Immigration once was only for a select few who could afford it, but in today’s age a number of international companies are “buying out” employees and therefore subsidise the entire cost of the immigration process. Migrating can stem from a number of reasons but for South Africans the most common reasons are for safety, economic reasons and to ensure that your child/ren has a future! All of these reasons are valid and the intentions are noble and pure, but despite these pure and noble intentions the process remains traumatic for you and your child/ren. During my time working with the European Union on immigration and the effects of immigration on migrant youth I saw that the process of immigration affects everyone different; I saw that some children adapts quickly and fit right in with the new population, others turn to a number of bad influences in order to fit in whereas others withdraw completely. During this time I also identified the following difficulties in the process:
- Financial strain on the family: migrating is not just merely moving to a different neighbourhood or province within South Africa, no this is much bigger! Passports and visas must be obtained, you need to apply for entry, you need to undergo certain tests and interviews, you need to ship your property to the new country, you need to pay your airfares, you need to set up a new house in a new country using a much stronger currency. But I am sure you have first-hand experience on the financial strain your process has had or still has on you and your family.
- Stress: just taking the above description and the entire process to apply and to actually get it done one can agree that there are a number of factors which can increase your already high levels of stress. For example, South Africa is known for its striking public servants, well imagine a strike at home affairs just after you applied for your passports! Yes, this process can go from stressful to super stressful in a minute!
- Sadness: wow, you are not just moving to a new country where new opportunities await, you are also leaving behind your country, your province, your neighbourhood, your friends, your family, your pets, your church, your memories, your favourite restaurant or butchery! You are quite literally leaving behind everything about you! And this is enough to evoke sadness in anyone!
- Doubt: you are leaving behind all your financial security, you are making a substantial capital investment into this process which is eating away at the funds you have available. All of this for a possibly better job, a possibly better neighbourhood, a possibly better school for your children or a possible better public healthcare sector. Am I doing the right thing? What if it fails? What if I don’t like my new job? What if we cannot adapt to the weather? All of these question a lot of other questions may stir around in you which will lead to doubt and which may ultimately cause you to seriously reconsider your decision.
- Arguments: taking the above into consideration it is evident that these factors may bring about a lot of different emotions and feelings within the households which may and most probably will lead to arguments and fights between you and your spouse. You and your spouse may even experience different things during this time, things which may be stupid or irrelevant to the other and this may also lead to a lot of arguments and hostility in the household.
If we take the above into consideration it is clear that the entire process is an emotional rollercoaster for you as adult, now imagine the effect it has on your children! A quick example is the following: “You are busy packing all your belongings, your house is sold, your children knows that they will not be going back to their school next month, that they will not see their friends and grandparents in a long, long time; now you or your wife puts the wrong thing in the wrong box and it leads to an argument!” Now imagine how it must feel like for your children, they are literally “losing” everything they have and now they may fear to lose either one of you as well! The impact of immigration is much bigger on our children! There are a number of things you as parents can do to make the transition and experience less traumatic to your children:
- Create excitement – children thrive on excitement and surprise! Be sure to get a number of pictures of the new country you are migrating to, be sure to include pictures of the natural scenery, new shopping centres, adventure parks, wildlife, etc. Use these pictures to create excitement and tell your children that this will be where you will be living together as a family from now on.
- New things – as part of the excitement it is also crucial for you as parent to disclose all the new things you as family will encounter in the country you are migrating to. This can include new clothes to wear (such as in Dubai), a new language to learn, new ways of doing things, new things to eat, etc. It is also beneficial if you can show your children YouTube videos of the people and customs of the country in order to ensure that they are well prepared for the new things they will encounter.
- Do not rush your children – it is crucial that you set the ground rules of what may go and what may not go with to the new country. Tell your child that he/she must decide on 5 toys for example which must go with, those which are left behind can be handed to friends as a positive gesture and as a memorabilia of the friendship which existed. It is absolutely crucial that you allow your child adequate time to say good bye to not only his or her possessions which cannot go with but also to friends, teachers, pets and any other thing which is important to him/her!
- Security – it is also a good idea to show your child that he/she can maintain contact with the people left behind using technology such as FaceTime, Facebook, WhatsApp and so forth. It is also crucial that you as parents reassure your children of your love for them and to do this as often as possible, always use terms which reinforces the fact that you as family will be moving together and that you will always be together.
- Be there – do not dismiss your children’s concerns and fears, make time to sit and talk about it, even if you as parents initiate the discussions! Be sure to always check for understanding and recheck on these fears and concerns in a day or two in order to ensure that your child understands the process. Also keep your child well-informed on the status of the process and any difficulties that may arise.
- Keep your cool – this time is already stressful and frightening as it is for your child, therefore it is crucial that you as parents do not lose your cool and temper with them, this does not mean that you must slack on disciplining them but it rather means that you as parents should take note to not let your frustration and stress boil over into you disciplining your children. It is also important that you as parents do not fight and argue in front of your children as this may lead to more stress and anxiety in your children.
This is truly an exciting time in your family, but there are a lot of things which may turn the excitement into hell! Be cautious to not let the process become a sour and distasteful experience.
*The information in this document is based on the experiences I had during my time as group member of the “Bridging the Gap” project of the European Union and Erasmus+