Going home for the holidays

For a lot of expats, Winter Break is a period of traveling back to their home country and reconnecting with family and friends. It’s also a time to keep an eye on our child, especially when it’s their first time back after an expatriation.

In general, it’s a great time for them; festivities are going on, people make time to see you and your family, grandparents spoil them and time with friends is being organized. Being back home can validate your roots, but also accentuate that life back home ifs going on without you.

Your child/children (and you) have been going through Cycles of Change* since you have moved to a new country. The time it takes to go through the cycles are very personal. But going back home for the first time is most probably very close to or in the midst of dealing with your recent transition to this new country.

Going back home for the holidays is a time to be attentive to your child’s feelings regarding the move. What are their expectations? Children will feel they have some control over what is happening if you offer choices and include them in discussions about almost anything related to your trip. Try to build expectations that help your child look forward to it: people to visit, places to go, activities to do. If you can, stay at a familiar place and spend time with family members and close friends, as they support a deep sense of belonging in your child and yourself.

If your child plans to meet up with friends, be prepared for a wide array of emotions. Children who look forward to returning home may be affected by unexpected losses when they get there, such as a close friend being on holiday or becoming close friends with someone else in your child’s absence. The friends themselves have had to deal with their friend leaving them behind and are dealing with their own emotions when reconnecting.

Friends might have the best time reconnecting which supports their sense of belonging. It might also rekindle emotions of loss, especially when the friend has changed, or turns away from the friendship. Help your child have realistic expectations of what it will be like by talking about the possible changes that may have taken place while you were away and how those changes might affect them. Staying connected by email, app phone and Skype/Facetime supports long distance relationships and facilitate reconnecting.

When arriving back after the holiday, be sensitive to feelings of loss your child might be experiencing after leaving ‘home’ behind again. Reestablishing old ties and creating wonderful moments are essential and wonderful, but might rake up feelings of loss all over again.

Talk with your child before, during and after your trip, have family talks to share experiences and feelings. The confusion between regret and excitement is to be expected, and just knowing that can help. And consider your children – what works for one may not work for another. Children need support to help them reach closure and build memories in their own way.

I hope these thoughts will support you and your family in planning and experiencing a wonderful Winter Break if you go back home.

Warm regards,

Nicole Buitenhuis

psychologist | counselor | personal coach

and expat mom



* Cycles of change

Involvement The comfortable place that we achieve when we have been in a place for a while.
Leaving and Separation Accepting that the family will be saying goodbye to the familiar. Each member of the family will grieve their present life and go through normal stages of euphoria, denial, anger and sadness.
Transition chaos and culture shock Transition starts some weeks/months before moving and may remain for several weeks/months after arriving. It is characterized by feeling unconnected and confused. This is a chaotic time. It is a normal, healthy and a temporary stage we all experience when entering a new culture. It can also happen when returning to a home culture and be more stressful because it can be unexpected. The mix of emotions is the characteristic of this ‘chaotic’ stage.
Entering Adaptation Settling This stage starts the moment we realize and accept that we are living in a totally different environment. In order to adapt to this new environment, we have to learn and to change our self. We adapt in learning about the country, people, language, traditions, music, believes… and in looking for our personal place.
Re-involvement You are settled in your new surrounding; accept people and places for who and what they are. You begin to have a sense of intimacy and a feeling that your presence matters to this group. You begin to focus on the present rather then hoping for the future or constantly reminiscing about the past.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *