Expat parenting: What are the sacrifices of raising your child abroad?

Whether it’s the security of having family members close or the familiarity of the way things are done back home, there’s no doubt it can be a challenge

Eve Dugdale

Published: Updated:

When you decide to raise children overseas you sacrifice a lot.

Whether it’s the security of having family members close or the familiarity of the way things are done back home, there’s no doubt it can be a challenge at times

If you’re lucky, the benefits outweigh the negatives though. And that’s something Australian writer Mihal Greener recently explored in her story about parenting as an expat.

Mihal, who lives in the Netherlands says it wasn’t until she moved to the country with her three-year-old that she learned why Dutch children are the happiest.

From not treating school as a race to achieve, side-stepping the rat race and not seeing their kids as a reflection of their parenting, Mihal believes parenting alongside the Dutch has made her appreciate family time more.

But surely we can all benefit from opening our eyes to how parenting is performed in other parts of the world?

That’s what American expat and mum of two Alicia Salaz says.

Alicia, who is married to Jordanian Haytham now lives in Qatar but spent many years living in Dubai.

She says that one thing she’s learned from Arab culture about parenting and kids is that children are a ‘normal, necessary part of all of our lives’ and you don’t have to feel guilty about them or apologize for them every time you take them in public.

She says: “In America, children are widely viewed as an inconvenience. In shared spaces, like restaurants, airplanes and malls, other people’s children are considered a source of vast annoyance and irritation unless their parents manage to keep them nearly silent and invisible. In the Arab world, children run rampant - touching things that don’t belong to them, broadcasting childlike noises and getting in the way.”

Alicia, who works as a faculty librarian at Qatar’s Carnegie Mellon university says it took her some time to realise that, in the Arab world, she was the only one annoyed by children.

She adds: “Over time I’ve shifted my perspective somewhat, because there is truth to the idea that children are a necessary part of life, including other people’s, and parents alone are not the only ones responsible for living with and raising their children. It’s the whole society.

“We like to say ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ in America but we don’t live up to that very well. As I’ve come around to more of my in-laws’ style on this, I’ve actually started enjoying the opportunity to interact with strange children and talk to them and teach them, rather than throwing death glares at their parents. And while my children are still generally the least intrusive and best behaved among their cousins, I feel far less guilty now when they do something like screech with laughter a bit too loud in a restaurant. They get a lot of love from strangers in Qatar, UAE and Jordan as we navigate around the world, even from single businessmen, and to be honest the whole environment is just happier and family-friendlier.”

Echoing Alicia’s sentiments, mum-of-three Louise Pitt says she’s learned a great deal about the significance of family from living in the UAE.

Marketing manager Louise lived in Bahrain for six years where she met her Bahraini husband. She has been living in Dubai for the last 22 years and believes being around people from so many other nationalities means you pick up the ‘best tips’ because you have such a wealth of opinion.

She explains: “What is most apparent in the Middle East and what can be learnt from other eastern cultures is the sense of the importance of families. It is the norm to spend more time together so we get to see our teenage children and the house is a home to them and not a hotel.

“The culture is conservative so it’s nice that kids dress less provocatively and they seem to be kids for longer here with more respect for their parents.”

Australia mum Leanne Harris says she’s learnt not to be scared what others think during her five years raising two children in Abu Dhabi.

She explains: “I have many Indian friends here and they are always singing and dancing with their children in public, even the fathers. I was always embarrassed because at home people would never just get up and start singing unless they had a drink. I love that in this culture people don’t feel embarrassed and don’t need to drink to have some confidence.

“I want to show my daughter that you shouldn’t care what people think if you are doing nothing wrong and being around people who encourage me to stand up and dance on my own helps me do that!”