ENTITLED EXPAT KIDS: HOW TO AVOID SPOILING YOUR EXPAT OFFSPRING
Posted on 11th February 2016 at 09:55
“You have to be joking,” was my kids’ collective response when we moved back to the U.S. and I broached the subject of chores.
During three years in Africa, their clothes always magically reappeared in their closets, ironed and folded military-style, all toothpaste gunk almost instantly vanished from their sinks, and putting their dirty plates in the general vicinity of the kitchen was the only effort asked of them after meals.
It’s not that I didn’t foresee this. When our boys were still toddlers, our family lived in Singapore for two years – another country with an extensive domestic help culture. Even then I worried about the kids turning into spoiled little brats and eventually breathed a sigh of relief when we were headed back to the U.S. and a more “normal” life. As we were packing for Johannesburg 10 years later, this time with four preteens in tow, I knew that once again the question of our kids’ sense of entitlement would keep me up at night.
There’s so much in an expat kid’s life that screams entitlement: They’ve traveled more of the world at a young age than many adults; they think flying business class is perfectly normal; they often get to live in lavish homes in ritzy neighborhoods; they get to stay at more luxury hotels than the average person; they often attend the finest private schools, hobnobbing with that country’s elite. And yes, they may grow up with a round-the-clock domestic helper who picks their socks up off the floor and carries their backpacks to school. How can they not be spoiled? How can we, as expat parents, keep them out of the inevitable expat bubble?
Check your materialism:
“Expat kids are spoiled, absolutely,” agrees Miranda Kohler, who lived in Singapore and Sydney with her family of four before returning to their native Canada. But whether they have a sense of entitlement, in her experience, is different and depends on the parents’ general approach to materialism. “If the kids grow up having their every wish fulfilled, are learning to develop new wants constantly, and are given cars or trips as birthday presents as teenagers, then chances are they will feel entitled their whole life.” Steering them away from that fate, she says, is a matter of teaching them the ability to appreciate what they have.
Sometimes, living in a less-developed country can be eye-opening to children who at home might never have looked much beyond their middle-class neighborhood. Perhaps what makes them realize how privileged they are is seeing throngs of people lining up for crowded and unsafe taxis in the scorching sun. Or perhaps it’s the women balancing buckets of water on their heads while carrying babies on their backs. Or the under-equipped and overfilled daycare center in the squatter camp that they visit regularly through their school’s outreach program.
Then again, you don’t have to compare yourself to “arms-length poverty stricken inhabitants of a third world country,” says Ms. Kohler. Understanding the less-fortunate friends and family members in their immediate vicinity, she contends, will go a long way too.
Expose your kids to local culture:
According to Dominique Pohleli, whose South African family of four has lived in Istanbul and Nairobi for several years, it’s not just a matter of privilege versus lack of privilege. She views it more in terms of culture and social norms, that it’s important for her kids to understand the difference between the last country they lived in and the current one. “It is very easy, particularly if your children go to an international school and socialize only in the international community, for the city or country you are living in to lose its identity,” she says. Her solution? Avoid international schools, which are often carbon copies of each other, and instead find good local schools for your children to attend so that they become immersed in the local culture.
Except when the local culture is the privileged one and the roles are reversed. This happened to Ann Bennes, an American whose family lived in Australia for several years. “Australia’s cost of living was high and therefore we stayed in a modest house in a regular residential neighborhood.” They had to make ends meet, and overindulged children wasn’t one of her problems. In her case it was after repatriation to the U.S. at the end of the financial crisis that entitlement and privilege became an issue. “That was the point where there was a desire to fit in, wear the same clothes, etc.” All of a sudden, the relatively low cost of living back home placed her family in a bubble of entitlement they hadn’t experienced before.
