The challenges of being an expat parent

UK/US flag

As we stood at passport control in Newark Airport, I looked at the agent nervously.

He had to let me in – this much I knew. Despite the fact that I hadn’t stepped foot on US soil since 2014, I’m still a US citizen. But my baby isn’t.

He flicked his eyes from the photo on her British passport to her face, then back again. The photo was taken when she was three months old, when she was a very bald and angry baby, and she was nearly 12 months old now. Did he have children of his own? Did he know how quickly they change? He was probably already suspicious of us – a married American couple with different surnames who left two years ago and returned with a small British person who they claimed was theirs. I held my breath.

“When is the British baby leaving?” he asked.

“On the 30th,” I said.

He nodded and stamped our passports. We were in.

Having a baby with a different nationality is one of the weirder things about being an expat parent. (We can get her US citizenship too, but since this costs money and involves a trip to the embassy in Edinburgh, we haven’t bothered yet.) However, it’s by far not the only challenge to raising your child in a different country:

Being away from family.

This is the most obvious issue. While many of my friends have grandparents, aunts and uncles nearby to help out, Adrian and I are entirely on our own. Grandma would love to babysit, but she lives an ocean away. The Popple has two cousins the same age who should be her best friends, but she’ll probably only get to see them once a year.

It sucks.

We realised how much it sucked after our visit to New York. The Popple spent a week and half surrounded by grandparents, aunts, uncles, great grandparents and cousins, and she loved it. So much attention. So many new faces to wave at. So many people willing to share baby-watching duties. My husband and I even managed several dates. Granted, they were all in the daytime and didn’t last more than an hour and a half, and we mostly talked about the baby anyway, but still. DATES.

Knowing her childhood will be different than mine.

If I continue to raise the Popple in the UK, her childhood will look different than mine. Not necessarily better or worse, but just…different.

She’ll watch Bonfire Night fireworks in November instead of Independence Day fireworks in July. She’ll leave sherry and mince pies for Santa instead of milk and cookies. She’ll celebrate St Andrew’s Day at the end of November instead of Thanksgiving.

She’ll probably watch Peppa plopping Pig.

Making sure they understand and appreciate their culture.

It’s hard to escape American culture these days. I mean, it’s pretty much everywhere, with British TV showing everything from Duck Dynasty to Toddlers and Tiaras, and the presidential election making headlines in every news outlet. But I want the Popple to know that American culture is more than Donald Trump and gun nuts and truck nuts and spoiled toddlers.

I want her to know that America is a place where anything is possible. Literally. It is home to the Toilet Seat Art Museum, drive-thru liquor stores and deep-fried butter. It is country where this is a monument to one of our most beloved presidents.

Jimmy Carter Peanut in Plains, Georgia
Jimmy Carter Peanut in Plains, Georgia.

America is a place where people aren’t afraid to dream big – or dream weird. My greatest hope as a parent is that my daughter will feel free to dream the biggest, weirdest dreams possible and make them happen.

Even if her dreams look like giant, grinning peanuts.

31 Replies to “The challenges of being an expat parent”

  1. twotinyhands says: Reply

    Id like to think R will dream big an weird. Must be hard having the distance from your mum and family. You are right though it’s just a different childhood to the one you knew. Glad you had a good time away and a date or two! #triballove x

    1. Big and weird is the way to dream. I hope the Popple comes up with some crazily wonderful things.

  2. twotinyhands says: Reply

    Oh yes and I love the peanut!!

  3. I’ve just had to Google deep fried butter – unbelievable! And apparently deep fried coke as well!
    Just think – this way the little popple will get to know both cultures which is the best of both worlds!

    1. Deep fried Coke! My mind is blown.

  4. I’m a British expat living in Denmark. My partner and child are both Danish. I can relate to how you feel, though. Being away from familiar things and people is a challenge. #TribalLove

    1. It’s the hardest part about being an expat for me – if I could bring my family over here, I would!

  5. Being a US citizen I caneed only imagine what it would be like to make such a huge change in moving countries. Although I admit I’m considering going it with the election coming up. #movetocanada My family has been such a big part of my support system so I’m sad to hear you do the have that. But I’m sure the UK is a wonderful place to raise a child and that you are doing an amazing job. Thanks for sharing!#TribalLove

    1. I don’t blame you for considering a Canada move – let’s hope it doesn’t come to that! We miss our American family loads, but the UK is a great place to raise a baby. I got really good maternity leave benefits, and employers tend to be pretty flexible when it comes to people with families.

  6. Oh I found this really sad to read as your love for NY really shines through. I really hope that you find a community that will fill the gap – it does take time and Popple is only little but over time you will hopefully ‘adopt’ families – wish I lived nearer – I’d have you over for Sunday Roast, my girls could babysit and I’d be just around the corner for a coffee anytime! You’re doing an amazing job of making NYC shine through in your upbringing of Popple – just gorgeous!

    1. Thanks! I’d love to come over for a Sunday roast – though it would have to be just the veg and trimmings for me, being a vegetarian and all. 🙂 We have some lovely friends here, but it would be great to ‘adopt’ some families with kids too.

      1. aww I’m veggie too!

  7. Aww I can’t imagine living so far away from home, your love of your country shines through and you must miss it, and your family, dreadfully. I often think about how wonderful it would be to up and leave to a new country but then I think about leaving my family behind and I’m not sure I could do it. You are very brave and I’m sure in no time at all you will find yourself thinking of this country as your second home. #stayclassymama

    1. I’ve always missed my family since moving abroad, but it’s only since having a baby that I’ve really questioned whether living in another country is the right thing to do. I think it probably is for a whole host of reasons, but that doesn’t make being away from my family any easier.

