adoption · multicultural families

How being an expat made me a better adoptive parent

Not all evil comes to harm. It’s a popular say, but one of the most true. The expat life is tough. Growing old in a country where you were not raised in inevitably places you on the borders of society. Language is the worst barrier. It takes time to learn a language beyond daily and superficial interactions, and to be able to use it in a professional or highly-educated environment, to be capable of reading the newspaper or have a debate on complex matters, or getting well-informed to vote at local or national elections. Not being a citizen can put you in harsh positions with bureaucracy and life stability. Even if you become a citizen, you will never be a native. At the same time, the place you used to call ‘home‘ is not such anymore. Being an expat is similar to living in a limbo. You don’t feel at home anywhere anymore, and get used to live with this constant feeling of simply not belonging.

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R and I enjoying the Finnish winter (2016).

I don’t want to sound dramatic, but according to my experience and my friends’, that’s more or less how it feels for everyone . I accepted this condition of constant discomfort because my choice of moving abroad has always been an investment for my family. I have zero regrets, as I am aware that I would not be able to enjoy the current high-quality of life, had I stayed in Italy. I keep saying that I would have not been a mother at all there. Some days, I hate it though. When I feel cornered by my inadequate language skills or when I realise my opportunities are limited or that I have to work so hard to network or connect with locals, I feel less than the person that I can be.

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R, summer 2015.

When we were going through the adoption counselling phase and a social worker was screening us to write our home study, for the first time I felt powerful about being an expat. We were going to adopt internationally and I believed I had great tools to empathise with a child coming from a different culture. Even though my experience of moving and getting acquainted with a new reality was obviously not comparable to the traumatic change of an adopted child, I could hint at what it feels like to be immersed in  the unknown. I am aware of how stressful it is to be surrounded for hours at a time by people who speak a language you don’t understand, without any escape from the situation. And I appreciate the feeling of finding solace and comfort in your past history and your birth culture.

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Me, playing with R and E, days after placement. India, 2017.

Adopting as expats has its downsides. Networking with other adoptive families or actively participating in the local adoption community has proven harder than expected, most likely because of language barrier. We are, even more now, part of an invisible minority. However, thanks to my son I have been able to see my own experience under new eyes and I felt lucky of having these superpowers to understand him better. As it often happens, life has proven that my vulnerability can be one of my most powerful strengths.

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4 thoughts on “How being an expat made me a better adoptive parent

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