Ask Mommy: Should I Move My Kids To Another Country?

Ask Mommy: Should I Move My Kids To Another Country? May 1, 2019

I got a really interesting question this morning in my email, and it immediately made the cogs in my mind start spinning. I had so much to say in response, so I thought I’d just jump right on it first thing and answer it in a post.

The question I got was from Amanda and she asked,

GM, I know you moved from Canada to Australia when you were young, so I thought I would ask your advice. My husband has been transferred to Germany. Currently, we live in Wyoming so it will be a big change. I’m excited to see other parts of the world, but my teenaged daughter is angry about it. I’m worried that our relationship will be harmed by this move. What should I do?

This is such a great question and I wish I had a one-size-fits-all answer for you, but the truth is, every family is different. You have to assess what’s right for your own family based on their strengths and general outlook on challenges. I can tell you about my experience and my thoughts about doing the same with both of my kids, but ultimately, you know your child the best and you will make the decision that’s right for her.

I’ve written a lot about my time in Australia, and most of my posts on the topic have been positive. What you don’t know, is that the second time my parents moved me to Australia when I was 15, I was furious. Even though I had over two years to mentally prepare for moving to a country I’d already lived in once before, my anger didn’t subside until long after we were back in Canada. I was a shy, nerdy kid and had only just found my place in high school amongst a small group of friends. The last thing on earth I ever wanted to do was relocate to the other side of the globe and have to start all over. But I had to. I wasn’t given a choice.

There are a lot of choices I think kids should make for themselves. I think they should be able to choose how to express themselves in their appearance and clothing choices. I think they should be able to choose their extra-curricular activities so long as a good balance is struck between outdoor time with physical activity and more sedentary hobbies that generally take place alone and inside. I’m even okay with them choosing just how much weight they put on the importance of academics as long as they have an interest in something constructive and pursue it. There are so many things that I think kids should be given the freedom to choose because I think having parents who believe that they’ll make the right choices for themselves is a massive confidence booster. Especially while we’re still there as a safety net should anything go wrong.

There are also a lot of choices I don’t think kids ought to make for themselves, or for their entire family. For instance, when a big move might be on the horizon, I think it’s up to the parents to assess everyone’s feelings and decided what’s right for everyone.

Despite the fact that I was infuriated by our looming move to Australia, and I made it very well known that I was against it with every fibre of my being, my parents still decided to go. They decided it was the right thing for our family unit, which trumped what I felt was right for me, in my underdeveloped, overdramatic, highly emotional teenaged brain.

I did not want to go, but I had to go.

That year wound through South East Asia and the South Pacific and twisted it’s way up and down the West Coast of Australia in an old, white, station wagon. I free dove the Great Barrier Reef and pet wild dolphins in Monkey Mia. I wandered open-air Hindu temples in Bali at the foot of mist-embraced rice steps that looked like a green-screen movie backdrop. I floated across the cobalt-blue harbour in Honk Kong and drifted down the muddy, brown canals of Bangkok. I rang in the new year on Koh Samui, watching traditional Thai dancers twist their golden fingertips in the sludgy Siamese air. I learned to surf as part of my high school curriculum in Perth.

On the uneventful days that filled the space between these memorable experiences, I never let my parents forget how angry I was at them for tearing me away from my friends to live in this humid soup these Aussies called a city. I was good at not letting them live it down, even when, deep down, I was enjoying myself. Hell, I even had myself convinced that this was the worst thing that ever happened to me.

Somewhere though, in between returning to the ordinary, wet, grey of Vancouver and the drudgery of our daily routine back in Canada, I realized it had been the absolute best thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.

I’d seen more of the world than any of my friends, who were still there waiting for me with welcoming arms when I came back. I’d learned so much that no British Columbia classroom had any hope of teaching. I felt that this year was a defining year in who I eventually became and part of it was because of how difficult it was.

I’d seen girls who were younger than me selling their bodies in Patpong, in Bangkok. I’d watched mothers feed their children scraps from hotel garbage cans in Koh Samui. I’d seen people living in dilapidated old shacks in mainland Fiji that make our Canadian jail cells seem spacious. I’d watched my friend suffer horrific bullying at the hands of anti-aboriginal racists at school in Perth.

Ultimately, the hugest takeaway had been that no matter what perceived injustice my parents would force on me, I had it pretty goddamned good and I had nothing to complain about. I’d go so far to say that I was a lucky little brat who didn’t revel in a good thing when she had it.

I have very few regrets. One of those few is that I couldn’t see the amazing gift I’d been given when it was right there in my hands.

