Three and a half years ago we uprooted our kids from the only place they had ever known as home. We were not in our passport country but this was home. As expats know so well that the complexities of this lifestyle are not for the faint of heart.
A move had been on the horizon for us for a few years so I wasn’t surprised, especially since my husband applied for his job to avoid being rotated. The process of wrapping up a life I had spent years building by developing a beautiful community around us with deep and rich friendships was not an easy one.
Needless to say I was heartbroken, but one of the biggest silver linings for us was our longtime nanny was willing to leave her 20 year career in Switzerland to follow us to our next post in Asia. This was not something I was expecting so when she agreed I was beyond grateful.
Years earlier my husband had encouraged me to embrace help, it was not something I did easily. But when Venus came to work for us, she was so easy and I appreciated how she made life easier. She loved our kids like they were her own. She even welcomed the arrival of two of our kids which helped in building a special bond.
In the middle of the frenzied pack up we took Venus to Bern to get her a visa for our next post country. We were especially grateful that when we eventually drove away from the only home our kids had ever known, we didn’t also have to say goodbye to someone who was part of our family. We would be seeing Venus in a few months after a summer break for all of us.
I remember my first trip back to Switzerland after our transfer. Everyone timidly asked how our new post was, my reply, “it isn’t as bad as I expected.” A lot of that not so bad was because Venus still had my back and we worked as a team.
When we first moved into our new house, I was busy getting the kids settled in school, activities and figuring out a new routine in a city very different from where we came. The days were a blur but I remember shortly after the movers had delivered our stuff our Swiss house was all put back together in our new city. I was so grateful, it was like we hadn’t skipped a beat. All of that was thanks to Venus.
A few months after our arrival my husband told me he was having trouble getting a proper visa for Venus. I didn’t understand because I thought one of the “perks” of being a diplomat (since families are required to move so frequently) usually is that bringing help from one post to another is usually well understood and accepted.
Unfortunately that wasn’t the case where we were living, so on Feb 29, 2020, just before the world turned upside down our world was rocked by the loss of this family member. I remember telling Venus at the time, that I didn’t understand why this was all happening and even though I was beyond disappointed I knew it was all happening for a reason.
A few short weeks later Covid became a worldwide pandemic. I remember the panic of the early days and as hard as it was, (and it was HARD) I was grateful Venus was with her family and not with us.
Here we are three years later and until a few days ago, my kids had not seen this beloved family member. Earlier this year as we all settled back into our new normal I knew it was time for us all to reunite.
Like many expat kids my kids still talk about and miss Venus. She was a staple in our daily lives. Since the kids were on break I decided we would go and visit Venus so the kids could enjoy time with her again.
Financially it wasn’t the easiest decision to make but emotionally it was a no brainer. I understood that this was an important relationship to rekindle and support, It was a priority so I found a way to make it work.
My kids are beyond thrilled to be spending time with Venus. As soon as we all reunited it was like no time had passed and we didn’t miss a beat. One thing I have been keenly aware of in my mothering journey as an expat is the importance of maintaining key relationships.
It isn’t always easy and it isn’t always clean and tidy, but I believe that making the effort is where it counts.
Like last summer I scheduled a trip to see a dear friend who had made the effort the year prior to come and see me and my family. Only for the trip to be cancelled by a case of Covid. Both my friend and I were really bummed but I know my effort was appreciated.
It isn’t always easy, actually it’s usually always complicated but helping support the continuation of relationships and memories is part of helping kids build meaningful connection.
Expats are coming up to another season of transition. As we approach summer some families are leaving and new families are coming. Helping our kids through these transitions is important. RAFT is an acronym, coined by David Pollack, that is really helpful in preparing for a transition.
It seems this RAFT process was designed specifically for families that were transitioning but I know that even international families not transitioning are deeply impacted during the season of moving that this is a helpful process for everyone impacted.
R = Reconciliation making right any challenging or difficult relationships. Just because you leave doesn’t always mean the problem goes away. Reconciliation is an important skill to develop.
A = Affirmation (Appreciation) is there anyone you are grateful for, people who have been an important part of your journey and who helped you (your family). Tell them, let them know what they did made a difference you for (for your family) and tell them what they mean to you.
F = Farewell this is not just a good bye to friends but also to places. This is a process not just an event, so ensuring you have ample time is important. Making a list of people as well as places is a good idea.
T = Think Destination is the process of starting to think about the new place and what some of the changes will look and feel like. Talk about what will be the same as well as what will be different, this will help especially kids in process this new chapter.
I hope that as your family enters a new season of transition, wether you are leaving or staying, this will be a helpful tool to support you and your kids in the emotional process.
With respect and gratitude.