Cross-cultural life can be a perpetual string of chaotic disruptions or beautiful rhythms — perspective and expectation make all the difference.
We’re about to do summer. For us, as is true for many expats, June and July are two of the most discombobulated months of the year. Going “home” (those are finger quotes) for example, is often an overload of illogical anticipation and misguided excitement that is rudely tempered by the realities of jetlag, relentless road trips, awkward reunions and far too many goodbyes.
In a span of about 48 hours (sometime on June 13) our entire existence gets turned upside down. Virtually everything is instantly and dramatically different. Sound familiar?
Here we don’t drive. There we will literally spend days (cumulative) in a car.
Here we fight to understand 20% of what’s being said. There we understand too much and wish we could turn it off.
Here we have settled in. There we never stop moving.
Here we miss family. There we get to see them all.
Here it is hard to find a good steak. There . . . well . . . someone should call Texas Roadhouse and let them know we are coming.
Here we are foreigners . . . ok not everything is different.
Going “home” for the summer (especially with kids in tow) can be overwhelming and is guaranteed to be exhausting.
Here are three thoughts on setting the right perspective and expectations to not just make it through but to get the most out of it.
ONE: Put it on the timeline.
Zooming out changes things. Sure June 13th is going to be a stressful day. We’ll get up at the crack of dawn and set out for the first of three airports. Our kids are going to fight. We might too. We are going to spend way too much money on mediocre food. Something is going to go wrong with the inflight entertainment system . . . it always does . . . and when we finally arrive our internal clocks are going to be 12 hours off of every person around us. I can feel the hives forming just thinking about it.
BUT — On a timeline this is the kickoff for summer 2017. Trips to the place I call home are these all too limited stretches on the storyline of our lives. These are the moments that connect our kids to their passport country. These are the only non-digital memories that they will have of their grandparents, their cousins and our “forever friends.”
These short little bursts of time are the defining moments for our kids lifelong “big picture.” Putting it on the timeline now makes me want to do something memorable, something crazy, something hilarious that we will laugh hysterically about when we get together in Morocco for Christmas 2047. It also makes the stress a worthwhile investment.
TWO: Adjust for the undesirables.
There are parts of what is coming that are not going to be good. Let’s just wrap our heads around that right now.
However, I am discovering, that pre-deciding how to handle the less desirables gives me a lot more space to enjoy the good stuff. For example — nothing is more stressful than trying to force kids out of jetlag.
“Get back in bed! It’s 2am! . . . Don’t you ‘but Dad me.'”
It is true that children being awake in the middle of the night makes no sense. It is not normal (with a few exceptions). It is definitely not healthy.
Ironically these are all words that describe perfectly, the whole homegoing experience. So just embrace it. Watch a family movie before the sun comes up. Go for donuts. Take a trip to the 24 hour Supermegastore and let your kids play in the toy section.
Turn the frustrations into golden moments.
Decide ahead of time to let people off the hook for not wanting to hear your stories.
Make a gameplan for insanely long road trips.
And please, please, please, don’t get caught off guard by political conversations.
Adjust accordingly and save that emotional space for the best bits.
THREE: Expand the misconceptions (don’t fix them).
Maybe your kids have an unrealistic view of their passport country. Maybe for them going to the place you call home is Disneyland, camping, amazing food and non-stop, deep-fried, sugar coated fun. Maybe it’s a place where they get treated like a celebrity. Maybe it’s a place where mom and dad are always stressed out.
Regardless, it is important to remember that your kids are normal.
They have a frame of reference built on limited exposure. There is no way for that frame to match yours.
If you’re like me you want to fix that. You want them to understand that their stereotypes are not the full picture. Fair enough but that’s a tall order. Take the pressure off of yourself to give your kids a completely accurate perspective.
They’ll get there and trips home are a great opportunity to expand the frame . . . not fix it.
Try the three D’s instead.
Discover: Ask them questions and really learn what’s going on inside. If you’re not surprised you’re not there yet.
Discuss: Let them ask questions about your perspective.
Disney: Seriously don’t cancel your trip to Disneyland just because you want them to have a more accurate view. You can’t live that down.
Raising kids, abroad or at home is a process. It’s a journey. It’s a perpetual string of beautiful rhythms sprinkled with inevitable moments of chaotic disruption.
That makes me pretty excited about Summer 2017.
If you’re traveling. Travel well.
PS — I’m giving myself 10 ALOS points for using the word “discombobulated” in a post.