Look for growth opportunities:
While it’s true that many expat kids – particularly those of families moved by multinational corporations – grow up in a privileged environment, it’s also true that their lives come with a tremendous potential for personal growth. “I am constantly reminded of how fortunate I was to have lived abroad when I interact with some of my friends in the U.S. – some of whom have only ever left their state a few times,” says Ryka Sehgal, a UCLA sophomore who grew up in Singapore and only recently relocated with her family to her passport country, the U.S. While some of her new friends were dumbfounded to hear that she had only recently gotten a driver’s license, she in turn was “beyond shocked” to find out that one of them let his passport expire and never renewed it as he simply has no need for it. She couldn’t fathom growing up without a well-used passport (though never flying business class, she’d like to have you know.) “Our trips to historic sites, and to visit friends and family living at all corners of the globe, were some of the highlights of my time abroad,” she says.
Personal growth can also come from the humbling experience of having to start from scratch, sometimes repeatedly, in a scary new school. Whereas overindulged children tend to have their way paved for them by their parents and are mostly shielded from any unpleasantness they might encounter, it’s rather the opposite for an expat kid: You experience what it’s like to show up at a new school mid-year and stand out like a sore thumb; to speak with a funny accent or not understand the language at all; to show up in the summer uniform because that’s what your parents bought you, when of course the winter uniform is what everyone else is wearing; to have to compete in a sport you’ve never even heard of and be laughed at because you’re doing it all wrong; to have to cope with all this on your own while your parents have their own issues to deal with, like how many more forms, for the love of God, might be needed to apply for a mobile phone, or whom does one call when the power is turned off yet again?
Assign chores no matter where you live:
When it came to domestic workers, Ms. Pohleli says she never allowed her children to take household help for granted. “Our rule in the house was, and still is: Keep your room tidy, otherwise it doesn’t get cleaned.” Her children are responsible for setting the dinner table and clearing up, putting the dishes in the dishwasher, and feeding and walking their two dogs as well as cleaning up the garden, even if it’s sometimes difficult to enforce ‘poo pick-up’ duties.
Your biggest challenge may not be getting your kids to do their chores, but keeping your helper from doing them first. The housekeepers we’ve been fortunate to employ all took their jobs seriously, and it was a matter of pride for them to oversee an immaculate house, including the children’s bedrooms. Keeping our maid from swooping into my daughter’s room to pick up every last crayon and Polly Pocket accessory often required more determination than I had in me.
If, like me, you capitulate to your housekeeper while living abroad, at least make sure your kids understand that this life of privilege won’t last forever. “While we were a bit reluctant to have to wash dishes, sort laundry, and make our beds, we knew it was a privilege to have lived the way we did,” says Ms. Sehgal. She and her siblings were grossly out of practice with chores when returning to the U.S. after over 15 years in Asia. “Dishes are loaded into the dishwasher but no one remembers to turn it on, or to move the wet clothes to the dryer; there is no question that our helper took care of more housekeeping things than we ever knew to think of.”
Find a good balance:
This brings us back to my kids and their collective eye-rolling at the talk I was about to give them practically the minute our plane had touched down on U.S. soil after three years in Africa. As it turns out, they weren’t the ones I needed to worry about. I presented them with their tasks as newly-minted domestic helpers: making their own school lunches, rotating dishwasher and kitchen duty on a weekly basis, and doing their own laundry. In an added twist, I accomplished a feat every mother dreams of – I got them to pay me if they wanted the chore done by me, financed by after-school jobs they found as soon as they were old enough.
No, it’s rather my husband who has been utterly spoiled by crisply ironed underwear and an always spotless house. Teaching him to model such things as putting his dirty plate into the dishwasher after dinner has proved a bit of a challenge. “I miss Primrose,” was his common refrain for months whenever he’d come upon a spiderweb or carelessly dropped heap of clothes, painfully reminding him of our beloved housekeeper we’d left behind. Perhaps it’s the entitled expat spouse we should be worried about, not the children.
Original Source: The Wall Street Journal
Tagged as: Latest News
Share this post: