Things to Know About (my) Expat Kids

Ask any parent why they decided to move overseas, and “for my kids” usually ranks at or near the top of the list.  “A chance to expose our kids to different cultures and experiences” is one of the main reasons parents choose to take an expat assignment. It was definitely near the top of our list!  Raising third-culture kids (TCKs), i.e. children that spend at least a portion of their childhood outside their passport country, presents a unique set of challenges. In many ways, expat kids are just like any other group of kids.  But in some ways, they are very different from their peers back in their home country.  Like all of my posts, this one is written from mainly my personal experiences of parenting young kids in the expat environment.  Some expat parents will find different challenges…

1.  They are worldly, yet naive.  They can navigate public transit systems, different languages, cultures, and quickly become politically savvy. (My 7-year old has very pointed opinions about US transportation policy…)  They understand that their current home may be different than their passport country, but they may not be able to fully appreciate those differences.  Our kids are easily overwhelmed by the buy-buy-buy consumer-oriented culture in the US.  If I walk into Target, I love seeing all the choices and selection!  But my kids quickly shut down.  It is too much for them – almost sensory overload.  On the other hand, they are genuinely surprised to find out that their peers in the US may have NEVER left America, or flown on an A380! (The latter is particularly shocking to Isaac.) They cannot comprehend why American kids don’t travel internationally like they do.

2.  They can be great on long international flights, yet a two-hour car ride can seem like forever.  To make the trip from our home in Dublin to Amarillo, Texas – our hometown, takes 3 flights and appx 22 hours doorstep-to-doorstep.  (In the expat world – this is a comparatively short trip.) Generally, my kids are GREAT on the long-haul flights.  They know the security drill, how board the plane, put their headphones on, and settle in the long flight.  They may watch Doc McStuffins ad nauseum, but they are much better behaved than some of my adult seatmates.  At the same time, a two or three hour car ride with them can take FOREVER. “Are we there yet?  I need to go to the bathroom. Why can’t we watch a movie?” and on and on and on!  It is all in what you are used to.

3.  They are incredibly resilient, and their bonds with their siblings are very strong.  There’s nothing quite like uprooting your kids, and throwing them into a country where they know no one to encourage resiliency!  I won’t lie – the transition is really tough.  On the other hand, their bonds with their siblings strengthen during this period.  Isaac and Liesl are very close, and I attribute most of this closeness to the fact that for the first 6 months or so, the only playmate they had was each other.

4.  They can easily assimilate into different cultures – almost like chameleons.  Expat kids grow up shifting between cultures, as they travel home, to other countries, and back to their country of residence.  They may meet many kids in their school that are also expats, but from a different country entirely.  Once they get the hang of it, they can blend into most any group, and easily take on the characteristics of that group.  When we were in the US last summer, I thought everyone would find Isaac and Liesl’s Irish accents so cute.  Only one problem. Within 24 hours of us returning to the US, their accents were GONE.  I was shocked at how fast they were able to switch back to “American” English. They had both completely adjusted the tone of their voice – almost subconsciously.  The only thing that gave away their expat-ness was their vocabulary for different things, “car park” instead of parking lot, “lift” instead of elevator, “to mind” instead of “to watch”.  But even those linguistic differences quickly disappeared.

5.  They are scarily, eerily good at saying goodbye.  This is probably the strangest one to experience.  It is written about in expat parenting books, and although you can be prepared for it – seeing how quickly your kids can say goodbye to friends and family and move on with life is both rewarding and scary.  To my kids, they don’t seem to notice the physical distance between themselves and their cousins, or the time spent apart.  Partly because technology has made the world much smaller.  It’s hard to miss your cousins when you can Skype with them whenever you want.  When we are saying goodbye at the airport, I’m usually much more emotional.  Is it because I know how far the distance truly is?  Or is it because I wasn’t accustomed to saying goodbye as a child?  Seeing the detachment that expat kids can show makes you worry – will they ever have a sense of home?  Will they be able to put down roots as an adult?  At the same time, it makes you proud that they understand that saying goodbye quickly and often just comes with the territory.

What are your thoughts?  If you are the parent of an older TCK, are the challenges different?  What should I be looking out for?

P.S. If you are considering moving abroad with kids, or having a child while living overseas, I highly recommend reading Third Culture Kids. Some people give the book negative reviews saying the book itself is too negative, but I think that more information is always better than less. I also really liked that this book did not assume that every expat family was financially well-off.  It covers a variety of situations from corporate expats to military families to missionaries.

Call the Midwife! The ONE thing I have in common with Kate Middleton

Prince William and Kate Middleton (Duchess of Cambridge) welcomed their second child into the world this week.  You may have seen something about it in the press. 😉  Everyone oohed and aahed over their baby girl, talked about how amazing Kate looked, and who made her dress, and even how early she left the hospital.  But one thing that did not get much press is that Kate chose midwife-led maternity care.  Although a team of doctors was at the hospital on-call, two midwives delivered the baby girl just two and a half hours after she arrived at the hospital, and Kate and baby Charlotte departed less than 12 hours later.  It was clear that she had a low-key birth.  From my perspective, it was a great example of the benefits of midwife-led maternity services that are definitely the norm in Europe.

My introduction into the Irish health system was fast and furious.  A week before we departed for Ireland, I found out we were unexpectedly expecting our third child. We were completely surprised. I don’t know anyone who plans to get pregnant in the middle of an international move. We were literally about to board a plane to the other side of the world, and there really wasn’t anything else to do but figure it out once we got here. I had to navigate a completely different maternity and healthcare system in only a matter of weeks.  In Ireland, as in the UK, you have your choice of public, semi-private, and private maternity care.  I won’t go into the differences in this post, but we chose private care simply because it was the plan most similar to the US system, and we had private health insurance through Brad’s employer.  As in the US, I selected an OB, and saw her at every appointment. The difference that I noticed right away was how my general practitioner and my OB treated pregnancy as a natural part of life, not a condition that needed to be ‘treated’.   For the record, I was very happy with my choice of OB for my first two pregnancies in the US.  My doctor was a very low-key, hands off, calm guy.  I say this only to point out that I wasn’t resentful, or looking for differences between the systems to prove a point.  No “ax to grind” here.

The approaches to pregnancy, labor, and delivery are just very different.  There was not a focus on the lists and lists of things pregnant women should avoid.  It was perfectly fine to exercise, eat seafood, even have a glass of wine occasionally. Part of this was that this was my third pregnancy in 4 years.  I knew what to expect, and when to speak up when I had questions. But I really liked the hands-off approach.  I felt less stress about doing all the “right things” vs “wrong things”. I am not a share-all-the-nitty-gritty-details-of-my-labor-on-the-internet kind of gal, but on the night Patrick was born, we checked into National Maternity Hospital around 11:30 pm. I was attended by a midwife the entire time.  Not only did she not intervene, she also relied on my judgement.  It felt like much more of an egalitarian relationship.  When Isaac and Liesl were born, the delivery room was full of people. Probably 8-10.  There were nurses and pediatric nurses, and an assistant or 2.  So many people! Part of it was that the hospital had rounds of medical school students that observed the birth.  (This didn’t bother me particularly.  When I was about to have Isaac, my OB asked if I minded if a few Physician Assistant students observed the birth.  I told him that I didn’t care if he sold tickets and popcorn, but the baby was about to be born RIGHT THEN. )

In contrast, when Patrick was born, it was just myself, Brad, and the midwife in the delivery room.  I was amazed how much calmer the room was, and how it felt much less chaotic.  Although my OB intended to be at the birth, things moved so quickly that she didn’t make it in time.  But even if she has been there, it is unlikely that she would have delivered Patrick, as the midwife was fully capable.  Patrick was born at 3:23 am, and we left the hospital about noon that day.  I wasn’t forced to leave early, and could have stayed at least 2 nights for a regular delivery and 4-5 nights for a cesarean birth.  But I asked to go home that day, as I was feeling fine, and would much MUCH rather sleep in my own bed and rest at home.  Now, I swapped my Jenny Packham dress for yoga pants and a t-shirt, and I’m sure my hair was a wreck and my skin was blotchy, but the health care system was completely supportive of me going home when I wanted.  The very next day, Judith, our local public health nurse, came by to check on Patrick and I.  She’s also a registered midwife.  She brought her own scale to weigh Patrick, and check him over.  She came every day or every other day for the next 2-3 weeks.  Patrick became jaundiced a few days after birth, and it took awhile to clear from his system.  It was so nice not to have to take a newborn into the doctor’s office with all the sick people around.  Judith just came to the house!

I spent a lot of time thinking about this over the past week, which is why I haven’t posted earlier.  I didn’t write this post because I think that midwife-led care is the answer to all pregnancy conditions and situations. I fully understand that pregnancy can be a complicated and volatile situation for some women, and that other women prefer to make other choices.  But I do wonder if there the standard of care was a low-intervention, midwife-led approach, would we have better maternal outcomes? I think there’s value in midwife-led maternity care and this is overlooked right now in the US.  I also loved how in Ireland, you could opt to have a low-intervention birth at a hospital.  I have written before about how the US can become a place of absolutes: hospital vs home birth! doctor vs midwife!  But there doesn’t appear to be a clear middle ground.   Here in Ireland, as in the US, a range of options is available, from midwife-assisted home birth to elective cesarean section, but I loved how midwife-led maternity care is the solid middle ground.


Photo credit: NY Daily News

Cloth Diapers

At the risk of compromising my “modern mom” street cred (let’s be honest, most of that is already gone by this point), today I’m writing about a subject I get a fair number of inquiries about:  cloth diapers.

I am a low-effort parent, but I used cloth diapers with all 3 kids and loved them.  They were cheaper, worked well, and saved me from running to the store in the middle of the night for more diapers! The summer Isaac was born, there was a terrible heat wave in Texas.  As a result, he got unbelievably bad diaper rash.  My friend loaned me a few cloth diapers and recommended that I try them.  The diaper rash healed within a few days starting the cloth diapers, but we kept using them because they were cheaper than disposables, and worked just as well.  We used the same ones again with Liesl, and then with Patrick. (Despite the claim that cloth diapered kids potty train earlier, we have found that this is not the case with our kids.  Patrick just turned 3, and we haven’t even started training him yet…)

The internet is full of tons and tons and tons of information about cloth diapers, but it’s really hard to know what works for you until you start.   This is a super long post, but hopefully it will give you enough information to get you started.

Getting Started:

For newborns, my best advice is to wait a few weeks until you have settled into a routine, and all the meconium is out of the baby’s system before starting with cloth diapers.  Usually their umbilical cord has fallen off by then, which is also handy.   It can help to borrow a few diapers from someone else to uses cloth, just to see what might work.  If you don’t know anyone, I would just buy 1 or 2 of a few types, and see what works for you.  You can always buy more later.

I never bought any fancy equipment for my cloth diapers.  I bought two small flip-top trashcans, one for trash and disposable diapers, and one for cloth diapers.  When the trashcan is full, I know it’s time to run a load.  Then, just begin to use cloth diapers instead of disposables.  I really didn’t find them to be too much additional work.

What I use:

I started using cloth diapers with Isaac when he was about 2 months old.  I primarily use FuzziBunz, but I also use BumGenius, and some prefold diapers as well.  The FuzziBunz I use are the ‘perfect size’, NOT the one size.  This means that I have a set of small, medium, and large diapers.  Update: Apparently these are unavailable until June!  In any case, I recommend going with a perfect-size diaper rather than a one-size diaper, especially if you have a small or skinny baby. The “one size” diapers were just too bulky for me when my babies were small.  The FuzziBunz is a pocket diaper, which means it has a cloth insert that you put in the pocket in the diaper.  I really like this diaper, and it was held up very well.  All 3 kids wore the same set of diapers. Patrick is currently using the large set, the mediums and smalls are in storage.

I also have a few BumGenius extra-smalls and smalls and I really like those as well.  The XS fits newborn and small babies really well.   I also used some prefold diapers with covers.  These are the ‘old school’ cloth diapers, but I find that they work very well once you get the hang of it.  With prefolds, you can ‘customize’ the fit, which helps with skinny legs.  The prefolds also come in sizes, and I used Thirsties and Bummis wraps.  Instead of pins, I used a Snappi to keep the prefold diaper on. I wish I had started prefolds earlier.


Washing cloth diapers is a bit of a ‘dark art’.  What works for some people doesn’t work for others.  Because cloth diapers are so absorbent, you need to use a low-residue laundry detergent on them.  Otherwise, the residue will buildup in the diapers and they won’t be as absorbent.  I use Ecover.  The diapers should be lined dried, if possible.

