J Simens.com

Expat Empty Nest Syndrome: Fact or Fiction?


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Is empty nest syndrome a real psychological condition to be reckoned with or just a natural process of life?

Is Expat Empty Nest Syndrome a delight or torture for all of us?

With August here, many expats are heading back to their work locations. Some kids are going back to their International Schools; other teenagers will be leaving the nest and going to university.

Empty nest syndrome is a psychological condition experienced by parents when their coming-of-age children leave home (the nest). The symptoms that parents suffer are typically feelings of sadness, anxiety and excessive worry over the welfare of their child. Throw in that parents will be half a world away from their child and pow…interesting!

Experts say those hardest hit are parents without career obligations and/or parents who might have an unstable relationship. I gave up a job that I loved and have taken the longest summer vacation in my life thus separating me from the love of my life, so this might be an interesting time for me.  I decided to come up with seven self-tips to help during this time.

Here are my seven tips to ease the impact of EXPAT Empty Nest Syndrome:

1) Remind myself that it’s very normal to feel sad during this transition. So quit dancing around his empty bedroom. Quit jumping up and down with joy enough that it makes Raja bark and run around the house.  Get back to my normal life of quilting, blogging, and reading! Quit that foolish smile!

2) Think of this as a new beginning instead of a loss or sad ending. Not a new beginning for my kid off at college but for me and my husband’s new beginning. We can now just eat when we want to eat, watch TV we want to watch. We can stop giving each other the ‘deadly silent eye treatment’ when we wanted to make sure the kid does as we wanted with least amount of fuss. We can just actually talk out loud and communicate like the good old days when our child was under the age of one. Quit enjoying this time so much!

3) Stay connected to my kids via technology but do it on my time and my schedule. I don’t need to answer each email within 5 seconds.I will treat my child like I treat a job.  If a question comes up during my regular working hours, I respond, but after hours, the response can wait until morning.  This keeps my sanity and also helps my kids become more resourceful.  Remember as an overseas parent – time zones suck so why set the ground rules that will allow me to be worked up or irritated right when I need to go to bed. I won’t log on!

4) Lean on friends – Yes there is life after kids! Now I can stay out as late as I WANT or just go to bed when I want. I no longer have to wait up to do the “hug and smell test” good night squeeze! I can bug my friends and have fun. If I want to give late night hugs, I can just wake up Kevin.

5) Do nice things for myself on a routine basis. ENOUGH SAID if I have not already been doing this…do MORE of this.

6) Experts often say “Don’t make any major changes in your life during this time, like selling the house or moving to another city or state.” As an Expat, THIS IS THE TIME MOST OF US MOVE because we have stayed trying to get that last child out of High School and the company was kind enough to let us stay. Now it is time to move on.  In many ways this is great.  Few children want to come home to a ‘home’ they have never lived in.  Perhaps this means they will want to find that holiday job or summer job and start becoming a productive member of society instead of my couch potato in a new location.

7) If at all possible do not have/get another baby. That would give me 18 more years before I can once again feel this ‘bad’ about letting go. Find a friend with a baby and offer to rock it one afternoon, then run like hell, so I don’t have to change the diaper or hear the baby cry!

Expat Empty Nest Syndrome is a time to thrive!

I am sure some of my expat friends who have already hit this transition in life and have succeeded will have great words of wisdom.  Please add your comments about what you did during this time in your life.

Notes:

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/walkn/4858954172/

If you want a great article on real self-help for this, check out this article by John Tsilimparis

On a real personal note:  I still miss Jackie every day and I am sure my time away from Grant will be spent thinking about him.

Early Childhood Success: Don’t focus on academics


Blog jsimens - helping families worldwideI work with the global population as well as US based parents. I am always asked about “fostering childhood success.” I remind them that I am heavily invested and involved in early childhood care.

Parents need to focus on three key things for early success with their child’s preschool experience.

Three Key Things Parents Can Do

First – Kids need to have exposure to letters and sounds, so parents need to read aloud to their children starting at an early age. It is great to share as many possible books with your young child but also have one old favorite story that you read again and again.  Repetition helps a child understand the whole reading and writing process.

Second –  Kids need to learn how to take turns.  If a child has not had exposure to group settings, kindergarten is very hard for them and their new kindergarten teacher. Make sure kids have play dates that make them share and take turns. Events, where they get to mingle with peers but must wait to take their turn in the jumpy castle or stand in line to get their cupcake, are all learning experiences that help kids function in a kindergarten classroom.

