Q I have been asked to transfer overseas for three years because of my job. I believe this is a great career move and will provide great experiences for my wife and our four kids, ages 8 to 16. My wife is very attached to our present home and isn't sure she wants to go, and my older kids are attached to their school.
A Research shows that the most likely cause of expatriate failure is the adjustment of the family. For the employee the work is a different but familiar routine. For those at home, however, everything will be more challenging — shopping can be confusing, developing a relationship with neighbors can be difficult, driving can be disconcerting, speaking a new language is a hardship, and so on.
It is therefore imperative to get the enthusiastic agreement of your wife. She will face the brunt of problems for at least the first year.
For a relocation anywhere, but certainly abroad, an enthusiastic desire to go is key. You should have a lot of excitement and confidence that this will be better for the most important areas of your life — better for your career, for your family as a whole, for you and your wife as a couple, for your faith. If you go, go with a passion.
Passion, as Lent reminds us, entails struggle and suffering too. Even if this assignment turns out to be the most rewarding thing you and your family have ever done, it will still entail a lot of stress. That is the nature of an international move because there are so many changes to make. So even though you're enthusiastic, be realistic too.
The first step is to pray. Are you doing God's will and not just your own — or your boss's? You may also want to seek spiritual direction.
You mention that this is a three-year assignment. Make sure you understand the type of support your company will give. Talk with others who have been on similar assignments. Look carefully at the finances, but also at the business travel. Usually expatriates travel much more than stateside employees, and this can be stressful for the family.
Assuming that you have talked everything over with your wife and she concurs, then you can both try to lead the children to agree. Most young kids will take their cue from their parents. Older ones are generally more aware of what they will lose and have to be convinced about what they will gain.
Relationships are vitally important to adolescents and this is usually where the issues lie. Don't downplay the hurt that missing their friends will cause. Be empathetic and understanding. They need to see that you acknowledge their feelings before they'll be able to acknowledge yours.
If, however, they sense that, despite the sacrifices, you and your wife are still excited, and if you have convinced them about the good things that can happen, then the children will probably come around and do fine.
Art A. Bennett is a licensed marriage, family and child therapist.
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