When I don’t use cloth diapers:

I am definitely not someone who is 100% in the cloth diaper camp.  I used disposables at night with Patrick and Liesl, but I didn’t when Isaac was a baby.  He wore FuzziBunz at night and was fine.  (We were also very poor graduate students at that point, so I didn’t want to spend the money on disposables!)  Now, I value my sanity/sleep more, so I use disposables at night.  Besides nighttime, I also used disposables when the kids were in daycare or with a babysitter.  We also use disposables when we are going to be away from the house for several hours, or when we are traveling.  I always keep an extra gallon-size ziploc bag in my diaper bag to carry home dirty cloth diapers.  (You can buy really cute waterproof ‘wet bags’, but again – when we started using cloth diapers I was really cheap!)

Here are some websites that are helpful:
The Art of Simple – Cloth Diapering  This is a great resource about different diapers and what works.  .

Diaper Pin – provides reviews about multiple brands

Kelly’s Closet – online retailer

Finally, a disclaimer.  I am a big believer in the ‘whatever works’ philosophy.  If you find something that works for you and you and your family are happy with it, by all means ignore what I have written and stick to what works for you.  There really isn’t any “best” solution out there.

Live and Let Live

By now, I’m sure you have seen this video from Similac, about the parenting/mommy “wars”.   It was moving and funny, but for me, left a bad aftertaste.  I both loved and hated how it played into the typical parental stereotypes – the “yoga-loving, earth mother”, “career mom”, “stay-at-home dad”, “cloth-diaper environmental fanatic”, “natural birth zealot”, and “breastpolice”.  The hyperbolic stereotypes definitely added to the humor – “drug-free pool birth, dolphin-assisted”, anyone?

The video also struck me as so…American.  My reaction doesn’t stem from a judgmental, everyone-should-live-like-Europeans way, but just how in American culture, we tend to reduce issues to black/white, liberal/conservative, wrong/right.  We draw lines in the sand and take sides.  The implication is that you can’t be the nursing mom who also supplements with formula, that you can’t love your career and love your child, or that generally, by making one choice, you are rendered incapable of seeing how someone else might make a different choice.

Somehow, it is a bit more nuanced over here.  They tend to see things in shades of gray, rather than black and white.  You want to breastfeed, that’s fine.  You want to bottle feed?  Also fine. Ireland has one of the lowest rates for breastfeeding in the EU, but I was never made to feel out of place or uncomfortable.  Co-sleeping? Definitely not the norm, but not criticized either.  The working vs stay-at-home debate is circumvented by generous maternity leave policies.  My Irish friends see the mommy wars as so over the top.  “Why would anyone want to fight about that?  Why would anyone care?” they ask.  I can’t recall any heated conversations I have had about parenting choices with my Irish friends. None.  Sure, my friends knew about my choices, and I know about theirs, but it just isn’t topic of debate.  (Now schooling choices…that’s a whole other ball of wax!)

Cynics might call this “Moral Relativism” – basically whatever is right for you is fine, and whatever is right for me is fine.  Even this is phrase is over the top, as it implies a moral choice.  That somehow, one option is morally superior to another.

I would call it:

Live and Let Live


Friday Finds – Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!  It’s Friday already? I hope your New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day celebrations were great.  We had a quiet evening at home, watching college football.  Afternoon bowl games in the US = evening games in Ireland!   Most of Ireland takes off between Christmas and New Years, so it has been nice to unplug and relax.  I love the words above: “Stop the glorification of busy.”  No one here feels obligated this week to get anything “done” besides finishing off the Christmas pudding, or seeing friends and family.  So relaxing! We have enjoyed two weeks of holiday break, but I’m looking forward to returning to our regular routine on Monday.  I have more content planned for the blog, as I move it in a more intentional direction over the next few months.  I hope you’ll join me.

For now, a few links to ponder before we all head back to the real world on Monday:


Ireland ranks #1 in The Economist’s Good Country Index.  It’s nice to be #1 for something GOOD for a change!


Do you chafe at the girls’ toy aisle? Me too!  I loved this article about how things might be changing. Thanks John!

Of course, the more things change, the more they stay the same – as highlighted by the comic.  (Legos are a huge hit at our house.)

The Secret to Raising Smart Kids.  Lots of food for thought in this article.


I should read more this year…should I follow this challenge? Thanks Karen for the link!

Just for fun.  I think this article channeled my brother! ha!

 Have a great weekend-

x Rheagan

Photo Credit: ruffledsnob via Flickr