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Flying Solo: Navigating Empty Nesting Abroad - The Emotional Journey of Expat Parents

Last week, a group of us mothers gathered. Our common point: we are expats, and either our children have left home to pursue their studies abroad, or mothers are preparing for an upcoming departure. Many emotions, few tears, but above all, a lot of positive exchanges, a desire to share experiences and pleasant surprises. If I summarize our discussion, here are the key points that emerged from our conversation.

The bonds we have created within the family during the years spent abroad are very strong. We have always faced the challenges of expatriation as a family. Personally, I often use the metaphor of the "chewing gum" family.

When the first child leaves, the whole family dynamic changes. - In a sibling group, each child reacts differently: we raise individuals in their own right, and each child reacts differently. Some younger siblings decide to leave the nest at the same time as their older ones. For example, my daughter decided to finish her last three years at a boarding school. For her, it was essential to stay in an academic environment, and she was afraid of getting bored with us. So, my two children left in the same year.

- Younger siblings can react with sadness and sometimes aggression towards their mother, as she is often their comfort zone.

- It is believed that when children go abroad for their studies, they leave home permanently. Among us, it became apparent that some children return to live at home after completing their studies, which reassured the mothers.

When we accompany our child to university, we tend to internalize our grief. In addition to the physical separation and the time difference that separates us, as mothers, we worry about our children's well-being abroad, including their adaptation to a new environment, their ability to navigate their new city, and their capacity to take care of themselves and manage administrative responsibilities (visas, insurance, bills, etc.).

We then talked about: - The resilience of children observed during the COVID-19 pandemic,

- The open-mindedness and adaptability of our children

- The independence and flexibility they have developed through all the changes they have experienced.

- Their ease in navigating between languages and cultures.

The importance of staying in contact: - The time difference and the fast-paced lives of our children make communication difficult and the separation feel long.

We shared strategies to stay in touch:

- One mother said she regularly sends packages to her children with their favorite treats, something that will make them happy and remind them of home.

- Another mentioned writing letters that she sends by mail. Reading a loved one's handwriting is comforting.

- A third said they plan regular online appointments, a time when they know they will have the opportunity to have a conversation one-on-one or with the family.

- Some parents want daily contact to reassure themselves, but some children prefer to have their independence.

And then there are the mothers who consider moving to the city where their child is studying. But this raises questions about parental involvement... did our parents follow us?

It is true that the void is difficult to bear and fill. Often in expatriation, there comes a point where we are tired of repeating the same efforts. Fortunately, there are still many options. (A topic to discuss at a future meeting).

But sometimes it is difficult not to break down on the platform and cry in front of our children... Even though it is normal for mothers to feel sadness and cry, some mothers choose not to show their feelings, while others prefer to normalize the situation and show their children that sadness is a normal emotion. It also allows their child to do the same with their parents. Remember, the separation can be just as difficult for those who stay as for those who leave. Perhaps because it's still early in the school year, and the children are still experiencing the novelty, it seems that they haven't yet expressed a longing for home. On the other hand, students who have a planned trip for an upcoming return home are very excited, and they express it. It is often the friends left behind who also miss them.

For the mothers who are preparing for their children's departure, we also shared our advice: - Enjoy and create many special moments for two or with the family with your child. Make the most of every moment (meals, drives, trips, etc.) and every conversation with your child. An exercise that will instill confidence and love. By confirming your presence and your listening, your child will leave home with these memories.

Among us, two mothers who have several children and whose youngest have left home, it was interesting to see how emotionally prepared they already were. They have adjusted their lives accordingly. - They have reinvented themselves and have their lives, activities, and routines.

- They have adjusted their schedules to their preferences.

- They no longer expect a daily or weekly phone call but have built a trusting relationship with their children.

- The children know that their mother will always be there for them if they need moral or even financial support.

- Return trips are planned. They know the dates and will be available for their children to really enjoy their time when they come home.

- They are ready to take care of themselves and take control of their own lives.

These mothers emphasize the importance of not remaining alone and recommend seeking social support, just as they would encourage their children to join student groups, sports, or activities to continue to thrive.

I invite and encourage mothers who are experiencing this new stage of life to seek mutual support. If you are in Dubai and want to surround yourself with women going through a similar experience, come join us. If you are abroad, send me a message, and we will propose an online discussion group. See you soon,

Florence Remember, we will always remain just one phone call away!

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