Tonight there is an information evening for parents at Missy M’s school. Yet here I sit, on the sofa, laptop on, er, my lap (oh, if only all things were named so well!) and Missy M is asleep down the hallway. So why do I lounge here whilst the neighbourhood mums and dads sit balanced on tiny primary school chairs, trying not to nod off? We are an expat family. The reality is that if one of us has a meeting (work or play!), the other has to stay home. It’s like a constant game of ‘Tag! You’re it!” but with a beautiful child as the hot potato (mixing game metaphors). Thus if two meetings occur in the same time slot, something has to give. In this case, it’s the school meeting. (Golly, what a shame! Would you like another cup of tea on my cosy sofa?!) Local Swiss parents often rely on grandparents, or even aunts and uncles, to juggle their childcare commitments. Not having relatives nearby is often mildly inconvenient or annoying, and sometimes, it is even distressing and can cause huge problems. This is just one of the many characteristics of what it is like to be a modern expat family.
Are we, however, a “typical” expat family? Is there a label that can define our family? Is there, truly, a label that can accurately define your family? We are looked upon differently by those in the neighbourhood (“Why aren’t they at the school meeting?”), as we don’t fit their “Swiss” label. To be honest, although the label “expat” is nice, and gives my family some common threads that connect us to other families and people, I am not that keen to accept such a broad label. We are more vibrant and eclectic than that. And so are you!
Expat is part of our identity, to be sure. We fit the modern definition of an expat: “a person who lives outside their native country” (Oxford Dictionary). My husband and I are from the same country and have moved to another. Check! Expat! Many other expat families, however, are a combination of nationalities that live in many different ways in many different places in the world. Some families are all from the same country. Some are from two different countries (waving at neighbours in the next block who are German and Kenyan). Some families have one partner from one country, whilst the other partner grew up here (waving at neighbours across the hall). Others are from one country, with children born here (hi to half of my friends!). The catch-all label of “expat” is looking less and less useful (apart from when we miss school meetings). Look at the beauty of all these family combinations!
The expat identity is only one identity layer of our family and the other families in our neighbourhood. Just as I have far more to my identity than the label “parent,” so, too, do expat families have far more than “expat.” Our precious families are a unique tapestry of woven threads. For example, there is the work that I do, the work of my husband, our nationalities, our time spent in Switzerland, grandparents and wider family, spirituality, values, beliefs, likes and dislikes. As Missy M grows and her interests, beliefs and values develop, she will weave her own unique threads into our family tapestry. I can’t predict what the finished weaving will look like. In fact, I know it will never be finished and will keep changing and evolving into ever more funky and expressive colour combinations.
The idea of a modern expat family shares some common threads but each bright tapestry is its own, one-of-a-kind, creation. We celebrate our connections and similarities as well as acknowledging and exploring the differences, never forgetting that we are all one part of a bigger work called humanity, resting upon the earth, nestled into the universe. A truly modern family.
In the tapestry of life, we’re all connected. Each one of us is a gift to those around us, helping each other be who we are, weaving a perfect picture together. – Anita Moorjani
By Tammy Furey
Tammy eases the expat parenting experience through coaching and teaching throughout Switzerland. She also writes, blogs, gives talks, does the washing, doesn’t hoover enough, and parents Missy M, her daughter! Find out more at www.fureycoaching.com.
Illustration by Lara Friedrich
Lara has been a freelance illustrator for Family Matters since early 2013, and she has also contributed recipes. She is in her fourth year of university, majoring in psychology. Lara is also an assistant translator from German to English for various fiction books, and works as a demo singer for the songwriter Kate Northrop. Lara works part-time as a therapist and journalist and posts occasional food pics and illustrations to Instagram.