I’m nervous and scared. Okay, I said it out loud. I’m feeling pretty vulnerable, second-guessing my decisions, which definitely is not a natural state for me.
My in-laws have recently, very generously bought tickets to fly my kids, ages 10, 8 and 6, back to the US on a direct flight for a six week vacation. In the two years since I have moved my family down to Argentina, we have never been back to the states for a visit. So, for a lot of obvious reasons, this is an amazing opportunity for my kiddos and all of the extended family which I should be completely grateful for, and in many ways I am. I get 6 weeks without kids, (which has never, ever happened in my ten years of being a mom!!). Six weeks of space, six weeks of quiet, yummy me-time. I have the chance to do some solo traveling through Bolivia that I have wanted to do for a long time, channeling my inner gypsy that has been screaming to get out for a while now. My kids get 6 weeks hanging out with aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, great-grandparents, getting completely spoiled and loved on beyond belief…and this is where I begin to think maybe way too much…
Will they be given such a distorted dose of what life in the US would and could be like, that they will not want to willingly come back to South America? Will they return to Argentina bitter about being expat kids? Will they be mad at me for dragging them along on what they may then see as my dream of living abroad?
Think about it – I guarantee that while they are there, their wishes will be everyone elses’ command. Two years of missed togetherness will be crammed into six weeks. You want to have a pool party at a hotel with your friends? Of course!! You want to stay up until midnight? Why not, we only get to see you for a little bit longer. You want ice cream for dinner, sweeties? – sure, your vegetarian, way-too-health-conscious mom never lets you do that, I bet!!! They have already been told that they need to bring no clothes, that the in-laws will take them shopping and deck them out with all the new styles from the states. (As if on return in rural, farmland Argentina, this will matter to any of the gauchos…). In many regards, I expect this behavior. I get it. It is the family’s way of expressing love to kids whom they miss dearly.
But after almost two years of living here, I feel like the kids have finally, just recently accepted Argentina as their home. They have come to the realization that we are not here on an extended vacation. They have arrived at the point where they have settled in, made friends, pretty much dropped the materialism and consumer mentality that they grew up around, and have almost fully acclimated to a simple, slow way of life. I am wondering if we will be taking huge steps backwards through this trip. Will they return only for us to have to start the acclimatization all over again, from scratch, and this time with a bad attitude?
My good friend and neighbor here in Argentina, a British expat, was open enough to share her personal experience with me:
“After about two years of living in Argentina I agreed to let my children, then aged 6 and 8, have a one month vacation with their grandparents in England whereby they were spoiled rotten with daily trips to the beach, fun fairs, shopping malls, the zoo, theme parks, McDonalds and anything thing else that was going. They came back with the impression that life in England was wonderful and had a hard time recognizing that this was a vacation and not real life. It changed their attitude about Argentina and complained on a daily basis that it was boring and that there was nothing to do…
My children were seduced by the good life and found it very hard to settle back afterwards to the extent where my son was so unhappy he now lives with his grandparents in England in a society and environment I despise. I face the daily bitter-sweet feeling that my son is happy and doing well at school and in athletic activities while missing him dreadfully and feeling afraid that one day he will fall in with the wrong crowd and go astray. I know if I make him come back to Argentina now he will resent me for a long time, if not forever. I regret letting them go on vacation, it did not work out well for me and my family. Each family is unique though of course and just because my experience was not a positive one does not mean this will apply to other families.”
Also working against me, I feel, is the inherent attitude of the in-laws. (In-laws, if you are reading this, I love you to death, but what I’m about to say is true in my experience. So just take a deep breath and let my viewpoint enter in please). It has been made clear from the second that I decided to move my young family 8000km away, to a “oh my god, probably disease-ridden third world country!!” that this is definitely not their first choice of how they wanted their grandkids raised. They were very content when my kids were being brought up in Midwestern suburbia, went to a ridiculously well-funded school that got top honors in the state of Michigan, got to attend their conservative-as-can-be Christian Reformed church on Sundays, and my husband had what they thought of as a stable, successful job that they could brag to their friends about. (No matter that I was miserable…it all looked good from the outside in). And then we had to go and give up the big fancy house, ditch the job, to take their grandkids to an unknown land where we didn’t know a soul, where the people don’t even have the decency to speak English, to piece together freelance jobs and send our kids to a rural school where the kids are lucky to get paper to write on. Suffice it to say they are not impressed with my decisions. Until now I really haven’t cared.
