Three Things That Keep Expats Parents Awake at Night


audrey-hepburn-lying-awake-bed-insomnia-800x500Imagine a big Venn Diagram. Really, who doesn’t love a good Venn diagram?? This one is called “Things That Keep You Awake At Night.” On one side you have expats. On the other, non-expats.

Most of the things that keep many of us tossing and twisting in our beds while the rest of the world slumbers will likely intersect in a nice big lemon shape in the middle. Kids, marriage, health scares, money, retirement, the inching forward of the Doomsday clock, that crepe-y skin that is advancing across your neck (No? Just me?). That’s because for the most part, day-to-day life is the same regardless of where you live. Work, food shopping, kids, school runs, laundry, watching The Crown on Netflix. trying to remember that Mother’s Day in the UK is not the same as Mother’s Day everywhere else (No? Just me again? Damn).

But…that’s not to say it’s all the same. There are things I never really considered before we moved abroad. Things that weren’t on my radar, didn’t give me pause, and certainly didn’t keep me awake at night. Or at least not as much. I’m not even talking about the big-ticket worries–culture shock, language issues, whether or not you have to buy all new electrical appliances because the world can’t agree on socket shape or voltage–though those things have been known to cause a sleepless night or twelve.

But there are some issues which are likely unique to the expat experience, or, if not unique, play a bigger role.

I’ll take three things that keep expat parents awake at night for $200, Dina.


The big kahuna. The topic of conversation after conversation. Where will they go? When should we or should we not move them? Will they be ahead? Behind? If we move them once should we move them again or stay put? Will we scar them for life if we move right before high school? If we don’t? Will moving from one curriculum to another spell disaster? Can they even spell disaster? I can’t think of one other topic which dominates as much time of an expat parent’s life and conversation as trying to juggle kids, school, work assignments and moving. Even the folks I know in NYC, who have to deal with public school applications which could double as door stops, don’t usually have to add the worry of moving mid year or mid high school or switching curriculums or languages, sometimes every few years. It’s an exhausting and ever-present niggler at your bedtime peace.



Other than the military, I’m not sure there is a situation where the constant revolving door of friends is as noticeable as it is on the expat circuit. There are good sides and bad sides to this, of course. New blood is always good. New faces, new friends to meet, you never know who your next best buddy’s going to be. Then…then there’s the other side. Goodbyes are hard.  There’s the very real chance that, when a good friend picks up and moves back to say, oh, I don’t know….Perth, it’s going to be a long time before you see them again. And there is the heartbreak of watching your child say farewell to good friends year after year. My younger son starts to get anxious around March, and keeps a running list of friends who are leaving in his head. No parent likes to see their kid upset. It’s even worse when you know they are upset because of a decision you’ve made. Maybe it’s good for them, maybe it is, indeed, character building–or maybe, as you flip  your pillow over to find a cool spot, your current decisions are nothing more than money in a future therapist’s bank account.


If school is always the big X factor in decision making, it’s closely followed by the idea of putting down roots. I have a lot to say about this and it deserves its own post, but suffice it to say that the idea of trying to figure out where your kids are going to feel comfortable, call home, feel grounded, is another large part of expat parent worries. I only know what it is like to grow up with feet firmly planted in one place. My kids? Different story altogether. Theirs will no doubt have a different ending, as it should, but that doesn’t mean trying to make sure it’s a happy ending doesn’t keep me awake at night. It’s an unknown, an unanswerable. They may be just fine. They may thrive. The may part of that equation is what keeps my eyes open staring at the ceiling while my husband gently snores beside me.


o-insomnia-570These are the things that are in constant conversational rotation. The things that keep me, and many other expat parents I know awake at night. The kicker? There is no one answer that ticks all the boxes. There is no is magic formula. You can talk to ten different people and they’ll have ten different solutions and not a single one is going to give you the one size fits all answer you seek. You can rub a lamp, wish on a star, take a sleeping pill, and those problems are still going to be there when you wake up.

If you’re like us, you talk about it until you’ve gone around the subject a hundred times and then you stick your head firmly back in the sand where you don’t have to think about it any more.

Until the next time you find yourself laying awake at night, plotting Venn Diagrams and trying to remember when Mother’s Day in the UK is.

Just me?



24 Comments Add yours

  1. Love this post. Have you considered IB (International Baccalaureate) as an option? Having tried various systems with my two kids over time (public and private), our conclusion is IB. Consistent and meaningful curriculum offered across the globe with excellent undergraduate entry options! Parents appreciate the academic standards and kids love the all-inclusive approach.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dina Honour says:

      Thanks. Our kids are in an IB school now and we are really happy. Ironically, that’s part of the problem. If the next move is US bound, it will depend a lot on where #1 is, grade wise and then it would mean finding an IB school in the US–which is harder than it seems. But it’s been a wonderful experience for all of us. The little one has only ever done IB, so if we switch him out, it will be a pretty big shock to the system.

      See? No easy answers!!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Love your post, did the living abroad when the children were young. Then my mom insisted that I return her grandchildren to her so she could watch them grow up. I enjoyed it, I have a son who is fluent in German so that was one of the upsides.


    1. Dina Honour says:

      I didn’t even want to get into the family component–that’s a whole series of posts on its own! My gut tells me it will all be a great foundation for them to build on one day. But we all have those nights when we stop trusting our guts. And that’s when it becomes an issue.

      I think because it is so different than the way I grew up it is sometimes difficult to imagine, and then the doubt starts to creep in.


      1. True, perhaps having been an army brat helped me with it.


      2. Dina Honour says:

        I think military families are the original expats :-).

