In my posts, I occasionally touch upon subjects that could be collectively described as Things You Tend To Not Spend Time Thinking Seriously About When Making Decision To Relocate. Since I’ve gathered a few of those after all these months, I figure I can devote an occasional post to such a topic exclusively.
So, what about relocating with your kids?
First of all, why the question?
The reason is fairly simple. I know many expat couples that have kids – and they are all faced with similar kid-related logistic problems. And while every one of those families obviously spent considerable time figuring out how to set up said logistics, nobody actually goes far enough to think of the overall implications. Until it becomes a nuisance, that is, at which point changing it may be an undertaking of the same magnitude as the original relocation…
I am not going to give you any advice here, just some food for thought.
There is no argument that bringing your kids to live abroad is a stupendously positive experience. Okay, let me qualify that. No argument, unless your destination is of an oppressive, authoritarian or otherwise inherently dangerous to foreigners type. But with relocating to Western Europe, the benefits of exposure to different cultures and places and of expanding children’s horizons cannot be underestimated. (And if you happen to disagree, I am sorry to say that that is the thinking of a stereotypical narrow-minded and ego-centric American – I did not come up with the stereotype, mind you, I am only borrowing it from some America-bashing Euro intellectuals).
But you would not move half across the world just to expand your offspring’s horizons, would you? No, for most of us, a professional opportunity is the big part of the picture. And chances are, the adults in the family are themselves keen to experience different people and places and a different lifestyle. The kids will simply tag along.
Not so simple, unfortunately.
Let’s see. We came to Europe because we like to travel. But anybody who’s ever went with the kids to something other than a beach or the Disneyworld will know that you end up adjusting your plans around children’s stamina, or lack thereof, as well as their attitudes towards playgrounds and souvenir stores (cool!) and museums and idle walks (bo-o-o-o-ring!).
Oh, we certainly considered it beforehand. And overrode our own concerns with Well, we’ll do our best. And if you have been following our adventures, you’d agree that we’ve done reasonably well thus far in satisfying our wanderlust and keeping the kids happy at the same time.
Of course, I have two bright girls, who are normally receptive to the idea of a museum visit and sometimes even surprise me with their appreciation of what they see. And they can always be negotiated with, even on their most restive occasions.
But suppose that they were less curious. Or less amenable to spending time on what the parents like to do in exchange of a promise of following that up with something that they would enjoy. (How about we go to see Van Gogh for a bit and then hire the water bike? And we’ll let you pedal!)
Or suppose that the kids are simply too small to be travelling and sightseeing. Do you forgo your travel plans? Do you always go only to leisure destinations? Do you leave the child(ren) with the nanny and spend your getaway constantly feeling pangs of guilt and worrying about the neglected little one?
Travel, after all, is just a discretionary pleasure. School is a whole different matter.
You see, in England, living near a good public school does not guarantee that your child gets into it. It certainly improves your chances, but a good school is likely to be a popular choice of many, and if it happens to be oversubscribed – or already full when you apply – then your child may end up being “invited” to another school in the same district (called catchments here). Quite possibly, no longer within walking distance.
You may get lucky and get into the school that is your first choice. Or you may decide to go for an independent (that’s private in American) school right from the start, and that will allow you to look for a permanent accommodation after the school situation is cleared up (which is not really possible with public schools since you normally cannot apply to one without having secured a residence in the catchment to which it belongs).
But it is very likely that you’ll first find yourselves a suitable house or an apartment, and then realize that your 12-year-old daughter will have to take two connecting buses to get to the school which is a couple of miles away. And there are no school buses even as a concept.
A braver parent might just let the kid travel on her own (and surely I did so at an even younger age myself), but I am not that brave. So, instead, I drive Becky to school every morning, which takes me over half an hour since I have to come all the way back to the house. Natasha then picks her up in the afternoon, occasionally spending well over an hour in the car on the account of traffic. Talk about different lifestyle! My morning commute, which I was so keen to reduce compared to what I used to have in New Jersey, is pretty much stuck at the same hour-and-a-half.
So, there you have it. The questions of school and travelling with kids did not get enough of consideration when we were considering relocation. And they certainly should have.
Now, in truth, it is unlikely that we would have changed our minds even if had the foresight of my morning school runs. But who knows?