There is a tremendous amount of pressure on children and, depending on the circumstances that the couple is living in, for example what kind of schools they have access to and what kind of childcare they have access to and how much different they might be from their culture of origin, there is potential for a lot of stress on the child. Let us say, for instance, that you have a child that is at least four years of age and has traveled with their parents to a new location where their childcare and their schooling does not represent the country that they came from. Whatever country that was that they came from, it has less to do with whether or not that matches the parents and more to do with what the child is experiencing. So, if the child is born in China, the child will absorb first and foremost the parents’ culture, but then also the Chinese culture. So that when they go to a new location, like the UK, they will be affected by the Chinese culture, their parents’ culture and British culture. The pressure that a child is under is assimilating three cultures, not two. The issue that arises is that there is a natural gap in language acquisition. For example, even if the child has had some exposure to English and they find themselves in the UK, they will not have been exposed to the type of English and the type of language coding that the culture holds. So is quite natural for a child to go through brief mutism for two to six months where their expression will become more dependent on their play and gesture and it will look as if the child is regressing as if they are having an issue growing but it is actually not the case. Therefore, this causes a lot of stress to many parents because they think that their babies are falling apart and not showing the growth that they have achieved. In reality, that is quite normal since the child is assimilating three cultures. That puts a lot of stress on a child and, particularly on any child that is still a minor living under their parents’ household. That kind of pressure can be felt and dealt with all the way up to young adults who are traveling with their parents.
Frankly, I haven’t seen any research that shows that either immigrant children or children that have traveled with their parents to multiple countries have suffered damage that is either irreversible or solely from the experience of locations change.
What couples who are thinking of having children or raising children need to know is that the culture of the family and the culture of their attachment to their partner will be the first rule that a child follows. Is part of the responsibility of a couple who is raising a child in a culture that is different from their own, to actually start to seek out information and understanding of where that child is staying throughout their day. I think is very easy and often needed for international couples to quickly arrange their schedule and drop the children off and get their life in a new place going. But, what is absolutely needed is that one or both of the parents should be going to these environments that their children are living in, learn the culture and the way that the culture is learned in those specific places, and deciding on specific ways that they are going to incorporate that in the home. What that means is, talking again of the love map, that every couple wants to make sure that they are traveling with their love map and then they get to a new location and they want to make sure that they understand how the new environment is going to impact them individually and their individual child. They should take that information home and adjust their personal love map between the two of them to incorporate the new cultural environment in a way that is comfortable so you do not want to push yourself to assimilate completely to a new culture overnight. You want to look at it strategically and decide comfort level choices around how to assimilate this culture.
Therese Bogan is a Marriage and Family Therapist from San Francisco, California; currently moving to Helsinki, Finland. She also plans to extend her services to in-person couples and individual therapy for anyone living as an expat or in an international couple, in Helsinki or online. Therese has worked as a psychotherapist for 10 years and uses a integrated model of therapy to serve couples, families and adults from all over the world. This model includes tradition psychotherapy, somatic coaching, and positive psychology to focus the integration of the mind, body and spirit. Learn more about her style at www.theresebogan.com