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Expat Conundrum: Leaving (Aging) Parents Behind

For many expatriates it is hard to read this headline and not to have an emotional response to it, because here you are living the expat lifestyle with all it has to offer far away from home, far away from the people you grew up with, far away from your parents. Those thoughts alone can make us feel guilty, so we try to push them away, get busy and in some cases depressed which is why today we will address this expat reality: The relationship between you and your aging parents back home.

We have to start at the beginning of your expat journey. At one point in your life the opportunity of living abroad was presented to you or maybe you worked really hard for it, because it has always been a dream for you to live and work in a new culture. We have already run into the first uncomfortable truth: You wanted to move away from home which in one way or another implies that you were willing to give up to live in the country you were brought up in. This fact hurts some parents especially those who think that their country is the best place to be. And you were not forced to live in another country, you wanted to. You voluntarily are leaving your home country and your parents behind.

Now parents have power over their children. If they raised you with a lot of care and gave their best in providing a good life for you, they have the ability to guilt you into staying and make it hard for you to leave in the first place. And most children want to please their parents. You probably don't want your parents to be sorrowful on your behalf, yet you know leaving them will make them sad.

Those words that are uttered during those conversations can have a lasting impact for better or worse. You might be lucky and have parents who back your decision and who don't see your leaving as an affront against themselves. And you and your parents might be sad for all the right reasons yet find the encouraging words in the midst of saying good-bye. This emotional support cannot be underestimated.

Yet maybe you are leaving with a heavy heart, because your parents made it clear that they are not supporting you in this decision and they proclaim that they will never visit you in your chosen country and that you are making a big mistake. It makes it almost unbearable to leave, yet you know this is what you want and so you go.

And of course there is also the option that you never had a healthy relationship with your parents to begin with and you may feel like that they don't care at all about what you are about to do and for that matter you also may not care about what they think and you just leave.

Once you arrive in your host country, you might experience culture shock and would appreciate some encouragement from your family. And maybe your family tells you to stay strong, to not give up and that it will get easier over time or you might get a big fat "I told you so, you should have never left." Those are very painful words to hear.


"I told you so, you should have never left."


We have encountered two scenarios: You can either have parents who support you or who are against your decision of living abroad.

If you have parents who second your decision, you are still confronted with another uncomfortable truth: How can I support my aging parents far away? How can I be there for them? Do they need me? Do I need to come home or can I stay longer? What if you want to stay forever? What if you meet the love of your life abroad. What are you doing now? Can you stay in this country and leave everything behind. Can you put your needs and wishes above their needs and wishes? So many questions and they all might seem like a conundrum to you. You might be torn between the life you appreciate in a new country and leaving your parents behind.

If you have parents who don't stand by you, you may be facing similar questions especially the one if you have an obligation to be there for your aging parents. After all they still raised you, they still were there for you when you were young and needed them. However, you also have to deal with the fact that they hurt you, disappointed you and your relationship with them may not be on good terms at this point in time.

Now, how can you solve this expat conundrum?

The first step is to acknowledge the fact that you left home for whatever reasons and that this has consequences for you and the people in your life and of course your parents. If we put ourselves in their shoes, we might see why they are concerned, worried and sad and if they manage to stay supportive, if they come and visit you, if they do their part in working on this relationship miles apart, maybe it is time to write a thank you note or send flowers or find another way to let them know how much this means to you. On the other hand you need to figure out how you can find meaningful ways to be there for them. Maybe schedule a vacation back home so they have something to look forward to, maybe to schedule weekly calls or send photos. Be creative, what would they appreciate?

And if they make it really hard for you to stay in contact with them, you need to figure out what you want. How do you want to show up? How do you want to interact with them? And for that matter: How do you want to spend your time abroad? These are all very personal questions and there is no textbook that can give you those answers, you need to find them on your own, because every family situation is so unique.

COACHING because your family situation is unique.

One final thought: We often assume that this conundrum wouldn't exist if we were home. Yet, you probably wouldn't live near your parents back home either. There might be a six hour drive in between you and your parents. You wouldn't be there either. You wouldn't be able to leave your work and everyday life behind for longer to take care of your parents everyday. Even back home sooner or later you would need to have this conversation of how to deal with aging parents and it is a difficult one at home or abroad.




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