Going home to visit is good for the soul, it really is. But it can also be stressful, especially if you haven’t maintained a residence in your home country. Living out of a suitcase for weeks at a time, and feeling like you are always in somebody’s space can be difficult.  Add to that the allure and opportunity of exotic travel when you live abroad, and it’s enough to make you consider skipping a home visit every now and then. But you shouldn’t. Your children need these home visits for a couple of very important reasons.

The 2 Most Important Reasons to Take Your Kids Home

Children benefit from having roots: Research shows that one of the biggest challenges children face growing up abroad is a sense of ‘rootlessness’. In their book, “Third Culture Kids”, authors David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken note the problem that this creates for these children,

“For some third culture kids (TCKs), “Where is home?” is the hardest question of all. Home connotes an emotional place—somewhere you truly belong. There simply is no real answer to that question for many TCKs. They may have moved so many times, lived in so many different residences, and attended so many different schools that they never had time to become attached to any. ”

Excerpt From: David C. Pollock. “Third Culture Kids.” iBooks.

If you have a place your children consider home, a place that will give them those roots, make every effort to visit, when possible. This sense of home will help them feel grounded and give them a place that they know they will always belong.

Children benefit from strong, loving relationships: As an adult, you likely have people in your life that you have known and loved since you were a small child. These people played an important role in your early life by filling a basic human need necessary for healthy psychological development: the need for strong, loving relationships.

Don’t get me wrong, I hope that you have made wonderful friends abroad and if you are lucky, they have become part of your extended family. But the reality is that expatriate children experience more than their fair share of grief and loss as friends come and go. So if you have a ‘home base’, or a place that includes family or life-long friends, it is in your child’s best interest for you to foster these relationships. Remember, they will become the foundation of your child’s lifelong support system as they grow into adulthood.

4 Tips to Reduce the Stress of Home Visits

  1. Accept reality and prioritize your children: Unless you have one of those time-turners Hermione used in “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”, there is just no way you are going to be able to see or spend as much time with people as you would like. Yes, it would be great to have coffee with a former colleague or dinner with an old friend; and if you have time for these things, great. But it’s important to remember that the decision to move abroad was likely a decision made by the adults, not the children. It is our responsibility, as parents, to prioritize our children (when possible) and those relationships they need that will bring stability to their lives. We need to set the example and teach them how to maintain their relationships, particularly when living abroad.
  2. Schedule but don’t publish: Nine years ago at this time we made our first trip home after moving to Germany. We were so excited to visit as we were still adjusting to our life as expats and were quite homesick. I decided to make a calendar showing the three weeks that we would be in town. To make sure we took advantage of every single minute, I divided the days into morning and evening, filling in the names of the people we were visiting and then emailed it to family and friends. Can you see where this is going yet? Then the s#%* hit the fan. Unfortunately, I hadn’t considered the possibility that the time I spent, or lack thereof, with various friends and family would become a source of anger and hurt feelings. I felt absolutely terrible. To help keep us organized, I still create a calendar; I just don’t publish it.
  3. Schedule some down time– If you’ve been abroad for any length of time, you probably have noticed that the pace of life is slower (at least from the American perspective) and you and your children have become accustomed to more alone time. If you are staying with friends or family, try to set aside a little bit of time for your kids to get some extra sleep or just do nothing, even if that means a day to two at a hotel.
  4. Be grateful– We love living abroad but sometimes it is just really, really lonely. We hate that we’ve missed important family events like graduations and dance recitals. So whenever we visit home we remind ourselves, that in the middle of the ‘trying fitting it all in’ chaos, We are grateful that we can afford to make the trip home. We are grateful that we have people to love and that love us. We are grateful that we are missed.

If you are fortunate enough to make a home visit this holiday season, best wishes for safe travel and wonderful memories made with your children and those you love.