expatsincebirth: What memories will our expat children share?
As a parent raising expat children abroad, you may feel the loss of not being able to relive your childhood memories with your children. But will they feel the loss, too?
I got inspired by a post from MaDonna about what she calls the feout season – the 'fear and doubt' season – parents can have while raising children or TCKs (third culture kids) abroad.
The feout season is when we would like our children to experience those memorable moments we experienced in our childhood. When we visit the places we've lived in, we would like our children to understand how life was then, how we felt and what our experiences were.
I remember that my parents did the same with my sister and me: they showed us the places they used to live in Germany and Belgium and told us about their memories and experiences there (before moving to Italy, where we grew up). Well, they were just 'stories' for us. We couldn't really picture them doing the things they told us and not really understand what they felt. What I recall and really cherish today, are the things we did and experienced together.
MaDonna mentions that sometimes she would like "to make up for all the losses (her children) have because of the decision (she) made years ago (...) to live overseas."
I understand this feeling. But I'm pretty sure that our children don't feel the same way. How can you feel a loss of something you haven't had? Maybe we, as parents, do feel the loss – but that's our problem, not our children's. And I don't really think that our children miss out something because they don't have the opportunity to experience the same magic moments we experienced at some point of our life. They have their own magic moments and experiences and they will have other memories than ours, and that's fine. And this doesn't apply to TCKs only, but also to children who grow up in the same country, maybe the same city or street, their parents did. It's life.
When we raise TCKs, we can only give our children the chance to experience some aspects of the cultures we used to live in that they don't experience in their daily life by visiting those places or by celebrating festivities we cherish. By naturally integrating part of these cultures into our daily life, we can build memories about what we would like our children to share with us. But we shouldn't expect our children to like the same things we used to like.
I remember that my parents wanted me to appreciate some things in Germany – they really tried hard. Some things I still remember and can relate to, some others I disliked or forgot. For example, I still remember my grandma baking wonderful cakes (she was a baker); I remember the smell when I walked into her kitchen and I remember how she would spend hours and hours making jam, sirup etc. and telling me all about food. I remember how my German family used to celebrate the festivities and how different it was in Italy.
When I visit the places of my memories with my children, I tell them stories. It's like describing a painting without seeing it. Everyone will picture another painting, with other colours, shapes etc. but this shouldn't matter. What matters is sharing the moment.
When we raise our children in another country (or city) than we used to live or grew up, we have to realise that our children, one day, will have the same feelings toward the place(s) that they grew up in. Later, they will probably be telling their children what they used to do during their childhood or some other moment in their lives. Maybe they will remember the stories we told them while we walked down our memory lane, maybe they won't.
By my own experience I know that they will be fine. I don't think that TCKs 'survive' their experience, they live it. And as parents, we should help them to build memorable moments with us, here, right now, today.
Ute Limacher-Riebold has been an expat since birth. Born as a German citizen, she grew up in Italy, studied in Switzerland and worked in Florence, before settling in the Netherlands in 2005 with her husband, son and twin daughters. After working at the University of Zurich, Ute is now a freelance translator, language teacher and writer. In expatsincebirth.com she blogs about being an expat, multilingualism, raising TCKs (third culture kids), and much more. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.
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