An Open Letter to Expatriate Dads…but Mums can read this too

DAD

To all you Expatriate Dads across the Globe,

This Sunday is Fathers’ Day here in Australia. I know for many of you around the world, that day has been and gone for 2016 but any day is a good day to stop and reflect on the important role you Dads play in your family and the impact that has on our society. In this letter, I want to thank you and I want to encourage you.

In the vast majority of cases, your job is the reason your family embarked on the adventure of a lifetime and took the risk to live abroad. Thank you for creating many memory-making moments by providing opportunities to explore different cultures and lands, gain a global perspective, experience some of the richest sources of learning and provide platforms for your family members to be cultural bridges between and among worlds. Living abroad is a life changing experience. You have helped shape your child’s cross-cultural understanding, respect and empathy – something our society desperately needs right now and into the future.

You work hard. Your job sees you constantly on aeroplanes, sometimes spending weeks away from your family and fielding phonecalls at all hours of the day and night because, this is a global world and timezones don’t seem to be acknowledged…well not your timezone anyway!

The reality of expatriate life is that the majority of families are relocated because of one family member’s job – 79% of those are male. In many countries, the Accompanying Spouse (or some would argue the Stabilizing Axis) cannot obtain employment. Given such external forces, it can seem easier for you, as Dad, to take on the role of Provider whilst your partner takes on the role of Parent, however, doing so is not best for your child…or for you in the long-term.

Father” is a verb as well as a noun – it’s a doing word.* 

Fathers have a significant impact on the social, cognitive, emotional and physical well-being of children from infancy to adolescence, with lasting influences into their adult life. “Effective fathers display warmth toward their child, believe in their ability to parent well, are able to reason with their child, are involved in their child’s life and parent well with their partner.”** Having lived abroad with my family and taught in both international and local schools, I have learned a thing or two (from experience and from others) about how you can be that “Effective Father” whilst also firmly holding the reins of your job. It is difficult to do but I encourage you to try some of the ideas below so that your significant impact is a positive one – for your child, yourself, your family and for our society.

10 Things Expatriate Dads Can Do To Stay Connected With Your Kids:

  1. Discover how your child feels most loved

There’s no point showering them with gifts or constantly doing things for them if the way your child feels most loved is through words of affirmation or a big hug. Have your child complete the 5 Love Languages quiz – Children aged 9-12 or Teenagers (it will take 10 minutes max) to give you insight and then plan ways you can show your child that they are loved by you, at home and whilst you’re away. While you’re at it, you and your partner should do the adults version – it may well revolutionize your relationship!

Whilst You’re Away:

  1. Connect via Social Media (for children over 13) –

What are your child’s social media platforms of choice? Get yourself a Snapchat account, follow your child on Instagram or Twitter & have them follow you, become friends on Facebook. Do whatever it takes to connect with them on their turf. Snapchat is great for sending a quick crazy photo whilst you’re waiting to board your flight. Post a photo of your view from your hotel room or something unique whilst travelling, on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter…but always ask them first if you can tag them in your post or comment on their posts!

  1. Make FaceTime or Skype work for you

For younger children this seems to work really well. At our dinner table we do Best, Worst, Hilarious & Thankful. Sometimes we switch it up with others such as Helpful or Kind. Family members reflect on their day to share an example of each category and chat about the emotions, challenges, triumphs associated with those examples. You can do this virtually too. A quick chat with Dad at the end of the day puts a smile on everyone’s face.

I know it can be torture, however, trying to get words – or anything – out of your teen via this method but one suggestion that I have seen work is to choose a couple of current global topics, agree on them earlier in the day or week, get informed and then have a chat about them when you speak online. At first, it can seem a little contrived but after a few sessions, you may find that it’s a great way to connect…and learn from each other’s perspectives too.

  1. Pre-empt an upcoming event

Send an SMS, iMessage or Messenger when your child has something important coming up (if your child is too young for a phone of their own, send it to Mum’s phone and she can pass it on). It might be a test, athletics carnival, music recital or camp, whatever it is, a quick message shows you are thinking of them…and Mums, you can help here by sending Dad a reminder or as we do, enter these upcoming dates into the “family” calendar on your Smartphones, with a reminder alarm the day before (remember timezones though!).

  1. Leave notes

In a school shoe, under the pillow, on the bathroom mirror, in the mouthguard box or the musical instrument case. It might be a motivational quote, praise for a job well done or an encouraging comment about a particular aspect of their character (aligned with your family values), personality trait or ability. Display warmth and let them know you care.

When you’re at home:

  1. Make the most of the time before school

If you’ve just arrived home from an overnight flight and know you need to stay awake all day to avoid your jet lag, do the School Run before heading into the office. Travelling in a car, walking to school, the bus stop or train station are all good opportunities to connect with your child. In fact, you might not even need to talk too much, just being together can be enough – particularly if one of your child’s primary love languages is quality time (see point 1).

  1. Evening Walks

This strategy is particularly effective with teenagers. Even if it’s just 20 minutes, a walk around the block or compound after dinner and before the next homework session can be a great time together. Walking in the same direction, side-by-side is symbolic – it conveys you are progressing along the journey of life together and that you are, and will be, by their side. Not having to make eye contact often helps teenagers feel more comfortable to be honest and open. Silence can be OK too.

  1. Dad’s Mystery Adventures

Identify an activity,  experience and/or  location that you know your child will love or love to discover. Secretly plan a day, weekend or week away, just you and your child. Keep it a secret other than to say you are going on a DMA on the appointed date and what needs to be packed. My boys look forward to their DMA each year as they get to spend one-on-one time with their Dad doing something they love or something new, together. These are lifelong memory-making moments. Priceless.

  1. Take All Your Annual Leave

Now hear me out! I know you find this one hard to do but I have had the unfortunate need to attend far too many funerals since we repatriated last year and the one thing that has not been said at any of them is that the person for whom we gathered had wished they’d spent more time at work. Those able to reflect on their life did say they wished they’d spent more time with their family. You won’t win any medals for not taking all your annual leave but you will significantly and positively impact every aspect of your child’s wellbeing by connecting with them and creating lasting wonderful memories together. You and your partner will benefit too!

  1. Keep Your Promises – no more needs to be said.

So to all you Expatriate Dads across the Globe – thank you! You are criss-crossing the globe to provide for your family and in so doing, are providing opportunities for your family members to become open-minded, adaptable, culturally responsive, global citizens. Our society needs people like them, now and beyond. You have a significant impact on every facet of your child’s wellbeing so make the most of this window of time as they grow, by being involved in their lives. Fathers matter – you matter.

How do you connect with you child whilst you’re away? Do you have other suggestions for Expatriate Dads? Please share them in the comment section below.

*Richard Glover

**The Fathering Project

Photo Credit: Huffington Post

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