I can tell you right now that what my parents gave me that year was the greatest thing I’ve ever had outside of my kids. I am so deeply grateful that they didn’t listen to me when I was fifteen. I am so thankful that they took into account what was best for us as a whole in the long run, instead of folding under the pressure of what appeared to be best for me in the moment.

Now, I’m an adult with my own kids and I’ve moved to Mexico and back, from Vancouver to the Okanagan and at one point in time, my family and I discussed moving to New Brunswick for the lower cost of housing. Just a couple of years ago, I was faced with similar decisions to the ones my parents had to make. My husband and I were looking to buy our first home and there were just no options here within our price range and so we set our sights on other parts of Canada for a little while. New Brunswick topped our list. When we approached my son with the possibility, he was excited and ready to pack his bags right then. My little Mexican national caught the travel bug somewhere and it’s probably my fault. He was ready for an adventure and to see a new place.

Our daughter was a different story. I’ve written about her here before, but, to make it short, she didn’t always live with us and we fought for a long time for that to happen. She had a rough life living with her mom and as a result, she struggled with mental health issues. When we asked her how she would feel about moving to New Brunswick, she was calm and collected when she said she simply would not go. She had options for other family members to live with and we believed her when she said she wouldn’t go.

For us, this shut the conversation down. There was no way we would consider breaking up this family after we had fought so long for it to be complete. There’s no way we would force this girl, who was working so hard at bettering her situation and establishing a secure and stable life for herself, to move away from everything she’d accomplished already. We couldn’t consider moving her so far when she’d spent her entire childhood moving from place to place and school to school so often that she had no chance to set down roots. Stabilizing her mental health came before anything else and we knew we would jeopardize that if we tried to move her across the country.

We decided to stick around and just be patient until a place popped up for sale that we loved and could afford.

These are two different situations with a similar choice that required different conclusions. You see, my parents knew that I was a resilient kid who had, despite all my efforts to the contrary, a pretty positive outlook on life and everything it threw at me. They trusted that no matter how angry I seemed, eventually I would realize what a great opportunity our travels had been. They were right. Their gamble paid off. It’s the same gamble I would easily take with my son. But my daughter needed different things. She needed stability, structure and routine. She needed to feel safe and to set down roots for the first time in a long time. Our decision was different from the decision of my parents but both their decision and our choice turned out to be the right one for our families.

Today, my stepdaughter has proven to us a million times over that we made the right decision as she thrives with friends, honour roll grades and a much, much more stable frame of mind.

I guess my answer to your question, then Amanda, is to really take a look at your family and your kids. Assess their strengths and ask yourself if this sort of change is something they can handle. There is no question it will be difficult, but can they handle it? We don’t shy away from other things that are hard on them, like getting them vaccinated or putting braces on their teeth. Sometimes we have to put them under to have surgery and sometimes we have to discipline them or say no to them even though it will upset them. We do these things despite the fact that our kids get angry or upset about it because it’s what’s best for them. So ask yourself, is this move best for your kids based on where they are right now, their mental capacity to handle difficulties and their general outlook on life? If all you’re facing is some foot stomping from a stubborn teenaged girl who is going to find something else to foot stomp about even if you don’t move, I say go for it. But if you’re attempting to move a child whose mental stability is in question, already, then you have other priorities.

That is how I see it but my opinion is just a laymom’s opinion. I’m no child psychologist. This is just some food for thought.

I’d love to know how you would answer this question. Let me know in the comments!

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  • wannabe

    Ms. Heard, I hope you apologized and thanked your folks later. I’m sure you did but you didn’t say.

    This is another of your great posts. Thank you!

    (Also, “Honk Kong”?)

  • Michael Neville

    Unless I had to go to someplace like Uzbekistan or Somalia then I’d uproot the family (which consists of an adult daughter and me) and move. But then I’ve lived in several countries (not all of them voluntarily, I spent a year in Vietnam in the late 1960s) and I generally enjoyed myself (Vietnam excluded, although I’d like to go back there now that nobody would be trying to kill me).

  • Michael Newsham

    When I was 14 and my sister 16 (we also lived in Vancouver), we found out that our father had been offered a job in San Francisco. After discussing it with my mother they decided to avoid ‘uprooting the children’. When they told us a year or so later we were both furious at them for not accepting. (I suspect it was actually my mother who didn’t want to move out of the embrace of the Commonwealth. We went to California on holiday where she was served tea in a glass beaker with a sugar bowl full of sugar with multi-coloured crystals- she immediately pronounced the whole country irredeemably decadent.)

  • ThaneOfDrones

    Follow-up question: If I move my kids to another country, do I have to go with them? Peace and quiet and the freedom to do one’s own thing entice.