Third – Kids need to know how to use supplies and return them to an organized manner to the location they belong in.  Many parents encourage kids to work with letters, puzzles, paper, and paste but then clean up after their child. Kids that can get the supplies they need in a classroom will be more independent in their school work in Kindergarten. The teacher also looks for kids that will help with the flow of the class and a child that returns supplies to their correct area will be seen as a leader or extremely helpful to any teacher.

Note:  I hate it when parents use the words “real school” to mean what comes after preschool.  As an early childhood development expert – I feel those years of birth to age 5 are the most important in your child’s life.

 

Starting a New School? Tips to Help Your Child


 

Are you excited or nervous?

Are you excited or nervous?

 See the new environment

Families often do not use their new school until the start of the school year. I always suggest to my parents who are moving to call the school and ask them if you can bring the children in to see their new environment. This often takes some anxiety off the first day of school, but it also allows you the opportunity to ‘run into’ other new families or those families that are involved with the school. These are both valuable resources. You can ask them, “Where do kids this age play or hangout?” as you point to your children. You ask them, “What are you finding to do while your family is still in the rental apartment? Sometimes this on-site visit gives your child the opportunity to see what other kids are wearing, so they don’t get stunned on that first day of school. This can be very important if the school does not have a uniform. Most kids just want to belong and not stick out too much.

Get a local resource person

Use the school secretary as a resource. Ask the school staff, “Where is the best playground around here?” – “What activities do kids in this school get involved in?” I have had students take a weekend class on pottery to find out that a child in that class would also be in their grade or classroom in a few days. Make sure your child understands how many sections or classrooms there will be with kids their age. When a child moves from a huge school to a small school, it is important for them to realize how important first impressions might be because there is a smaller pool of possible friends. This also is important if your child is going from a tiny school to a larger school. Often the first days of school have grade level assemblies or school assemblies; your child needs to know if these will be in a group of 40+ or 400+. The more information a child has on their new environment, the more in control they might feel.

Proper use of “Family Time.”

Use family time as “out of home time” not “bonding in your environment.” The more exposure your child has to get around the new town, eating at the local places close to school and knowing the names of the large streets or apartment buildings gives them more to talk about the first two days of classes when friendships are being formed. Often we are stuck in a service apartment while waiting for the shipment to clear customs. This means we have very little to do and can easily get on each other’s nerves. Take that energy and go out to explore the new environment.

#1 Rule for Success

My number one rule for all parents is – Do not show up late to the start of the school year. Friendships form so quickly that a kid that misses out on the teacher trying to make class connections with peers, he/she will suffer. This also means do not show up to school with an overly tired child. Getting off a plane on Sunday to start school on Monday can set up a child for social failure. As parents of global families, what has been your “rule of thumb” or “success strategies” that work for you family? I’d love to hear them.

Note: Related posts to starting a new school – New schools and emotions and Ahhh – Survived the first week of school

 

 

 

Never Again: A look at change in an Expat’s life


Never again – words that a mother might cry about

calendar August 01

Pinch and a Punch the first of the month!

August is one month that can bring tears to a mother’s eye. It is not so much the growing up, the changes that summer brought to your family or even the fact your child will never be in this school grade again.  It is the fact that change has happened and it is possible that as a mother you will never again have that moment in time.

I used to measure my start of a new school year with the type of notebooks my children wanted to purchase or the style of their backpacks.  Sometimes it was the kind of new shoes to start the school year with. Now it is measured in ‘what my kids care to share with me.’  Never again – will the start of August be the time I am needed to ensure that this school year (year) starts out right.

For an Expat Child – sometimes the changes are massive

Often an expat child will start August in a new location. Many times this is with their family unit, so the change is manageable. They still have everyday things around them and standard family rules to obey.

Then they move out of the family unit and head off to university!

This is a milestone for all children but even more so for an expat child. Most kids are giving up the convenience of having mom and dad help them. Or someone to do the laundry and to cook.

Expat children are giving up someone who does laundry and irons each piece of clothing. Never again will the expat child have underwear that is ironed and folded into tiny little squares. Never will his cargo shorts have the seams folded and ironed together. Never again will his t-shirts be wrinkle free.

Also, he will not find his refrigerator always full of clean fruit and vegetables. His meals will not always have salad or soup with fresh bread and butter. His meals might just consist of one item, a cup of soup or a bowl of ramen.