  8. You have a great outlook and I like what you wrote about America, it is so important we focus on the good that the country still has to offer! It’s not easy being expat, but it does make the times when you do see your long distance family that much special 🙂

    1. I agree – I really appreciate the time that I get to spend with family now because it only happens a few times a year.

  9. As always I just love your writing – giant, grinning peanuts – AMAZING. It must be really hard for you to be away from family and friends, I wouldn’t be able to do it so I really do applaud your bravery. I am certain the Popple will grow up knowing how to dream big and weird though my lovely. You’re in the country of deep fried Mars Bars so that’s got to be a good start? #ablogginggoodtime

    1. Thanks! Ooh, the deep fried Mars Bar – I can just imagine the Popple’s face if I let her try one of those.

  10. Katie as an EXPAT myself I can totally identify with this – In my opinion it is massively important to share your culture with your child. I had a party for the royal wedding, hang the english and dutch flags out on their birthdays and we celebrate halloween… Your culture is what makes you you!!! Just loved this post. Thank you for linking up to #ablogginggoodtime 🎉

  11. Oh this is such a lovely post. It must be so hard to be away from family. But I struggle with this too as I grew up with grandparents, tonnes of aunts and uncles and bucketfuls of cousins. However most of James’ extended family have now emigrated to Australia leaving just a small family unit for him! There are lots of wonderful things to embrace though -including the pig! Peppa Pig world is something of an icon down south! 😉 plus we have the Queen, bank holidays and 4 weeks minimum holiday (who wouldn’t love that!) 🙂 xx

  12. My parents are expats and it’s only since I had Emma that I realise how it must have been for them. My Dad who is Australian would drum it into us at a young age that we’re Aussie and not British…it was a bit of a running joke but now I see why. Of course eventually we all got British passports, but our heritage will always be with us, and the same will happen for the popple 🙂 #triballove

  13. I am an expat too – only in Dublin tho so not too far away , but there are more differences between Irish and English culture than you would expect . It’s so hard being away from family tho isn’t it ? I really miss not being able to drop into them , casually . I loved your writing . #stayclassy

  14. So when it comes to American citizenship she will probably be better without as even if you never lived in the US you will have to fill tax returns every year as soon as you are a citizen… Shocker right? But otherwise I completely agree with wth you. Family support is very important and welcome most of the time. I really understand how hard it is being away from your family but the only difference was that mine was only a couple of hours flight away rather than across the ocean. I’m sure you will be able to bring up Popple to love and identify with both cultures. You will be able to pick the best from both 🙂 #ablogginggoodtime

  15. I’m certain Popple is going to dream big because you’re obviously a great mum (mom) that is going to give her all the tools she needs to have those dreams! It must be very hard to bring her up so far from your family, but the family reunions will be even more special for your family and Popple will treasure those memories. For what it’s worth, I think you should still celebrate Thanksgiving (we celebrate it and we’re not even American lol, but we use it as a way to bring extended family together – there were 23 of us at dinner last year – and we give thanks for all the good things that the year has brought us. I hope you don’t think that we are being disrespectful of your heritage by doing that). Celebrate Independence Day too – why not? I love fireworks and fireworks on a warm summer’s evening are so much more enjoyable than a damp November night!

  16. I think this is great, she should get the best of both cultures! It must be hard without direct family around to help and be involved though- hopefully you guys have some great friends who support you #stayclassymama

  17. Are you going to register her as an American citizen? I’ve registered all three of mine (all born in the UK) and have kept up with the odious process of renewing their passports all this time. It really is a pain but totally worth it. The last time we visited the States, I’d been away for four years and they welcomed us all back “Welcome back”. Just those two words nearly made me cry. And yes, I understand EXACTLY how you feel. My children are British and make fun of my accent, they are reserved and very British in their behavior despite my influence. They are intrigued about America and where/how I grew up and are curious and ask lots of questions – they love visiting the States. It’s just a holiday to them though. For me, living here (I’ve been here for 17 years now) and raising my children here is an adventure and I’m still learning and discovering. For them, it’s just their normal life and they tolerate my “American-ness” and my insistence on celebrating or at least marking American holidays and traditions. I taught my two older kids American history when they were younger and they remember and have a better understanding of why it’s important to me to share American history, culture, traditions with them and they have adopted some of them too 🙂 Living here raising British children is the best of both worlds for them. #MyExpatFamily

    1. We want to get her US citizenship – we’ve just been putting it off because of the cost and trip to the embassy. It would be great for her to have dual citizenship – it will give her so many more options when she’s older.

  18. I love that you don’t just want her to dream big but weird, such a beautiful sentiment that I can totally relate to!!!
    The guilt you feel when you get back on home soil of hiw happy everyone is together is all to real but you have to remember the benefits of the life you’re giving your little lady during these times!!
    You guys sound like you’re going to making sure she has a fantastic connection to both her American and British roots 🙂 thanks so much for sharing With #myexpatfamily

  19. Love that peanut! It must seem strange to have a British Baby but what an opportunity for an enhanced childhood having the best of both. Thanks for linking to #PoCoLo

  20. Oooh, yes. I can relate to this in every way. As an expat mommy myself, I have experienced the challenges of sharing our American culture (beyond some of the goofy that’s in the media) and teaching that sense of dreaming big and weird (LOVE that!). Teaching this has been particularly challenging living in places where we needed to be private about our citizenship. Yet, despite these challenges, I don’t want to raise them any other way. I know that this choice means I need to parent in mindful ways that never occurred to me (and with mine being TCKs, I need to teach them skills to mitigate the grief that comes with being a TCK) and I accept the challenge. Dream big and dream weird. ❤️🇺🇸❤️ Thanks for a great post.

  21. Interesting post. My daughter was born and spent the first 15 months of her life in Australia (I am English), and I can appreciate a lot of what you say in your post

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