What to do if your adult children tell you they want to emigrate…

In October 2011, BBC Radio Nottingham ran a feature on parents whose adult children are emigrating and what it feels like for the parents. As part of this I was asked to contribute in my capacity as a therapist.  Below is information that came out of that discussion.

When Your Adult Children Emigrate

When your child or children tell you that they have decided they are going to move to another country there can be a real mixed and extreme set of emotions. It may be that your child has secured a wonderful job or other opportunity or has met and fallen in love with someone absolutely right for him or her on the other side of the world; deep down you know that their quality of life and happiness may well be better if they make the move and you are so happy for the amazing opportunity that they now have. But you might also be devastated. You may feel angry, feel like your child is dumping you, or simply feel overwhelmed by the sheer loss of the future that you thought you were going to have with your children. As parents we tend to make an assumption that our children will live a manageable drive away from us, perhaps blessing us with grandchildren who we can see on a fairly regular basis.

It’s normal to have a varied range of emotions which can sometimes feel a bit frightening. The grieving process isn’t just about death – we can grieve when our relationships or life circumstances change – especially when we haven’t instigated that change. As part of the grieving process it’s perfectly normal to feel shock, denial – a feeling that this can’t possibly be happening, anger and bargaining – either with your child or with God. There may be a wide range of feelings and thoughts, before finally being able to accept it.

Two things to bear in mind:

Firstly, it’s perfectly normal and to be expected to cry and mourn and feel that you somehow can’t get comfortable in your own skin – that’s called grieving. However, if these feelings mean that you can’t carry on with your everyday activities, if you feel you are crying or feel anxious all the time and are avoiding spending time with friends and family, it is time to seek professional help.

Secondly, however you may feel about your child moving abroad, really try very hard not to use guilt or any other form of emotional manipulation to persuade them to stay. If you want to see why this isn’t a good idea, have to look at internet forums where people post about their experiences of emigrating, such as PomsinOz or British Expats. Here you’ll see the angst the majority of people who have relatively good relationships with their parents feel when faced with telling them that they’re moving to another country, and what can happen to those relationships when the parents have reacted negatively.

What to do when your child tells you they are going to move to another country.

1.Know that it’s ok to ask for help. If you’re struggling with their news, know that what you’re feeling is normal and nothing to be ashamed of. Talk to a trusted friend or counsellor. Pushing feelings down in the hope that they’ll go away causes more problems in the long run.

2.Understand that unless your child has been fast tracked out there on a work visa, it is highly likely that this won’t have been a decision made lightly – emigrating is a lengthy, complicated and expensive process. It’s also highly likely not about you.

3.Support them in their decision. If you’re sad about them going, it’s OK to tell them so, but also tell them (if you can) that you love them and you want them to be happy. DO NOT try and persuade them not to go, or to return because your life is unbearable without them.

4.Understand that when your child arrives in the country they’re moving to, after an initial phase of euphoria and what can feel like being on holiday, they may encounter some real psychological issues around homesickness, identity, a sense of not belonging anywhere and really missing the support network they had at home. This is where YOU come in to provide some of the support they will need through this transition period.

5.Be as involved in their new lives as you can. Keep in touch and keep those lines of communication open via email and/or phone. Invest, and learn to use (if you feel able) technology such as Skype. If you don’t know what this is, it’s a free piece of computer software which you can copy to your computer from the internet. It allows you to speak to anyone around the world for free via your computer for as long as you want. If you purchase a webcam then you can see them as well.

6.Keep an open mind. Their move could open up a whole new world for you – extended visits to a new country; perhaps even the possibility of going to live their yourself!

7.Look at sites such as PomsInOz or British Expats (details given below) – there are sometimes discussions on this site by parents of those who have emigrated, or about parents. There may be a possibility to connect to other parents who are in the same boat as you.

8.Finally, look at you and your life..  Are you truly happy with where you are and what you have, independent of your children?  This is a real opportunity for you to revaluate what you want your life to look like!
Useful information

This is a site specifically for those from the UK emigrating or who have emigrating to Australia, which has a useful chat forum on it, and other useful bits and pieces.

This is a site specifically for those from the UK emigrating or who have emigrated all over the world. Again it has many useful features, including a discussion forum.

Suggested reading
Ripples on a Global Pond: Coping with Change When You or Your Loved Ones Emigrate by Christa F. De Vries (Paperback – 29 Dec 2010

Your Thoughts?

With warmth, Samantha.

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