Adults tend to overlook the impact of global assignment on the entire family unit. Focusing primarily on the impact on the children and sorting out the logistics of the move, the family as a whole can get overlooked. It seems obvious and simple that if one member of the family is struggling with the transition, the entire family will be affected. However, it’s really important to take a step back and think about the entire family throughout this process.
Have the conversation early.
Most importantly, have the conversation with the entire (nuclear) family early on. Avoid a situation in which one of your children finds out before the other one(s). Sit down together and discuss the details of the upcoming assignment. Please refer to other blog posts about specific ways to have this conversation based on your child/children’s age.
This conversation might need to occur over several days depending on the reaction of each family member. Encourage everyone to share how he/she feels about the move. As a parent, you can be open with your feelings too while also making sure you don’t burden your child with your own experience. For example, it can be helpful to say, “I also feel pretty sad about moving.” Rather than, “I’m mad about it and don’t want to leave either.”
Talk about shared family values.
As part of the preparation phase, it will be important to identify and talk about your values as a family. Talk about things that are important to all or even just some of the members of your family. As much as possible, find ways to ensure that these values don’t get lost once you move. For example, if you and your spouse value having dinner together as a family, talk about that. While it might be impossible to continue doing that every night while on assignment, perhaps you decide to make a goal to do it three times a week.
Ask your child(ren) what they enjoy most about your family and find out what they worry will change. The things that children enjoy and find special are often different than adults. It’s important not to assume you know what your child values. Simply ask, “What do you like most about our family?, or “What do we do together as a family that you enjoy?”.
Once these important things have been identified, your family can work together to develop a plan to prioritize them. Of course, everyone will not agree on the same things, but identifying just a few things that are valued by your family will help maintain closeness through the transition. This will also encourage open communication and predictability, which are important for families as they embark on the global assignment.
Make time for each other.
Most importantly, make time for each other. It’s easy to get caught up in the preparation and tasks that need to be completed before you leave. Remind yourself that when families get stressed, the tendency is to argue and spend time apart from each other. However, keeping the family unit connected with open communication and spending time together will ease the transition and reduce the likelihood for problems down the road.