He might find his shoes are dirty and no one thinks to clean them up after a rainy night on the busy city streets. The old dried crud on his book bag might never get wiped off. Ever.

He might not have the luxury of getting batteries for his math calculator or strings for his guitar by just writing a note and leaving it on the kitchen table for the maid or driver to pick up when she/he is out and about.

He is giving up the driver that drops him off at the front of the movie theater. He is never going to have someone stand by the side of the car and wait as he has last minute talks with his friends and then just jump into the car and know that the driver was not mad because he had to wait. Never again will be he 100% sure his designated driver has not had a drink.

Expat children often lose a ‘village’ when they go off to college.

The hardest part for many expat children when they go off to college is the fact they often also lose at the same time…their family home. Many expat families try to coincide their work move to line up with a transition of schooling for their children. This means the kid moves off to college and the parents pack up the home and move to a new location. Now the college kid does not even know what ‘home’ is like because they have never even seen where their parents are now living.

 

This is a whole new type of “growing up” and expat children around the world do it so well.
Please share your child’s most positive achievement during this time of growth.

Picture 18 1

Notes:

Photo

http://www.flickr.com/photos/71256895@N00/9414783260/in/set-72157634879835721/

 

What are Your Worse Expat Parenting Moments?


Parenting at it best – Bring Your Fish to School Day

Why are your parenting practices remembered by the “worst” things you have done?

I am often aware that I will not get a mother of the year award, but sometimes as an expat mother I get pushed over my sanity limits and worry that I might get the “Worst Mother of the Year Award.” I want to share three “special” times that my mother dearest moments will stay with me forever.

I will be using the same “Jack” that I used in Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child; my children wish to remain out of these moments documented since they don’t want to have to verify how rude I did treat them. Some of these stories are from Jackie’s experiences around the world, and some are from Grant’s experiences. To make it more palatable for my children, I have made each story be about a boy called “Jack.”

 

safety first

 

Safety First

As our family was relocating from Indonesia to Nigeria, we had a lot of items we wanted to have as soon as we got into our home in Lagos. As a family of four, we were traveling with 13 boxes and suitcases. Since this was a work relocation, we were flying business class, and each of us were given three suitcase allotments. That extra box, Number 13 started to cause us a lot of problems.

When the airplane staff personnel told me that Box 13 would be $1,120 to take as luggage, I could not believe it. What happened to the $200 per bag – extra fee? After a very long discussion about freight and rules, it was evident this box would be way too expensive for us to consider taking to Nigeria.

I received this box, opened it up to see what we would be throwing away. At this point in time, a few air support staff started helping me by saying “That box can hold three more pounds” and “you can put four more pounds in this suitcase.” We ended up with four items that would just not make it to Lagos.

  • The small ziplock bag of dry cat food so we could feed Bailey as soon as we landed in our new foreign assignment. This bag went into my front jeans pants pocket. Not all that comfortable for me but I knew once I got on the plane it would be in the seat pocket in front of me.
  • A lap size quilt that I had made that I thought would brighten up our new home. Since we were leaving Indonesia at the end of a school year when many expats are also leaving, I walked across the crowded airline terminal and gave this quilt to a coworker and wished her a pleasant summer holiday. I hope she still has it somewhere in her travels around the world.
  • Two bicycle helmets. If you know me, you realize I am a stickler for brain safety and wearing a helmet was a requirement – not an option for my children. We had already sent their bikes in our air shipment, and they should be waiting for us in Lagos. My kids knew if they didn’t have their helmets, they would not get to ride their bikes.

In one of those “Mom is starting to lose it” moments, Jack took his helmet and put it on his head and walked down the attachable jetway into the airplane. As Jack buckled himself into 3A in business class, he firmly kept the helmet on and did not even make eye contact with the rest of his family. It was only after take off that he removed the helmet and put it in the overhead storage area.

We never talked about how most people flying don’t bring special head protection on the plane. We never spoke of the strange looks Jack got from fellow passengers and flight attendants. We just let this “mommy moment”  go by. Now twelve years later we can finally laugh about this.

baggage tracking information

Bound to Happen 

 

As a family of four, we are meeting up with Grandpa in the Cook Islands. We are looking forward to a week of family fun. As we watched the last bag being picked up off the baggage carousel in Rarotonga, we knew that our bags were still in the Auckland International Airport in New Zealand.

The airline gave each of us a tool kit and travel bag because the airline did not fly into Rarotonga each day. We would have to survive 48 hours without luggage. The kids are five and eight years old. Now imagine how that large white airline t-shirt fits a five-year-old or an eight-year-old as well this same size t-shirt fits my body.

