From a father and educator’s perspective, Leonard Stanley is here to give you some advice – whether it’s questions about school, your teenager, family life, expat life or if you just need a dad’s point of view. In Advice from Dad, he answers your tough questions and gets a parent’s perspective.
So recently I had a conversation with my wife about something that had her quite upset. Now, luckily for me, it wasn’t anything that I had done to rile her up... this time! Rather, it was a conversation she had with a family member of hers that is planning a visit to Shanghai in the near future.
Unfortunately, when discussing the details of the trip, the conversation took an unexpected, but all too familiar turn. The family member, who currently does not have any children of her own, made a comment along the lines of how she could never raise a child here in China, and proceeded to give a litany of reasons as to why it is detrimental to the child to have them so far away from what she considered a familiar environment.
To be specific, the family member was referring to the perceived challenges of raising a kid in a situation where they are the only representative of their culture. Now, I will admit there is some merit to this position (and I will get to that later) but a conversation about the pros and cons of raising your child abroad should be nuanced and free from judgment.
Furthermore, having people, family or not, who have limited travel experience outside of their home country, and who very often have zero understanding of being an expat, weigh in on your life choices can be frustrating, to say the least. I understand that, and would assume that most of us in the expat community can relate on some level to having this discussion. Ok, but what do we do when the conversation arises?
First, try and assess intent. Is the person with whom you are speaking trying to be offensive or supportive? Are they simply trying to communicate their anxiety or challenge your parenting prowess? Whatever messages they are attempting to convey, try not to take the conversation personal. Again, I admit that may be challenging. However, you should look at the situation for what it is, an attempt at communication.
Image via Pexels
Most of the time you will find that a person who is sharing unsolicited commentary about what they would do with their hypothetical children is simply trying to communicate their anxiety about raising another human being. It is for that reason that I do not recommend taking offense or becoming combative.
Simply look at the meaning behind their words, and if you choose to respond, do so in a way that informs rather than confronts. Point out the inherent advantages, while not completely ignoring their claims. This will provide them with the feeling of being heard, which everyone appreciates, while opening them up to another perspective that they may have not considered. I call this the give a little to get a lot approach. Concede a point only to deliver a more salient one.
Discuss the idea that familiarity is relative, and it is entirely dependent on the amount of time an individual spends in a certain environment. What was familiar to you growing up may very well be as unfamiliar as can be to your children. Highlight the fact that an international education is one of the best educations a child can receive. The argument should be made that you are actually doing your child a great service.
Lastly, in response to being the only representative of their culture, I would offer two rebuttals. The first of which is the fact that they could potentially encounter that exact same experience in their home country. Secondly, with international education the probability that your child may not be the only one representing their culture, but a significant number of their peers may also be child ambassadors for their culture is pretty high.
International schools can be as diverse an environment possible for kids. Being far away from home has advantages and disadvantages alike, and most children will share the common experience of being foreign. If everyone is different, then we are all the same.
[Cover image via Pexels]
Leonard Stanley was born and raised in Washington D.C., and has lived in Shanghai since 2009 with his wife and two young children Kyle (15) and Christopher (11). Leonard teaches Theory of Knowledge as well as Language & Literature at the Western International School of Shanghai.
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