Saturday 12 April 2014

Children of expat families

There is a lot of information and advice out there for expats and their families but little is nothing about the family members that are part of an expat family, but never left their country of birth.

I have a son in the UK, he was 18 when we left to live in South Africa, taking his 2 younger brothers with us.

The eldest had pretty much left home around the age of 16, although he remained in education, First 6th form then college, he came and went as he pleased, staying with mates, returning home for meals, washing, money and family outings, holidays and just for chilling out. He worked between the ages of 16 & 18 in the catering business and was a referee on weekends. He had an active and busy social life. Moving to Reading in 2010 was a difficult day for both Mother and Son and a week later I made the trip back down there to tell him we’d been asked to move to South Africa and 4 months later in January 2011 we were gone. He came out to visit us in March 2011 and again in May 2012, I’ve returned to the UK twice yearly, he’s moved from Reading to Cheltenham and is now living in Leeds.

To be honest it’s difficult and expensive to visit him. I don’t begrudge him a minute of my time or a penny from my purse and it’s a strange meeting for both us. My arrival airport is determined by where he’s living and this visit I flew into Manchester and caught the train to Leeds. 2 nights in Leeds in a hotel and now sat on a coach for 4 hours to get to Gloucestershire where the other 4 kids live and the rest of the family are in South Wales and Bath.

This is my first visit back to the UK since the youngest 2 children left South Africa, they’re like me when I come to the UK, they don’t have a home, other than the 14yo in Boarding School. The 19yo is staying with his Dad who he’s only seen once a year since he became an expat, but he’s returned to the UK as an adult, no job, no income, going through the application process to join the Royal Marines.

Visiting the 2 younger children will be a lot easier than visiting the eldest. As the youngest are still in limbo, haven’t established a life in the UK yet and still consider South Africa as their home, where their friends are, their bedrooms and belongings and the family pets.

The eldest has his own flat, a girlfriend, a career, his own life, independent from me, his mum, which is how it should be and I’m very proud of what he has achieved. Yes, his dad is in the UK, as are his grandparents and aunts/uncles/cousins etc. But they don’t live near him, they also have their own lives and I’m not complaining or suggesting for one minute they should take responsibility for him, but he is on his own here.

He met me from the train, we chatted at the hotel, he went home to start making dinner, I walked round, ate, met the girlfriend, chatted some more and returned to my hotel. The following morning he joined me for breakfast, we walked from the town, stopped for a drink, he helped sort out my phone, posting, bank. I returned to the hotel for a sleep, he went home, we met up at 6pm for a meal, I was back in the hotel by 9.30pm having said goodbye and if I don’t see you again this visit, I’ll see you next at Christmas.

It’s hard for me as a mum not to want to grab hold of him and squeeze him tightly and never let him go. It’s hard to discover you aren’t as close as you think you should be or as others tell you, you should be. It’s not hard to see him in a relationship; it’s not hard to accept he’s nearly 22 and all grown up. At his age, I was a mum to him, a 1 year old. I want my children to leave the nest, that’s what they’re supposed to do; they’re not supposed to worry about how it makes me feel.

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