10 things for expat Dads to do to stay connected with their kids
Jane Barron pens a letter of thanks and encouragement for the important role Expatriate Dads play in their family and suggests 10 ideas for busy dads to stay connected with their kids.
To all you Expatriate Dads across the Globe,
For many of you, Fathers’ Day is just around the corner. For others it occurs some time between March and November, but any day is a good day to stop and reflect on the important role you play in your family and the impact this has on our society.
In the majority of cases (79%), the Father’s job is the reason expatriate families embark on the adventure of a lifetime and take the risk to live abroad. Thank you for creating many memory-making moments by providing opportunities to explore different cultures and lands, gain a global perspective, experience some of the richest sources of learning and provide platforms for you and your family members to be cultural bridges between and among worlds. Living abroad is a life changing experience. You have helped shape your child’s cross-cultural understanding, respect and empathy – something our society desperately needs now and into the future.
You work hard. You are constantly on aeroplanes, sometimes spending weeks away from your family. You field phonecalls at all hours because this is a global world and time zones don’t seem to be acknowledged – well not your time zone anyway.
Yet, whilst you are on overdrive, in many countries your Accompanying Spouse cannot obtain employment. Given such external forces, it can seem easier for you as Dad, to take the role of Provider whilst your partner takes on the role of Parent. Doing so, however, is not best for your child or for you, in the long term.
“Father is a verb as well as a noun. It’s a doing word.” Richard Glover
Fathers have a significant impact on the social, cognitive, emotional and physical wellbeing of children from infancy to adolescence, with lasting influences into their adult life. “Effective Fathers display warmth toward their child, believe in their ability to parent well, are able to reason with their child, are involved in their child’s life and parent well with their partner,” says University of Western Australia’s The Fathering Project. It can be difficult to be that ‘effective Father’ whilst also firmly holding the reins of your job but here are 10 things you can do to ensure your significant impact is a positive one – for your child, yourself, your family and for our society.
10 Things Expatriate Dads Can Do To Stay Connected With Their Kids:
- Discover How Your Child Feels Most Loved
There’s no point showering them with gifts if the way your child feels most loved is through words of affirmation. Have them complete the 5 Love Languages quiz – Children aged 9-12 or Teenagers (it’ll take 10 minutes max) to give you insight, then plan ways you can show them that they are loved by you, at home and whilst you’re away. You and your partner should do the adult version too – it may revolutionize your relationship.
Whilst You’re Away:
- Connect via Social Media (for children over 13)
What are your child’s social media platforms of choice? Open an account, follow or become friends to connect with them on their turf. Send a crazy photo on Snapchat whilst you’re waiting to board your flight. Post a photo of the view from your hotel room on Instagram or something unique whilst travelling on Facebook but remember, always ask first before tagging them in posts or commenting on their posts.
- Make Video Chat Technology Work for You
For younger children, video chat technology such as FaceTime and Skype can work well. Try playing the game, ‘Best, Worst, Hilarious.’ Family members reflect on their day by sharing an example from each category and chat about the emotions, challenges or triumphs associated with each one. Switch it up with other categories such as Thankful, Helpful or Kind.
For teens, however, it can be tough extricating words out of them via this method. Try both you and your child choosing a couple of global topics. Agree on them earlier in the day or week, get informed and then chat about them when you speak online. After a few sessions, you may find it’s a great way to connect and learn from each other’s perspectives. A quick chat with Dad at the end of the day can put a smile on everyone’s face.
- Pre-empt an Upcoming Event
Before heading into that meeting, send a text message when your child has an important upcoming event (or send it to Mum’s phone if your child doesn’t have one of their own). Whether it’s a test, athletics carnival, music recital or school camp, a quick message shows you care. Mum, you can help by sending Dad a reminder or entering the upcoming dates into the shared ‘family’ calendar on your Smartphone. If you’re setting a reminder alarm, remember time zones!
- Leave Notes
In a school shoe, under a pillow or in the mouthguard box, leave a motivational quote, praise for a job well done or an encouragement about a particular character or personality trait.
Display warmth and let them know you care.
When You’re At Home:
- Use The Time Before School
Just arrived home from an overnight flight? Avoid the jetlag by doing the morning school run. Travelling in the car, walking to school or the bus stop are all good opportunities to connect with your child. You might not even need to talk too much, just being together can be enough.
- Evening Walks
A 20-minute walk after dinner works particularly well with teenagers. Walking in the same direction, side-by-side is symbolic. It conveys you’re progressing along the journey of life together and that you are, and will be, by their side. Not having eye contact helps teenagers feel more comfortable to be honest and open. Silence can be OK too.
- Dad’s Mystery Adventures (DMA)
Identify an activity, experience and/or location that you know your child will love or love to discover. Secretly plan a day, weekend or week away, just you and your child. Tell them you’re going on a DMA on the appointed date and what needs to be packed but no more. Spending time one-on-one with their Dad, doing something they love or something new together are lifelong memory-making moments. Priceless.
- Take All Your Annual Leave
I know this is hard to do but the reality is that you won’t get to the end of your life wishing you’d worked harder. You will, however, significantly and positively impact every aspect of your child’s wellbeing by connecting with them and creating lasting memories together. You and your partner will benefit too.
- Keep Your Promises
No more needs to be said.
So to all you Expatriate Dads – thank you. You criss-cross the globe to provide for your family and in doing so, provide opportunities for each family member to become open-minded, adaptable, culturally responsive, global citizens.
Our society needs people like them. You have a significant impact on every facet of your child’s wellbeing so make the most of this window of time as they grow. Be involved in their lives. Fathers matter – you matter.
For further information about Globally Grounded click on the logo opposite.
The Sydney Morning Herald. 2016. Richard Glover: Father’s day and the gift that keeps on giving. (ONLINE) Available at: http://www.smh.com.au/comment/richard-glover-fathers-day-and-the-gift-that-keeps-on-giving-20150902-gjd4lj.html The Fathering Project. 2016. Research: The Fathering Project. (ONLINE) Available at: http://thefatheringproject.org/research/