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My child is emigrating – what now?

Sep 1, 2021

by Sue-Ann de Wet

When you hear the word “emigration”, you tend to think of those who are leaving the country, but seldom of the loved ones who are staying behind. Emigration is not only a life-changing reality for the child who is emigrating, but also for the people who stay behind.

Dr Sulette Ferreira, a family therapist who do research on the effect emigration has on parents and grandparents who are left behind, says although you have no control over the fact that your child is emigrating, you can choose how you react to it.

The way you react to the news will most probably also influence your relationship afterwards. It will also have an impact on your involvement in your child’s and grandchildren’s lives. Be supportive and ask questions (for instance if they made their decision based on reliable research). It will often bring peace of mind. Open conversations will also ensure that your child will share this life-changing decision with you instead of doing it in secret to spare your feelings, or because you might criticise their decision. How you react will determine how (and if) your child involve you in the emigration journey and make you a part of their new reality.

How to stay involved when your children/grandchildren live on a different continent

Use technology

Thank goodness for technology! Ensure that you have the necessary technology. Get yourself a smartphone and a computer and learn how to use it to communicate. For instance, if you do not know Skype or the way it works, have someone assist you.

Different time zones are challenging. Establish a routine. Be patient when you do not get an immediate response to your email.

Dr Douline Minnaar, a psychiatric nursing practitioner, does in-depth research on parents whose children emigrated. According to her you need to keep in mind that your children also have their own lives. She recommends that you identify a suitable communication platform such as Skype or WhatsApp. She also encourages family members to identify a specific time which will suit both parties. “Sometimes they will not be able to Skype you, but try not to see it as rejection. Rather find a time that suits everyone.”

Get to know your child’s new reality

Dr Ferreira advises people to become familiar with their children’s new country. A new country offers many adventures and you can be involved in all of the adventures in your child’s life. Follow the news and stay on top of important events and dates such as special holidays. Sign up for Worldwide’s Spotlight newsletter to stay updated on important issues impacting your expat-child. Being part of a borderless community is also valuable.

Focus on positive things. Send videos, share interests and highlight important dates such as birthdays on your calendar. You can visit Worldwide’s World Guide to see which businesses in your child’s vicinity offer nice products and services. You can order a special birthday present for your child or grandchildren. Your child will appreciate the effort you are making to continue being involved.

It is important to stay involved in your child’s new world but be careful not to make a nuisance of yourself. Emigration is a challenging process with many adjustments, and they will probably experience a culture shock. Send messages to enquire about their well-being, but also assure them that you don’t expect them to answer you right-away.

In conclusion, accept your new reality and continue with your life, living it to the fullest. According to Dr Ferreira it is important to remember that a child cannot be held responsible for a parent’s happiness. Every person is responsible for his or her own happiness. It is important to have a support network where you can go to for help (or even just some moral support). If necessary, get professional help to assist you with this huge adjustment and the emotional rollercoaster.

ALSO READ: Distance grandparenting – Expert advice for every generation

About the author

Sue-Ann de Wet

Sue-Ann de Wet is the Head of Diaspora at AfriForum.

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