Sunday, 22 May 2016

Overcoming The Difficulty Of Raising Kids Overseas Without a Family Support Network

One of nature’s greatest disappointments, without any doubt, is a floury red apple.  You know the sort I mean right!?  Shiny on the outside, but horribly mushy on the inside just as you take that first bite. Luckily the same cannot be said for fatherhood - the disappointment part I mean; generally we are rather shiny on the outside, but as masculine as we’d like to appear externally, we are rather mushy on the inside when it comes to our little ones.  We dote on them, entertain them and give them our all.
Yet what about you?  What about your wife, husband or partner?  If you are anything like me, a father bringing up his child on a different continent away from my own parents, you too might find that one of the greatest hardships is exactly that, bring up a child away from your extended family, your family of orientation.  The difficulties don’t tend to stop there either; what about finding time to nurture your own relationship with your spouse or partner?  You might find yourself recognising more and more the need to establish a regular weekly or monthly date in the calendar just so that you can make time for yourself and time with your husband, wife or partner.  Living away from support networks takes its toll; sometimes you need to be more than just mommy or daddy, you need to be a partner, a councillor, a lover and a friend.  Taking time out to set aside alone time with one another is vital in ensuring that the relationship continues to blossom.  This is common practice among many couples who make the concerted effort to just be man and woman for at least one night a week outside of the role of parent; which admittedly takes up almost all of one’s time.  Living away from the grandparents is a very real situation which many young parents seem to be facing in this ever-changing world we live in.  I often dream of evenings where I could just leave my little one at her grandparent’s home for the evening to have a little time out.  Bringing up a child when your parents are in a different time-zone, on another continent, or just a tad too far away for the convenience of a trusted babysitter, is very difficult.  In my experience, there are many young South African parents who are displaced from their own parents, and therefore lack the support which one from a collectivist society may enjoy on a daily basis.  Whilst this is difficult for those of us who do live so very far away from our parents, it must be equally difficult for those parents who are away from their children and now their grandchildren too.  This is even more of a reason to practice a parenting style which lets your little one know that they belong and are loved.  A sense of community in my mind is vital and helps to shape who our little ones will become.  A close friend of mine was fondly recalling the story of his son’s take on all of this -  he said to his mother (they live in the UK) that South Africa is where all the old people live...because all his UK based friends flew to South Africa to visit the “old people”.  Second generation South African children are growing up in a world where South Africa is, to them, an expansive old age home, a place we go to visit the old folks!  This is both equally humorous as well as sad.
I have come to recognise (I have lived in the UK for 13 years and my daughter will be six next month) that when we make an effort in this regard, we benefit.  The world seems far smaller these days thanks to technology like Skype and FaceTime, despite the obvious geographical distances.  
But what of you and your relationships, your marriage?  Like anything, be as proactive as possible.  If you can’t coax a friend to come and watch movies at yours (somehow there is always that enticing free bottle of wine left suggestively on the kitchen counter as you span your arm across the room in a circular motion, citing the over-played “help yourself to anything”), then set up a picnic at home.  Turn the TV off.  Put phones in a different room.  Now, whilst the children are sound asleep upstairs, tuck into that bottle of wine which your would-be babysitter would have had two sips from because we all know that they drove to your place and wouldn't have had any more than a few sips anyway, and rediscover “you and me” without the aid of nearby family. 

As featured in The South African -

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