These are what our family of four will be wearing for the next 48 hours.

Since it was a long trip and the hotel room was hot, everyone was very comfortable pulling off their travel clothes and going to bed. I hand washed the clothes and put them out to dry. In the morning, Jack jumped up eager to eat breakfast.  The clothes were not dry. After 15 minutes of using the hair dryer, they were still not dry. Jack didn’t complain as he pulled on his white t-shirt that became a long flowing dress on his small little body. He knew as a family of four we would all be entering the restaurant to eat breakfast in our matching one size fits all white t-shirts with airline logos. Jack knew if we were not careful we might make this a ‘mommy moment’ so he bravely marched into the breakfast brunch area.

He firmly kept the t-shirt from flowing off his shoulders and not tripping on it. Jack did not even make eye contact with the rest of his family as he filled his plate full of bacon and toast.

We never talked about the strange looks Jack got from fellow diners and staff personnel. He just let this “mommy moment” go by. Now twelve years letter we can finally laugh about this. Our bags showed up before we took off for Aitutaki but we never talked about how it was to wear matching clothes. Or how it felt to wear the same size of something that Mom and Dad were wearing. Then about twelve years later after this beautiful vacation, we were able to laugh about those Christmas photos!

 

89045075  Legal Documents are Forever!

We need passport photos for a legal medical document, and we need them as soon as possible.  From the Doctor’s office, we grab a cab and go across town to the only ‘fast photo’ location in the city. We traveled to this photo shop clear across a city we had never been to before. We hope the doctor’s office had given us the correct information and we hope the cab driver knew where we were going.

We finally found the store. As the clerk informed us that Jack could not wear a white t-shirt in the photo or it would blend in the background and the visa department would reject the pictures.  We are in a government office building without any commercial stores around it. We know if we miss this opportunity, we will not get the legal document on time, and our summer would be ruined.

I look down at my black shirt and inform Jack that he would be wearing my shirt for the photo. It was starting to become a ‘mommy moment, apparently, ‘ but without a single word, Jack went with me into the photo store bathroom to switch shirts. It comes apparent that Jack could easily put on my large black shirt with a small ruffled around the collar but there was no way his tight white shirt would fit me.

I stripped off my black shirt and he put it over the top of his white t-shirt. I stayed in the bathroom in my bra while he took his photo. When he was finished he knocked on the door, handed me my shirt and walked away without saying a word.

I hope it doesn’t take twelve years for us to think this was funny.  But it might because tonight, Jack reminded me that these ‘legal documents’ would be part of his life for the next four years and each time he had to deal with them he would remember this day and the events that lead us to a ‘mommy moment.’

mother award

I am sure you all have had expat mommy moments!  Are you willing to share one with us?

 

Notes:

Related Blogs – Good Now?  and Go 2 Women 4 Women

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mollivan_jon/125377856/ http://www.flickr.com/photos/comedynose/4154079494/ http://www.flickr.com/photos/gjs/89045075/

Camps: Don’t target your child’s weakness, so for the strengths


Tahoe Summer Camp

 

Some children thrive in a camp like environment.

Some kids are way out of their comfort zone.

But all children can benefit from camp because of the independence and social skills that it builds.

 

Children should attend camp when they have the emotional vocabulary to express how they are feeling and would be able to articulate that to an adult in charge. This type of development is like a sliding scale; some children have it at eight years old others not until they are twelve years old.

Do you build up a weakness or strength?

Parents often look at camps for ‘growth’ for their child and will target
areas they feel their child is already strong in. Parents want to help develop
that area.  Some parents do the opposite; they target a weakness the child has.

As an expert in child, adolescent and family therapy, I know, parents must
target the strengths of their child. If parents target camps that highlight
the ‘strengths’ of their child, they will see more self-determination and
strength from their child when he or she returns. Empowerment results from
being treated with respect and having your strengths acknowledges and
enhanced.

I have worked with over 20,000 students and parents who do summer camps each year. Working as a school counselor, I was involved in overnight trips, week-long trips, international trips and a variety of kinds of camps with a variety of ages. I have had endless conversations with parents before/ during and after a school sponsored trip and how it impacted their child. These are my tips.

