Returning home for the summer – managing expectations

Managing the excitement and the expectations of a summer visit home can be tricky – it’s not only your own expectations you have to consider, but those of your friends and family back home as well. Time, or the lack thereof, is probably the biggest problem for expats returning home on vacation. It’s not uncommon to feel like your precious few weeks of time off becomes a marathon, where you are trying to fit in as many people/places as possible, all the while living out of a suitcase and sleeping on mattresses. The vacation part tends to be forgotten soon after arrival.

Yet, most of us make the trek anyway. Personally, I couldn’t imagine not going home. I always wanted my children to grow up knowing my country and family, and that outweighed the hassles and discomforts of travel every time. It wasn’t always easy, but it was always worth it!

Visiting home after living abroad for a period of time, it can be harder than it used to be to connect with friends and family. Over time, common points of reference become fewer and fewer. We all change and it’s not so strange to think that when our daily lives are informed by different cultures, how we relate to each other changes as well. As with most relationships, keeping an open and honest communication going is the only way to really counter the feelings of being out of sync, or not quite understanding where the other person is coming from.

Perhaps this particular dynamic is most notable when it comes to parenting. What is a common parenting practice in one country, may not be so in another. Being home on summer vacation, these differences sometimes cause friction. My children grew up in a fairly structured and organized society where parents plan playdates, kids are chaperoned most of the time, activities are plentiful and the concept of free time isn’t really a big one. My home country is different; children have more freedom and are more self-sufficient. I think it’s safe to say that we suffered our fair share of culture clashes on our visits home. It makes me happy to think however, that my kids have become hybrids of both cultures, even though the road there was bumpy at times.

I have learned a few things during all these years of traveling back and forth. Perhaps the biggest lesson is the simplest one: you can’t make everyone happy, so don’t sweat it. Once I realized that, I could simplify and start “planning according to need and wish”.

For example, I used to think that I had to be back in time for midsummer every year. It’s a big celebration in Sweden and I just couldn’t imagine missing it. But, it’s not an ideal time to go, for several reasons. For one, it’s early in the summer and the weather is likely to be cold and rainy (an important factor when your destination is Sweden). For two, I started realizing that coming home for a “high-expectations holiday” was not a great idea. It was mostly overwhelming and we actually didn’t have that much fun – it seemed to be more family drama than family celebration. Once I made the decision not to make Midsummer a must, our summer vacations changed for the better.

“Planning according to need and wish” – this may sound a bit vague, but really, all it means is that you take your own wishes into account and weigh them against whatever other needs you feel you have to fulfill and then try to make a balanced summer out of it. This gets easier as time goes on. You learn something new each year and eventually you find a system that works, at least for the most part!

By: Felicia Shermis

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