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advice

Parenting

How to be an Expat Parent

24 September, 2013

In the second of the series, How to be a _____ Parent we have the wonderful Emma of a Bavarian Sojourn giving some advice for those contemplating a family move. *gnashes teeth* Yep, I’ll be needing these in a few months!

This is by no means an exhaustive list. You don’t have the time to read one, and I don’t think I could write one if I tried, as I am still learning new things, even after four years as an Expat! This list is however aimed at those who have just undertaken their first move, or are seriously considering it – but if you are doing neither, it might give you some idea of what it is like. Enjoy!

  • Patience. Something you absolutely must have as an Expat parent. You will find yourself calling upon it almost every day!;
  • Research each new destination thoroughly. This will not only give you a good insight into a place, but will help you settle in faster as a family;
  • Take as much time as you need to make decisions about important things such as housing and schools. Don’t be forced into signing something by pushy estate agents, relocation consultants and the like. If something doesn’t feel right, it usually isn’t.
  • Help prepare your child for a new country with stories, films and books. We love Miroslav Sasek’s “This Is” Series. Whilst Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the Sound of Music might not actually be factual, they gave our children some idea of what the countryside looks like in this part of the world at least!!
  • Bear in mind that the first few weeks of your new life will be taken up with hideously frustrating bureaucracy. It will soon be a distant memory, don’t worry.
  • Do expect strange but lovely gifts from your new neighbours. We were given bread and salt when we first arrived here – a traditional Bavarian house warming present – particularly welcome as we hadn’t then found the bakers!
  • If you are not on a work Expat contract, but are there for the long term, look at local schools as a good alternative to the International variety. Your children will be fluent in the local lingo in a matter of months (and this will help you no end!)!
  • Keep an open mind with everything. You will experience cultural misunderstandings from time to time, but don’t immediately assume that it is intentional (something I have to remind myself often!)…
  • Expect that things will be different to what you are used to, and you won’t go far wrong. Things might make more sense the way they are done at home, but you are not at home.
  • Expect the unexpected. From odd and often unnecessary doctor’s appointments that arrive in the post, to strange cultural playground rituals. It’s all part of the fun!!
  • Don’t imagine that Expat Parenting is not competitive, it is. From how many languages your children can speak, to the contents of their lunch boxes. You would be amazed!
  • Enjoy meeting people from thousands of different countries and backgrounds. Don’t just stick to Expat circles either, it can take more time to get to know the locals by attending local functions and events, but it’s worth it. Get to know your neighbours too, even if you can only communicate via sign language at first!
  • Prepare your children for how different basic things like birthday parties can be. Not every country celebrates with cakes or offers party bags for example! Likewise, if it’s your child’s party, don’t imagine anyone will know what on earth you are talking about when you suggest Pin the Tail on the Donkey or Musical Statues.how to be an expat parent
  • You will experience eye opening situations such as lit candles on classroom tables, School trips in almost -20 conditions, and forest schools in the snow. Things that could possibly make tabloid headlines at home – embrace the differences!
  • In the same vein, get used to super relaxed (or almost non existent – to us anyway) health and safety rules. This might sound slightly worrying, but it’s usually more refreshing than anything, and I am holding out hope that one day my children will thank me for their more free range childhoods!
  • Learn the language together. I don’t usually advocate watching TV, but it helps more than you think it could, and speaking the language will help you feel like less of an outsider.
  • Join online groups for your area, always helpful when looking for recommendations for doctors, dentists and the like.
  • Install Skype, What’s App and anything else that helps you keep in touch with home. And get the guest room ready quickly, you will be using it a lot!
  • But perhaps most important of all – enjoy yourselves! Start a blog, take thousands of pictures and experience absolutely everything you possibly can – for who knows these days how long such an experience might last? And on the days that you find things tough, remember that it’s more than likely than not that one day you will look back on it and laugh… Promise!
Attachment parenting, Babywearing, Breastfeeding

Shakeaway: breast milk to go

7 September, 2011

Once when Ramona was around 2 months I was walking along our road carrying her in the sling.  Some boys spotted me from their perch up in a block of flats and started hurling down meanness, although all I could really make out was the word “BREASTFEEDING!!!” screamed in a kind of offensive way. (The fact that this is a diss is worth a whole politics-of breastfeeding-rant in itself.) I was utterly mortified! “They must think I am breastfeeding her while I am walking along!” I put my head down and blushed to match my hair, feeling like my little freckly 9 year old self who got bullied in the playground. Then when I got to the end of the road I almost stopped in my tracks; what a bloody good idea. Of course I could breastfeed her in the sling!

The next time I was walking along and Ramona began her hungry headbutting I unhooked my bra and shuffled her around a bit;  she latched on immediately. That day a whole new sphere of stress free parenting opened up.

No more panick stations as I try and find a suitable place to feed her- with her nursing in the sling we can be wandering around the supermarket, a Parisian flea market or an  art gallery and no one is none the wiser. Well. Apart from the growling.

No more missing the train because I had to get a feed in before leaving the house. She just snacks on the walk up.

I feel it has helped build her security as she knows the instant she has a need it will be met, wherever we are – no crying involved. I love that science shows that meeting baby’s need quickly is vital to their development and nurtures things like their empathy cells. (Read more about that in my fave parenting book- it is the shizzle.)

If I ever want her to start a nap quickly (say because I have a meeting that it would be handy for her to sleep through) I just feed her off to sleep in the sling on the way. It often sends her to sleep within moments.

Around the three  month mark Ramona got way too distracted by goings on to breastfeed in public.Then she’d get all hungry and mad. However feeding in the sling helps her feel still involved somehow, avoiding what felt like miniture nursing strikes.

Perhaps best for those early days though was for the occasions when Ramona was incolsolable. They didn’t happen much but sometimes she wouldn’t feed or sleep even though I knew she was hungry and tired. As soon as I learnt to double them up she would settle really quickly. It was as if she needed movement to feed, or perhaps she wanted to feed upright.

I only wish I could have discovered it sooner.

So to those lads on the estate I will be forever indebted, for Ramona’s food on the hoof has made my life as a mother a lot easier. So much easier I would rank it in my top five mothering activities (I know, I’m a total expert after nine whole months.) I should really make those badasses some breast milk ice cream as a grateful treat.

In case your baby wants shakeaways…TIPS:

Feeding in a mei tai, ring sling or wrap is simple. Just tie it so their mouth is about level, although you may have to use your hand to hold either their head or your breast in place as they feed.

Where easy clothes, a low sccop or v-neck so you aren’t trying to yank up your top between your tummies.

Practice at home so you can get the hang of it.

Flick the end of the wrap over the top if you feel you have too much on show.

Beware of strangers coming in for a peek of your baby’s smile only to get that smile, dripping with milk, AND an eyeful of squirting nipple.