Dear fearful parent dancing with the idea of living abroad,
Let me tell you a story involving a fussy infant, a nine hour flight, a foreign country and lots of emotions, including a whole lot of fear.
On July 27th, 2016 I sat on a plane in the middle of the night with a cranky 8-month-old who despite my efforts would not go to sleep. Each passing moment was filled with dread and uncertainty as I questioned our decision to move abroad and travel with our young children. At the time we were on board a flight to Frankfurt, Germany, so there was no turning back. I felt the waves of fear screaming inside of me, swallowing me and pulling me under. I felt overwhelmed with powerful emotions I wasn’t familiar with; feelings of loss, grief and fear. It was just too much as I sat crying in the airplane bathroom with my infant son. How could I do this? Was this the right decision to make? I was so, so afraid.
What is fear anyway? Psychologically, fear is the emotional and physical responses we have to stimuli. It stems from the unconscious and spreads throughout our body like a fast acting plague. Fear stops you from living life in the present and dances around your thoughts asking hypothetical questions that can cause suffering from a place of non-existence. I was fearful of what I didn’t know; I was apprehensive about events that hadn’t occurred yet. Fear of the unknown was busy at work building walls around my conscious mind faster than I could break them down. I was crippled in mind and spirit by the non-existential which by definition is often what we refer to as insanity. Sounds insane, right?
I have to believe this feeling of fear and uncertainty is shared with my fellow first-time travelers, whether you have decided to leave home and journey abroad alone, with a partner or like us, with your family. Parenting up until the flight to Frankfurt was one big routine and I made the conscious decision to break that routine in the most extreme way possible. That can have a real impact on your mental well-being, but it shouldn’t be enough to throw in the towel and call it quits.
Just because you have children doesn’t mean you can’t take giant leaps of faith into the ocean of the unknown. Overcoming and conquering fear is what makes us grow as human beings, and I believe I am a better parent for recognizing and conquering those feelings. I don’t want to raise children who watch their mother toil and trouble over decisions that make me uncomfortable and scared simply because I haven’t experienced them yet. I want to live in the present and shed any fear of possible outcomes that may or may not happen given a set of circumstances or within a particular environment.
So now I sit in my kitchen in Spain pondering these words and asking myself if I have indeed been living the way I have described. The answer is in some ways yes, although I still walk with fear every now and again. Living abroad with my family has undoubtedly changed who I am and how I parent. Residing in a new country with people who don’t speak my language or share similar habits is already leaving a positive impact on the woman that I intend to embrace as I grow, molded by new experiences. I have been tried and tested in so many scenarios with my children that otherwise wouldn’t have happened in the comfort of my home state and native country. Help, for one, is scarce. I don’t have my parents or sister to rely on for babysitting, so my husband and I find ways to spend time together with the kids instead of shoving them off elsewhere. It isn’t always ideal, but it makes for some great memories.
My kids are learning to adjust to their surroundings without the comforts of our old home and routine. Two and a half weeks ago my four-year-old fell asleep in a cab, in the middle of the day, without me asking or fighting with him to go to sleep. I never, ever thought I would see the day. The next week he willingly ate mushroom pizza, and I thought I might pass out from the mere sight of the ‘Prince of ONLY Cheese Pizza’ actually enjoying each bite and consequently ask for more. My youngest is finding his voice, often in the middle of an ongoing mass inside some historically significant cathedral or basilica. He squeals with joy when he hears the echo of his shriek reverberate off the walls and although heads turn to investigate the source of the sound, my husband and I laugh, stick his binky in his mouth and hurry out before we get in trouble. These are the memories I hold onto tightly and hope to reflect upon when we are in a new destination with a new set of obstacles.
So if you are fearful of moving abroad, I ask you to look deep inside that fear to the source. I hope you can dismiss it and allow yourself to live in the present, as foreign and scary as it might seem. When you walk without fear, as I am learning, you embed yourself into a life of the present where possibilities for happiness, joy, and fun are truly endless. Living abroad with my family is so much fun, and I would never have known just how much fun I could have with my family if fear had changed my decision. Moving away from my friends, parents and siblings were one of the hardest conscious choices I have ever made, but it has allowed me to bond closer with my husband and children in a way I didn’t think existed. Together we are closer than we have ever been, both in proximity and physical state, and it is as much a learning experience as it is blissful.
Be well, live in the present and never stop dreaming.