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How to let those close to you know that you’re emigrating

How to let those close to you know that you’re emigrating
Image: Mana5280 / Unsplash

After months of contemplation you have decided to uproot your existence, becoming part of the statistics: you are emigrating. Here are a few tips for how to let your loved and close ones know about your decision.

Over the past decade the number of South African citizens emigrating has increased dramatically; driven by a host of reasons ranging from unstable politics to a safer life and better job opportunities elsewhere in the world. Or maybe just yearning for adventure! Such a life-changing decision cannot be taken lightly, especially if there are dependants who will be uprooted in the process. 

Moving abroad can be an experience of a lifetime. It can be scary, breathtaking, thrilling, terrifying and stimulating, all at the same time. Every emigration journey is unique. Some leave with the intention to emigrate permanently. Others may spend a limited time overseas before deciding to stay on indefinitely.

Among all the changes human beings face throughout their lives, few are as encompassing and complex as those of the emigration process, even when the emigration is voluntary and a carefully considered choice. 

This is true for the emigrant, but also for those remaining in South Africa.

Many challenges

The emigration process is demanding and requires determination. The challenges may include arranging visas, selling a house and car, transferring bank accounts, finding new jobs, schools and homes. This can be an administrative nightmare that is also psychologically draining. However, the most upsetting part can be the emotional roller coaster experience of breaking the news to the significant people in your life. 

Emigration is seldom a singular affair – it involves many role players. Informing loved ones as soon as possible is of value to both you and those family members remaining. It allows them time to process the information, come to terms with your decision and actively participate in the emigration journey. 

The approval of family members can provide comfort. The timely sharing of your decision helps ensure the healthy continuance of relationships. It opens valuable communication channels and paves the way for future discussions. 

What to expect 

Close friends and family will probably not be excited about your leaving. This is a perfectly human response. Reactions from parents, family and friends range from being hurt, sad, disappointed, anxious, angry, hopeful, excited and everything in between. 

While you will be realising your dream, parents remaining in South Africa may be feeling bereft of the expectation of time spent with you and the joy of seeing their grandchildren grow up. Furthermore, the shock of the big news may confront your family with past unresolved emotional issues that complicates the relationship. 

This conversation is hardly ever one-sided: be ready for cross-examination of their concerns, such as why you want to leave now, and whether you sized up your plans for the future properly.

Not only should you know these answers for your own peace of mind, but also be ready to articulate it properly to the people who care about you. Put them at ease with clear and concrete answers to their questions. Your response should inspire confidence in them.

Timing and location

There is no easy way to share the news to your parents that you and your family (that may also include their grandchildren) are departing soon. Your decision to emigrate has a ripple effect on all involved. 

It is nearly impossible to pinpoint exactly when to tell loved ones that you are emigrating. You may be reluctant due to a possible negative reaction to your decision. Yet, keeping the news of your emigration to yourself and carrying the burden on your own can play havoc with your stress hormones. It is generally best to inform your loved ones as soon as you have made a definite decision. Informing loved ones timeously will allow for more discussion and a supportive environment throughout the emigration journey. 

Consider a location where they will feel most comfortable to express their feelings. Make an appointment in a private setting, preferably at home. Take the time to inform them in detail about your future plans and the reasons for your decision. You do not want your loved ones to find out about your decision from someone else or through another medium: tell them in person. 

Be considerate and empathetic when telling your parents. Soften the blow by discussing the ways that you will stay in touch – frequent visits, frequent calls and emails. 

Own your decision 

Your planned move represents a huge life change for all involved. By being well prepared, you will improve the chances of gaining the full support of your family. This will create a safe environment for both you and your loved ones during the challenging first couple of months before, during and after your emigration. 

It is comforting to know that parents who were involved at an early stage in the decision-making process will show less resistance to their children’s decision to emigrate. It might not diminish their experience of loss, but taking part in the process will help them cope with your leaving.

Whatever their response, you will have to own your decision. Have the courage to say: “I have made a choice. It is a difficult one, but this is my choice. I accept full responsibility.” DM/ML

Sulette Ferreira is a migration therapist in private practice. You can contact Ferreira at [email protected]

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  • Dave Reynell says:

    I too have given some thought to emigration, but at an advanced age I would clearly prefer to stay put. South Africa is indescribably beautiful and South Africans are, for the most, friendly and easy to get on with. With regard to family members, three of my four sons have already emigrated (United States, Sweden and Australia) the fourth is completing his degree through Open University (UNISA was shambolic !). They moved early and had the skills to do so.

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