We all know that the current emigration (leaving your home country to live in another) stats in South African are very high. It’s not positive or negative per se, it’s just a fact. And we all have family, friends and acquaintances who are now expats and who perhaps made it seem a little bit easier than it really was.
It is not easy. If you are contemplating, or in the process of emigrating, here are 10 ways to make the process easier.
1. Google doesn’t always know best
The very last thing you must do if you are a young family planning to emigrate, is to Google it! Don’t. Because you will see heaps of research with negative outcomes and you will read just as many that say that emigration doesn’t really have an effect on children. Young children are resilient when change is inevitable and regularly surprise adults with the adaptability and how fast they adjust to new surroundings.
2. Involve your children in the process
Parents are often tempted not to involve children in the arrangements for the emigration because they don’t want to upset them. Unfortunately, this often means that children are ill-prepared for the radical change, and the transition is a huge shock. Adults have had months to prepare themselves but if you don’t prepare your children, you may have to deal with a huge emotional backlash.
Casually involve them from day one, and always be open and honest with them. Tell them that you are thinking about emigrating (age appropriately of course) and when you know that you are definitely emigrating, involve them in small decisions like which toys they want to take with. You can make emigrating fun by teaching them more about your new country, language, cultures, traditions, etc.
Explain to your children why you are emigrating to a new country and make it sound like fun. If they have more or less an idea of what to expect, it will also make them feel better about all the strangeness that lies ahead. Don’t create too many expectations as you might make promises that you cannot keep.
3. Education is key
The best schools often have the longest waiting lists – this is the case all over the world. Act early enough to ensure that your children get the best education possible.
Bianca, mother of Rayleigh (6) offers an important pointer: “Remember that the best school is always the closest school!”
This is so true, as it is so much easier for your children to make friends and maintain friendships if they live near their new school friends. Also, school and work hours may differ drastically in other countries, so long commutes to and from school can become a logistical nightmare.
Help your children to get involved in extracurricular activities, as this will boost their confidence levels and allow them to meet new friends.
“Jono is a shy little boy, but as soon as he joined the mini soccer team, he made new friends and started looking forward to going to school in the mornings!” Erica, mother of Jonathan (5)
4. Make the transition easier for your children
The most difficult issue for your children will probably be changing schools/preschools and leaving their friends and family members behind. Small children may experience separation anxiety; they may be clingy and may be more demanding than usual, but this should subside with time.
Help older children adjust in the new country by opening your home to any new friends they make and even planning small parties or outings. Also, try to bring as many of their familiar items as possible to the new country.
Says Elize, mother of Lizzy (5): “Some of Lizzy’s old furniture, pictures, soft toys and other toys were a tremendous comfort to her in our new home.” Also, have a few key items with you all the time like a favourite soft toy or special jewellery.
“Our little girl was inconsolable on our flight to the UK, until I produced her favourite soft toy – she settled down immediately.” Nessa, mother of Lila (2)
5. Prepare not to have support at first
Never underestimate how difficult it is to navigate your new life without a proper support system.
Tish offers important advice: “We really missed having family in town or the support structure that takes years to build up. When you are ill, or one child needs to be in hospital, you need to know who has your back and who your children are safe with. Connections are built over time. There will be no welcoming committee or open hands. That community has existed and has its own infrastructure. You are only worth what value you can add to the existing community infrastructure, be that your faith group, or school group, etc. Add value to the existing community and, in time, you will carve out your own home space.”
6. Offer information and stability to your children
As an adult, you will understand the cultural and societal differences much better than your children, so it’s hugely important for you to help your children adapt and integrate by explaining to them why things are done differently in their new country. Children are naturally inquisitive, so make sure to answer all their questions. Also, when you are in your new country, try to establish a new routine as soon as possible, and stick to it.
Says Samantha, mother of Stephen (6) and Jessica (4): “Make sure dinner, bedtime, playtime and bath time is the same every day. This will also instil a sense of security in your children – it really helped with ours!”
“…emigrating need not cause unnecessary trauma for your children. Research has shown that they will settle in and grow accustomed to their new surroundings much faster than you will!”
7. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best when travelling
Air travel with children is always a challenge. Make sure that you are thoroughly prepared, that you have all the necessary games and gimmicks ready and that you explain to your children exactly what is going to happen before, during and after flights. Even if they are very small, it is important to prepare them.
Tish makes the following important point: “Remember that some destinations come with a long-haul flight which means long transit times. And jetlag.”
Seemingly small things like offering babies a dummy or bottle, or toddlers something to chew on during take-off and landing to help with stabilising air pressure can make a huge difference – not only to you and your children, but also to your fellow passengers. Also, make sure that you indicate that you are travelling with children when making your travel bookings.
Keep their favourite stuffed toys, storybooks and small snacks in your carry-on luggage (just ensure that it’s not prohibited) and remember not to give them toys that make a noise. In-flight entertainment includes an array of children’s channels – familiarise yourself with them as soon as you can, screen what is appropriate for your children, and help distract them with it when you really need to.
8. Be positive and enjoy the journey
Remember that your enthusiasm and positivity will cause your children to be cheerful too. If you try to enjoy the (sometimes arduous!) process leading up to the final move, you will help your children stay positive as well. Make sure to communicate well and often, plan ahead and make decisions together – even with smaller children. For example, “Do you want to take bunny or teddy on the plane?”
9. Give reasons, don’t make excuses
Lastly, children may ask repetitive questions about emigrating – answer them patiently but never apologise for moving or make excuses for doing so. You have your reasons. It’s important to let your children know that emigrating is not negotiable and no discussion around not going will be entertained.
“Explain to your children why you are emigrating to a new country and make it sound like fun.”
Ensure that they know positivity is key to make the move as a family a successful one. Be sympathetic but firm and do not justify or blame bad behaviour on the move. Do not change your method of discipline but keep it positive – reward them for helping out and being co-operative in age-appropriate ways for example.
Lastly, with your encouragement and compassion, emigrating need not cause unnecessary trauma for your children. Research has shown that they will settle in and grow accustomed to their new surroundings much faster than you will! By empowering your children (and yourself!) with knowledge and by not creating unfair expectations, they will soon be natives of their new home – and proud expats of South Africa, especially when we win the Rugby World Cup again in 2023!