Friday, July 5, 2019

Don't Use the Guilt Trip

Hi Everyone,
It’s been quite a while since I last wrote; life’s been very busy since I became a ghost writer! That’s another story! Jiri and I are doing great and my expat life continues in the Czech Republic.

Today, I wrote a post on my private Facebook page—some advice for families that have expats living overseas. Here’s my post:

"Family on both sides of the ocean think Jirka and I should live in different places. 

American family says it's time to come home, Czech family says it's time I become Czech (citizen) permanently. Ach jo. 

I told Jirka we need to live in a completely neutral place...where would that be? There isn't a neutral place!

Some advice--if you have expat family members, it's great to let them know they're wanted, but please don't say it's time to come home...or that they should change their nationality. It causes major feelings of guilt and a lot of stress. Many expats are already dealing with these feelings--it doesn't help to have others heaping on more guilt and stress." Sherry Vacik

What’s Behind the Facebook Post?
Well, this is a long story, but I’ll keep it short and sweet. You know I’ve lived in the Czech Republic since 2006—just about 13 years. That’s a long time! I’ve enjoyed my time here with Jiri very much and would one day like to head back to the U.S. This is a plan for the future. However, my family is ready for us to move back home now. They’ve made that quite clear on several occasions—it’s time to move home.

Now, my Czech family is saying that it’s time I become Czech—as in exchanging my U.S. citizenship to become fully Czech. This is a recent occurrence—just this morning, in fact. It's the very first time any of Jirka’s family has said this. It came as quite a shock.

This is what’s behind the Facebook post and the title of this
blog post. One side of our family wants us in the U.S., while the other side of our family wants us here.

It’s great to be wanted and to know people love & miss us, but they don’t really understand the guilt and stress they put on us with their desires to have us live in  one country or the other.

The Bittersweet Expat Life
Taking up the expat life was not something I had endeavored or planned to do. I’m the girl who always wanted to stay home—I had no intention of living outside of my home country. I mean, come on…me? Yet, here I am, an expat for about 13 years already.

Many people view the expat life as something exotic, exciting, and glamorous. Well, I suppose it can be this way for some expats. For me, my life is pretty normal—I’m a housewife taking care of my husband. That’s the center of my expat life. It's not glamorous--I don't sit on a beach strewn with stars while sipping a glass of champagne. I’m sitting here typing in a Czech flat, living as a Czech housewife, with the love of my life—my Czech husband. That's my expat life in a nutshell. My reason for being outside of my country is to be with my husband--that's it.

I'm fortunate to have traveled a little bit. I’ve gotten to see some places I never thought to see! Think of Rome, Paris, Florence, Tours, Madrid, Sevilla, Barcelona, places in Japan, Switzerland, Germany, and of course the Czech Republic. I’ve also gotten to meet and become friends with some great people who are also living away from their homelands. And let’s not forget my Czech family and my Czech friends—I never would have met them without moving over here. This has been the wonderful and exciting side of my expat life. These are the sweet bits of being an expat.

On the other hand, there is guilt and stress about leaving my family and friends behind. It’s so difficult, you can’t imagine unless you live in another country away from your own family. Living in a different state is hard enough, but not as difficult—how do I know, I’ve done it. Living half a world away is quite a different animal.

Why the guilt? Because I’m missing my grown kids’ lives, I’m not always able to be home when my folks need help. My friends—I miss them so much at times. It’s hard and worse than hard. But this is what I took on when I married Jiri and moved here—it comes with the decision to become an expat. This is the bitter part of an expat life. No one said it would be easy. I simply feel guilty for being on the other side of the world away from my friends and family.

Why the stress? Well, it’s not easy to live in a foreign country as a foreigner. You also have to deal with feelings of stress when family and friends are going through difficult situations. Just right there you’re dealing with a ton of stress as an expat.

Mix the guilt and stress together and what to you get? Some very overwhelming feelings at time. These feelings ebb and flow—you don’t always feel them so poignantly; however, when they come on strong, you feel like you’re drowning in a flood or maybe a tsunami. It’s just the way it can be for some expats, including me.

OK--I hear some of you thinking, "You made this choice, now live with it."  You're right! I did make the choice and am living it every single day. I deal with the ramifications of my choice--both positive and negative--every day. Just as you're dealing with the outcome of the life choices you've made. 

We all have to cope with the consequences of our actions, dealing with both the good and the bad. That's called living your life. We all have the right to make choices, change our minds, all while dealing with the outcome whether we are expats or not.

Advice to Loved Ones with Expat Family Members

If you happen to have family members who have chosen to become expats, please, please don’t lay on the guilt that they should come home. On the other side, if you have a foreign family member who is living in the country on a long-term residence visa, don’t tell them to change their nationality.

It’s OK to let your family member know they’re missed. This is wonderful and a great sign of love which is much appreciated. However, this love can quickly become a source of guilt and stress if you tell them too often they should come back home or that they should change their nationality, etc.

You don’t realize the guilt and stress your expat loved one’s already dealing with. By heaping on more, you make their lives even more difficult. In all likelihood, your expat family member won’t let you know they’re already feeling guilty and stressed about leaving. Try to be compassionate and avoid guilting them into making decisions they may not be ready to make yet.

The Purpose of this Post

This post isn’t meant to be negative—it’s meant to be an explanation of what many expats deal with and how it feels when family and friends urge their expat loved ones to move back home. This post is advice for families who have expat loved ones—don’t give them a guilt-trip. It could backfire, and make some expats just stay away to avoid the stress.

For myself, I try to tackle the issue head-on (not always successfully) when it comes up. I let my family know I love them very much, but right now I’m living over here.

My Czech family, I tell them I have my kids and folks back home...and it's easier to go back and forth if I keep my U.S. citizenship. Plus, I'll always be an American--that will never change.

Neither of our families may accept our decisions to live in one place or another, but that’s how it is—I can’t control how others think or feel. Jiri and I need to live our own life together, just as our family members have been free to live their lives. 

I know that one day I want to move back to my country—but for now, Jiri and I will stay in his country enjoying our life together. This is the choice we’ve made for now. It can always change, but the decision will be our own when it's time to make a change.

What are your thoughts? Share them in the comments below!

Have a great day!

God bless,