Home is where the heart is…

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…which for me is a bit all over the place, so I suppose I’m a citizen of the planet (cue Paul Simon music) in a sense. As an expat, and especially as an expat or immigrant child, it can sometimes be hard to know where exactly home is, and your heart seems to be constantly pulled in all sorts of directions. Is my home the place where I was born? Is it my parents’ homeland? Is it my passport country? Is it where I’m living now? For many expat children, each of these places is in a different country. Maybe even a different continent.

This has been on my mind a lot lately after getting back from 3 weeks winter break in Portugal, the land of my parents, the land I lived in for 17 years, my husband’s land, the place where my children’s grandparents live. Having family living far and wide always made me hurt a bit inside as I grew up, and to be honest it still does. And now I’m starting to see that in my oldest child (3 years, 9 months). It starts with simple questions: Why does (insert relative) live in (insert city or country)? Why do we live in Brussels? Why don’t they live here too? Why do we have to leave? Why do I miss home (Brussels)? And on and on. Transitioning back to Brussels, where we have no family, has been hard for him. He misses the attention, he misses the people, he’s having a hard time with all these big feelings. He’s taken to playing a game where we make believe a family member is waiting in the car for him when I pick him up from school. Yet sometimes, when we’re “skyping” with family members he refuses to speak to them. Sometimes he visibly chokes up. It’s hard to see, especially since I know how it feels.

This seems to be quite common with expat/immigrant children, the not knowing where we’re from, which can sometimes lead to not knowing who we are. There’s not much we could do about relatives being spread far and wide, however there are things we do to try to make this a bit less difficult and to help our sons maintain some identity. One thing which has helped enormously is Skype. Even my computer illiterate Mom is able to use Skype, and while it doesn’t replace being together in the same room, it definitely does help maintain a certain connection with family which just doesn’t happen on the phone.

Other things we do is look at pictures, hear stories recorded by far away family members, and talk about them (a lot!!!), about the countries they live in, about their customs and traditions, about who we are as a family.

Because maybe home isn’t a place on the map. Maybe home is family.

How do you handle being away from family? Any tips?

Fans of Flanders

This post was originally written for the Fans of Flanders website, where you can find me and many other great contributing bloggers. Go check them out!

6 thoughts on “Home is where the heart is…

  1. Grew up feeling the same way, Sandra! (as you already know) Wasn’t easy back then and, until very recently, I never felt as if I were at home anywhere… Noah gave me a sense of home and I’m loving it!

  2. For me home is definitely family and that is where my heart is. I have moved around a fair bit in my life and really found home with my husband and children. For now that is Belgium (I’m from Germany) but it could be somewhere else. I have to admit though that it’s great that my parents are only a 3 hour car ride away and we get to see them regularly. On top of visiting frequently we also call and Skype a lot. When we visit my parents, that is what I do ‘I go and visit my parents’. I have met several expatriates who (even after years abroad) would still say ‘I’m going home’ when they were off to visit their parents. I always found it a little sad that they did not feel at home where they chose to live (maybe it’s not always that simple).

  3. Pingback: Raising resilient expat children? « 3rdculturechildren

  4. You’re right Diana, it may not be that simple. my parents always had a sense of “returning home” while living in the States. I’m glad you feel home where you live. I feel home wherever I live, although it’s not a deep rooted feeling of belonging to the place, but more of belonging to the people, if you know what I mean!

  5. Pingback: Home | this man's journey

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