Tips for Parents

  • All parents should talk to their child about ‘homesickness’ even if
    their child has NEVER been homesick before. So often we are not sure why or how homesickness hits so all parents should help their child have a plan of action. Each child is unique, but some things seem to work well with many children.
  • Parents should not send anything unless they have talked to their
    child, and then asked them, “Would you like to take a photo?” “Would it be helpful if I put in some friendly notes in your items?” Some parents feel guilty, and they put in things in the suitcase because they need to do it.  Not that their child needs it.
  • I always encourage parents to discuss what will be in suitcases and stick to the plan. Some kids feel more out of control when parents sneak things in on them.
  • Calls home from camp should not be treated lightly or brushed off with words like “you only have two more days” or “you are a big girl”. What the child needs is to be heard and know that the parents care about their feelings. Parents can also ask to speak to an adult and get some real facts. Who is my child sitting by at lunchtime? What do her sleeping habits look like? What adult has she connected to? What seems to be the hardest thing for her to do? Then the parent should get back on the phone and talk to the child again.

I call it a ‘sandwich call’.

Top layer is the child’s actual feelings and emotion. The middle is the ‘meat’ of the

The middle is the ‘meat’ of the situation – the facts. The bottom layer is unconditional love and support

The bottom layer is unconditional love and support from the parents.

For families who are doing a summer camp

Important. Ask your child to do this activity. – Before you leave make a list of all the times you have already been successful and put this list in your suitcase. Example: Stayed with Grandma two weeks, Stayed at Carla’s house about 10 times, Stayed at the school sleepover one night, Stayed at a basketball camp two nights. Then make an “action plan.”

Then create your unique “action plan.”

At camp if you are not feeling okay about the situation.

  • Get your thoughts on paper. If you are able to explain in writing
    what is really bothering you, you might be able to work out a plan on your
  • Know whom you will go to talk to because the longer you wait to
    express your concerns the bigger the event or feelings can be. Parents

Parents should make sure the child knows about the camp nurse or the camp dorm support person or others that are around to help them. Parents should make sure the camper has seen the website or handouts so they understand how big the camp is and who is available to help kids.

  • On your notes- jot down your plan – who you will talk to and when
    will you talk to them. This will often get a child to make the first step
    towards action.

 

 

 

Summer Time breeds Neighborhood Kids and Overlap: Sane or Confusing


School Buses

School’s out for the summer!

Practical or Foolish, how are the stops in your home from the neighborhood kids?

Do you seldom see your own children? Often as parents, we only remember the negative situations with our children’s neighborhood friends. Parents need to have the real facts and data so they can back up their needs with what has been happening.

Keeping track of time is important

Summer time breeds neighborhood kids and your front door banging open and shut. Summer time generates a lot of children in your living room or backyard. Summer time can foster close family time.

I encourage parents to keep a small notebook with playtime interactions that include the date and the length of time the kids played together in their own home as well as how often they were next door at their peers home. Knowing that your child was also at their home eight times this week makes it not seem so bad when their child shows up the ninth time this week.  It is also important to realize if this was a ‘normal’ week of interactions or if it was out of the norm.

 Stop bad habits before it is too late

It is much easier to stop the overuse of your home when you first noticed it happen than trying to correct a situation after it has become more of a habit. Make sure you know what is happening at the start of your summer so you are able to modify the play dates prior to it becoming a long hot July and even longer, hotter August.

As an international school counselor I often have parents find their family living in compounds or camps so this closeness and setting a play boundary is a huge concern for many families. Some families find that their own living room is overrun with kids as soon as the school day is over. It often helps to have the rule that all kids must “go home” first before they can come back to play.  This allows all those important school papers to get to their own home instead of being left at your house.  It also allows the child to possibly eat an afterschool snack at their own home creating less of a mess in your own home. I think the biggest benefit is it allows you to check in with our own children to see what their day was like and if they have any major things that need to be taken care of before play starts.

Home first then play

This is also wise during summer hours. If your child goes off to a dance class, always make them come into your own home first before going next door to play. This allows her to put up her dance shoes and dance bag. She can grab a snack and get ready for a play date next door.  If your child leaves the car directly, those special dance shoes might remain at the neighbors and will not be easy to find before the next dance class.

Rules and Meltdowns

I encourage parents to be honest with their own children first before they approach the neighborhood kids or parents. Parents should avoid having their own child meltdown when they are addressing the problem of too much time together or limiting the use of playtime at their own home.

Once you make the rules public, you need to keep to your own rules. Families deserve to have special time as a family unit. This is one benefit of the long summer hours and the kids out of school. Don’t let your home become a place where you can’t take advantage of this family time.