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Deirdre says:

    I spent 12 yrs as an expat. My daughter was born in the UK–a great place to have a baby! When she was 5 months old, we moved to lovely Singapore. Yes, we had a live-in maid!! We lived in a house on half an acre on this tiny city state island!! My daughter was exposed to Tagalog as an infant & Mandarin in preschool. When she was a 2nd grader, we moved to Dubai & of course, she studied Arabic! Expat kids are tenacious & take major changes in stride. They travel the world & grow up having a very broad worldview. The schools were well financed–by oil companies! Yes, the goodbyes can be hard, but with the Internet everyone can stay connected. Living abroad, I never had to worry about crime or guns!

    I was very sad when we moved back to the US–to Texas, no less. It turned out not be be so bad. Really! But, if I had my way, we’d still be expats. I loved it!


    1. Dina Honour says:

      We love it too–and I think that’s part of why the decision is difficult. We’re now in our 9th year out of the US (and husband is a Brit, so we’re always going to have family in a different country no matter where we end up). And the longer we’re away, the harder it is to think about heading back. But…I do worry about roots and family and having a ‘base’. There’s no easy answer!


  4. Rup says:

    IMHO: Take a decision. Stick by it. And then worry about an alternative if and when something better appears. In the meantime, see all the friends ‘here’ loads. One can expend a lot of energy on all of the above topics.

    Or maybe we have buried our heads in the sand.

    Must also say, I’m not surprised at your post.

    And at least your partner snores gently…


    1. Dina Honour says:

      Well, that’s the problem. The sticking with. It changes day to day. Part of the problem is that we are comfortable here and it’s a pretty damn good place to be comfortable.

      Re: snoring….I make it a point to only be nice about the husband in these pages. Catch me in person next time ;-).


  5. Stacy says:

    You have hit on the heart of the matter. Things change. And, as parents, we can only make the best decisions, at the time, one at a time. Try not to second guess yourself, Dina. I get asked frequently how my daughters felt about growing up as third culture kids so I’ve asked them. I wrote this when my eldest was 21 and her little sister was 19, both off at college. My daughter’s gift was especially gratifying and reaffirming, coming just a couple of months after I wrote this post:
    P.S. By the way, both my husband and I are adult TCKs. Knowing what you are getting into doesn’t necessarily make the decisions easier! They still have to be made one at a time.
    P.P.S. Our girls did come to Cairo and, since, to Dubai several times. Home is wherever we are together.


    1. Dina Honour says:

      The not second guessing is throwing me for a loop this time. I think it is because I both want to go ‘home’ to the US and dread going ‘home’ to the US…in equal measures. My gut instinct seems to be in hibernation at the moment, and without that, blind terror sets in. Thank you for the links as well, I look forward to reading them.


  6. Sinead Cunningham says:

    My family have had some seriously tough decisions to make in the last few months regarding staying or going home. The husband and at least 1 child, still have serious misgivings over the decision and it keeps them both awake at night. I, however, have decided (for the sake of sleep!) that we can only make decisions based on the information we have today, not what may or may not happen in the next few months/ years. This was after about 6 months of indecision but yes Dina, they are definitely the things that keep expats up at night! Nailed it again!


    1. Dina Honour says:

      6 months of indecision which likely took 2 years off your life! You’re right. We can only make decisions based on the info we have now. And it helps to know that no decision has to be forever (that helps me a lot). If we make one, and it doesn’t work out, we change and move on. Of course ALL of that is far easier said than done!


  7. emzmommie02 says:

    I moved many many times in the 1970 and 1980’s in the US. Some schools were better some were worse. Again I only knew because I had something to compare them to. It was hard saying goodbye to friends, but I have the ability to make friends everywhere. I have had a sometimes challenging but over all amazing adulthood moving 7 times across country in 10 years.( and no we aren’t military) I think it was learning to learn how to adapt as a child that made life so amazing and exciting, instead of scary and frightening. Your children are learning immeasurable soft skills, Ones that school or “regular boring ” life doesn’t teach. Try not to worry about what they may or may not be getting and look at all the positives . You seem like a great parent.


    1. Dina Honour says:

      Thank you.

      I think you are right, I think this life is giving them a richness they would be lacking if we had never moved. And a resiliency. But sometimes those things are in the abstract and the tangible stuff (a sad child, saying goodbye in an airport) are the things that brand themselves on your brain. But when I watch how comfortable they are in new situations, the ease with which they introduce themselves and accept new friends into their life–I know we made the right decision. At least until the next time ;-).

      Liked by 1 person

  8. vinneve says:

    So true! I got so many sleepless nights about this very thing about school finding a good one up to the approvals from the boss if the fees are too high!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Reflections says:

    Love this, so true!


  10. Haha, I like you’re original take on the writing style of using Jeopardy. “I’ll take three things that keep expat parents awake at night for $200”. I’m not an expat mother but I am an expat and having lived away from my “original” home I can only imagine from my own experiences that those things worry expat parents substantially.


    1. Dina Honour says:

      It’s like a constant stream of consciousness second guessing–interspersed with knowing you’ve made the best decision ever. It’s weird.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Great post. I’d go along with all of those, especially school. I’m a British expat living in Spain, but both my kids are Spanish. My son started school this year in public Spanish school and it’s all right, but I always compare it to back home. I think the only thing that would make me return to England would be if I don’t feel his education is up to scratch. I’d also add how his level of English is improving. I thought it would be easier to bring up bilingual kids, but it’s a lot harder than I thought. Any tips? Thanks for the entertainment.


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