If you just returned from your home country after a Christmas break, and you’re wondering where you actually feel at home – don’t worry, you’re not alone. Very many expats experience mixed feelings about where home is.
Visiting family and friends is always quite emotional when you’re living abroad, especially when you don’t do it very often and there are children involved. And if you add Christmas time to the equation, it gets more complex. Christmas days packed with people and activities, trying not to forget a visit, driving all over…and keeping the kids routines. Either you love it or you hate it, or you don’t know how to feel about it yet!
I recently returned with mixed feelings after spending Christmas in my home country for the first time after moving to Luxembourg about 14 months ago. I felt guilty about these mixed emotions, but after chatting with some friends, I realised that it’s a pretty common situation amongst expat families, especially for those with kids.
So, how did you feel?
Overwhelmed… preparing bags?
I’m quite used to travelling as a family of two adults, one young boy and one baby (and sometimes we even add our two cats). It’s quite tricky to fit everything into only three medium-sized bags, so when on top of winter clothes for a week or two you even have to add some presents – and when returning, you have to fit in all the kids’ presents…
I confess I didn’t find it easy at all, but keeping it as simple as possible was the solution for my family. I only packed the essentials, more clothes for the children than for the adults, and that was it. As for the presents, I’ve shortened the list to the closest family members, and I chose items small enough to fit in our bags. The problem was after Christmas, as the kids got so many big presents – well, some of them we brought with us and some we left behind. Sad, but extra luggage was much more expensive.
Overwhelmed… scheduling visits?
Of course, depending on how big your family and circle of friends is, your agenda may be more or less busy. But if you are married, have young children and a big family, for sure you get a lot of exercise trying to fit everybody in. Also, the distances between people you visit is not a minor detail.
We knew that this being our first Christmas back home, and with one more child, we would definitely want to visit most of our family members. And, having some of our closest friends living there, we would want to visit them too. So, about a month prior to our flight, we called everyone telling them where we would be during the Christmas days. As Christmas is always a very busy time for everyone, they could then see whether they would be available to meet us or not. It was hard not to see everyone of course, but that was the best solution for us.
Overwhelmed… with the lack of family routines?
This was the hardest part for all of us, especially the kids. In the middle of visits, parties and presents, children need routines. All of their life experience is based on that particular sequence of events that we, as parents, define for them. So when we travel, even though they are with family, it is definitely not the same. They skip nap times, they get exhausted, they eat at different times…
In our case, we tried to schedule our agenda in such a way that we could at least have lunch and dinner at the usual time, but by the end it was almost impossible to accomplish. As for nap times… well, forget it. In a different environment, it gets even harder to find a solution. We did our best though!
All in all…
We are grateful for having a wonderful family who receives us in an amazing way, but as an expat family of four (plus two), we are still recovering from all those mixed feelings.
How about you? Do you recognise yourself in this? Please share with us.
By Rute Vendeirinho, January 2014