acceptable to let those feelings impact their choices.

Once you’ve accepted that your children (and perhaps grandchildren) are moving away, there are a few ways in which you can help the move be easier on all of you.

  1. The administration can be a nightmare, offer to help out where you can. Remember that there may also be a lot of admin to wind up once the family is already gone, so they may need you to help them file paperwork, meet with bankers, agents and other regulatory bodies on their behalf. Seek out service providers and institutions which can make the move easier and take some of the paperwork, footwork and burden off their shoulders.
  2. Do thorough homework on the country and city/town they are moving to and advise on things which could help them settle in abroad. Your family will undoubtedly be busy with the nitty-gritty, so if you have time it would be helpful to find out about local clubs, churches, school culture, South African expat groups they can connect with and so forth. Your knowledge can also be helpful in maintaining their excitement if, for instance, you can reiterate the exciting parts of the move — highlight all the things about their new home which are pros of the move.
  3. Since emigration takes a while, it would be good to start investing in your own savings plan in order to accommodate trips abroad as you will undoubtedly be visiting your family once they’ve settled. If you can’t invest too much at once, look at ways in which you can pool funds for travel together via a shared investment account. Many banking and retail accounts also offer add-on benefits like travel rebates, car hire and travel insurance, so enquire with your service providers to see who can offer you the best value for money.
  4. Sending gifts abroad can be costly, so start finding out now which providers abroad you can use to send your family the odd package or gift. There are quite a few South African suppliers abroad as well, and these companies may be able to send small saffa trinkets which your family won’t have access to from their local grocer — Mrs Ball’s chutney, marmite, Ouma rusks, Klipdrift, biltong — those things your family love and will miss when they’re abroad.
  5. If there is the possibility that you may be following your family abroad at some point, start doing your emigration and immigration research now and discuss your options with your spouse or other people involved.

How to cope with your loss

The hardest thing to do when family moves away is to remain invested emotionally. Quite often there are feelings of resentment and rejection that set in as you deal with your loss. This grief may make you act aggressive, despondent or irrational. 

If you’re of a certain age, there’s the added realisation that it may not be possible for you to ever follow suit and move to the place your children have moved to, or that travel will become increasingly difficult. A sense of permanence sets in which makes people disconnect in order to pre-empt the great divide which they envision. This is a form of psychological self-preservation and a natural response to big life changes, but it’s important that you remain aware of your emotions and reactions and find ways to cope without alienating your family.

A good place to start is by seeking the help of a therapist or psychologist and talk about your feelings. Also try to explain your emotions to your family without making it seem like you are placing blame on them or that you want to change their minds about the move.  Make time to get everyone around the table and share how the move ma

Since you will undoubtedly spend less time with the family in the coming years, it’s also important to seek out new hobbies to fill your days. This could include hiking clubs, joining choirs, book clubs or bowling leagues.

Many older people will also understand what you are going through and you will find great sounding boards amongst your peers to express your emotions and build camaraderie.

Staying connected

One of the most important things about managing a relationship across borders is to stay connected.

Since you will no longer be able to spend weekends, holidays and other important events together, you will need to find new ways to bridge that gap.

Instant messaging is key!

If you’re in on the goings on of the youngsters, you will undoubtedly already be on Whatsapp, Facebook messenger or WeChat. If you’re not, it’s time to get onboard. There are several other chat services you can use to communicate with family abroad such as FaceTime, Snapchat, Skype and Telegram. Try to learn some of that instant messaging lingo which makes you cringe a bit. It may not be proper use of language and grammar, but if you want to connect with your grandchildren it’s particularly important that you ‘get with the program’.

Long distance calls

International calls can be costly, so consider getting Voice-over-IP services for your home. This service allows you to place and receive calls via the internet which can work out much cheaper than using your landline.

Social media

Social media is a great way to stay in touch. Consider creating private groups on Facebook, a family blog via WordPress or a simple shared folder in Google Drive where you can share images, events and other updates. The youngsters may want to stick to platforms like Instagram, so ask them to show you around and teach you the basics while they’re still close by.

Old school cool

Though writing letters have gone out of fashion, it’s still one of the most intimate ways to keep in touch and a method which the Baby Boomers (born 1944 – 1964), Gen-X (born 1965 – 1979) and even older Millenials (born 1980 to 1994) can still think fondly on. Buy your children or grandchildren an old school stationery set — complete with pretty paper and envelopes and instil in them the value and magic of sending letters via the post.

Good luck!

Rand Rescue understands the complexities of maintaining relationships across borders and wish all of our readers the best in coping with this hardship.

Remember that we can offer yourself or your  children sound advice on their cross-border finances and assist them in moving their rands abroad so they can possibly earn higher returns on their investment.

Also remember to bookmark the Rand Rescue blog page or follow us on Facebook for frequent news and views about expat life and finance.

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