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Parents’ adaptation to children who emigrate

Feb 15, 2024

By Dr Douline Minnaar (mental health counsellor)

Usually, any farewell has a sad, melancholy undertone. But when your children emigrate, it is a jumble of emotions.

You feel happy for them, proud and excited for new opportunities, but behind the brave smile, you carefully hide your human fears and aching parental heart. You see them moving through the lines at the airport and wonder if you will survive. Arms and hands wave to each other, kisses are sent through the air, and an emotional seesaw ride begins. When they disappear behind the customs security, the walls break. Whether your loss presents in tears or with a big swallow, you know big adjustments are awaiting.

Every parent reading here experiences the farewell to their children in a unique way. Nothing you experience has to be the same as that of your friends or family members. Respect your own experience. Even if other people tell you they are comfortable with their children emigrating, it’s perfectly fine for you not to feel the same. It’s normal.

Many parents have shared their experiences with me, and it seems that some go through the grieving process repeatedly. It is never completely settled. The children visit, or you visit them, and you must say farewell again. Then the grieving process starts all over again. It is a challenging path of tears, joy, pride and longing. The parents carry this jumble of emotions mostly in silence and try to adapt on their own time and again.

Adjustment requires you to acknowledge your feelings

You already face the first adjustments when you drive home from the airport. Many parents then become aware of a new chronic presence: the companion of longing.

Longing can make your chest feel heavy and fragile. It’s important to know where in your body you feel the longing. Deliberately dwell on your feelings for a while and write them down. It has so much more value than just being aware of them. If you express it in words, art or music, it helps you to start adapting to the changes.

Adaptation means taking on new roles

Perhaps you were very involved in your grandchildren’s and even in your own children’s lives. You may feel useless and aimless when they are suddenly no longer nearby. You must set new goals and establish new routines. This may lead to anxiety and the feeling that your life no longer means anything. Of course, this is not true at all, and therefore, you must discipline your thoughts.

You must discipline your thoughts by exercising your mind like a muscle. Of course, many parents will not feel like doing anything immediately after their children have emigrated. However, the longer you maintain the aimless phase, the harder you have to work to regain control of your thoughts.

Once again you can write in your journal. Write down what bothers you in one column. Write the truth in the column right next to your feelings. For example, write right next to ‟I feel like I don’t mean anything anymore.” in the other column, ‟Although my children are no longer close to me, I still mean a lot to them and other people in my family and community.”

Adaptation requires you to learn new habits

You may wonder what bad habits you had when the children were still around. One often focuses so much on other’s lives that you unconsciously sidestep your own development and inner growth. Now you can take care of yourself and determine how you can play a more significant role in the community. Our good deeds often remain only in our family, but our responsibility extends further. Your role at your church or a community organization may begin to expand. Many hands are needed for good deeds in our country.

It’s also necessary to keep your brain going. Do not come to a standstill – neither physically nor intellectually. Try to keep up with the technology. At first, people mostly Skyped, but nowadays, many platforms are available for families to spend time together. The children who live abroad can assist their parents with this and ensure that their parents have a good internet connection and know how to communicate with WhatsApp.

Adjustment requires spiritual deepening

Without a spiritual basis, the longing and concern for our children will be even more overwhelming. Most believers’ spiritual life deepens as they grow older, and many parents can testify that it is an inexhaustible source of strength. You can do online courses, and a deeper understanding of yourself and your spiritual growth can carry you through times when you can’t carry yourself.

We humans are created to be adaptable. Even though saying goodbye to and longing for your children is sometimes very challenging, there is support. There are support groups on social media, and counselling is available.

Good luck to all the parents who long so deeply for their children and grandchildren.


Dr Douline Minnaar is a mental health counsellor and conducts online counselling sessions with parents whose children have emigrated, as well as for adults with emotional problems and chronic or terminal illnesses. Their families can also contact her for counselling.

Feel free to contact Douline on her e-mail at minnaarh@gmail.com.

She says: “It is always a privilege to counsel parents whose children have emigrated, whether online or in person. I like to walk a path with people until they see the light again and can continue on their own.”

Photo: Getty Images/Unsplash

About the author

Dr Douline Minnaar

Dr Douline Minnaar is a mental health counsellor and conducts online counselling sessions with parents whose children have emigrated, as well as for adults with emotional problems and chronic or terminal illnesses. Their families can also contact her for counselling. Feel free to contact Douline on her e-mail at minnaarh@gmail.com. She says: “It is always a privilege to counsel parents whose children have emigrated, whether online or in person. I like to walk a path with people until they see the light again and can continue on their own.”

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