Some family has not been shy about the fact that they want us to return from this “nonsense that we should have out of our system by now“, and sooner rather than later. I am admitting that what I am about to say may be emotional and over-the-top irrational (women feeling vulnerable when it comes to their kids haven’t always been known for their clarity in thought and composure in action), but I feel like I am may be knowingly sending my kids into a well-funded, relentless propaganda machine, one that knows my kids’ every weakness. I am concerned that the kids, during this one-on-one time, are facing the possibility of being overwhelmed with “Don’t you prefer to just stay here? Can’t you explain to your mom that you just don’t want to go back? You know you could stay with us, sweeties, we could work it out.” It’s going to be hard enough for the kids to leave extended family once again when they return here, but to do so in the midst of that, if that happens to be how it plays out, sheesh….
I feel strongly in my decision to raise my kids as expats, but I understand that young kids are not going to necessarily realize or appreciate for years to come the benefits that this lifestyle gives them. Does a six year old little boy honestly care that he speaks Spanish without accent, like a native Argentine, and that this can help him down the road to make contacts or work all over Latin America? No. To him, speaking Spanish is not something special, it is just a part of his normal, everyday life. But his cousin telling him on skype that he has 200 video games that they can play all day long when he comes to visit…well, to him, that was special! Does my eight year old daughter realize how amazing it is that she knows her way around Mac computer programs and every advanced digital camera function, without coupling that with the materialistic desire to show off these “items” to her friends or feel the need to have this year’s new and improved model of said item? Probably not, but when her friends in the US point out to her that her iPod model is considered an antique in the states now, she may start to get the “gimmees”. Would it ever cross my ten year old’s mind how amazing it is that, while I saw her getting more and more insecure by the day about her body US thanks to the culture we were living in, here I can smile when I see her throwing her clothes off without thought to run through the rain or catch minnows in the stream by our house, fully comfortable in her own skin? To me, this is a huge plus of raising my soon-to-be teenage daughter here. She can’t comprehend how much it makes my heart soar to see her sewing her own custom clothes, and wearing them proudly to school no matter how funky they turned out, as opposed to the little girl I knew in the US whose clothes needed to be creepily similar to all of her friends brand name clothing. I can only imagine her seeing her homemade clothes through new eyes after she has made a few rounds with Grandma’s credit card through a good old American shopping mall.
I really do want my kids to have this vacation. I want them to have a strong connection with family. I want them to know their little cousin, who was only a year old when we left. I want them to see their old school and compare their experiences then and now. I want them to be able to be comfortable navigating both cultures. I like it that they know their way around technology and popular American music, but can also single-handedly make alfajores from scratch, have hitchhiked with me through Patagonia, and can keep up with any Argentine on colorful swear words or Argentine pop culture. I never brought them here to take them away from the US or family completely.
I just wish that I had confidence that the kids will feel the same way, and will appreciate the experience in the US for what it is. I hope that they will be able to look forward to the beautiful things that Argentina offers them on return, even if it isn‘t as glitzy as shopping sprees and party time every day. I hope with all my heart that family can put their own desires and dreams for these kids aside and see the opportunities that I strongly feel I am giving these kiddos by raising them as expat kids, to trust in me as their mother that I am doing the absolute best that I know how.
If anyone has a similar experience with sending your kids back to their original country for a vacation, and has advice for me on how to re-acclimate them as painlessly as possible, or how to deal with well-intentioned, (but not always the most supportive or open-minded) family, I would appreciate it a ton! Please leave your comments.
About the author: Cathy Brown is a mother, writer, artist, teacher, traveller and explorer originally from Michigan. She has a serious case of wanderlust and currently lives in Argentina with her three amazing children, ages nine, seven, and five. She writes for and maintains Expat Daily News – South America and Expat Daily News – Central America
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