The expat dilemma…

We just returned to Bratislava after celebrating Christmas in Philadelphia with our kids.  When we all get together, we have a wonderful time.  This Christmas was no exception.  In spite of their ages (20, 25, and 32) , they each have their own wants and needs when it comes to family time.  The wants aren’t so different.  I’m sure they each want us to return home – at least some day.

Each is in a cool, livable and different US city; Charlottesville, Philadelphia, and Boulder.  We could pick one of their home towns as our own.  Pat and I sold our home in Colorado last summer.  We have the flexibility to buy a new home when the time is right.  Although, for me, that time is not yet.  Buried under all of this is our dilemma.  Where do we live long-term?  And if we pick Europe, can we live in a way where everyone gets the family time – and ties – they need?  What is fair when it comes to living overseas in a different country from your “children” for a long time – or even permanently?

Philadelphia is a great international city with world-class arts, sports, and food (and will likely be the topic of next weeks blog!).  It has everything we are looking for in a home, albeit at a higher price than Central Europe.  But when it comes to travel, it’s not Europe.  We can’t leave our apartment after lunch and have dinner in Paris, or London, or Rome.  At this point in our lives, we enjoy the affordable European life we are living coupled with access to the entire continent.  Life, in short, is good.   But our son lives in Philadelphia.   He has a new home, and Pat has the knowledge to help him fix it up.

In spite of our good fortune, there is lingering doubt, nagging questions.  Is there a point when we should return home – even if home increasingly feels like Bratislava?  How do we deal with birthdays, holidays, and the miscellaneous duties of life – supporting ill family members or helping our kids fix up their new homes – if we elect to remain abroad?   Is it better to have constant access to each other or to have periodic – and perhaps higher quality  – visits?   If we live right around the block, might we sit home waiting for that dinner invite which seldom arrives?  Would our kids turn down a new job which requires a move across country because mom and dad live down the street?  And would I want them to constrain their lives because of us?

There is a lot to think about.

Parental guilt always comes home to roost.

We have time to figure this out.  We recently committed to two more years in Central Europe.  However, each time we return home, the topic bubbles to the surface.  It’s the expat dilemma, the post mid-life version of  “Can you have both children and a career?”   The good news is we don’t have to figure it out now.  But we will need to grapple with the decision at some point.  And honestly, when that point comes, I have no idea the “right answer” will be (if such a thing exists) and what we’ll do.  I’m quite sure whatever we decide there will be some good and some bad and some guilt.   Even when life is good, it still involves tradeoffs.

Categories: Ruminations

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3 replies

  1. Once there are grandchildren, the decision will resolve itself. Enjoy your years abroad.

  2. We have these same discussions from the “children” ‘s perspective– is it selfish for us to continue living so far from parents, grandparents, nieces and nephews? If we have children ourselves, how will that play out?… etc. I love living in Europe but expect we will, sooner or later, move back for family reasons… but it’s difficult to know what the “right” decision is.

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