Maverick Life


Ready to go see your family overseas? Here’s how to prepare

Ready to go see your family overseas? Here’s how to prepare
If your children and grandchildren have emigrated and now call a foreign country home, joining them for the holiday season might bring up mixed feelings.(Photograph: Unsplash)

If your children and grandchildren have emigrated and now call a foreign country home, joining them for the holiday season might bring up mixed feelings.

The rise of transnationalism has reshaped family life and given rise to new rituals, where family members have to travel to visit relatives who have emigrated. Because they are expensive and taxing, transnational visits are an infrequent privilege; such expeditions are less about the physical journey than they are about bridging emotional distances.

During the festive season, and especially around traditional holidays such as Christmas, the absence of loved ones can be felt more keenly, and the need to reaffirm family bonds stirs people into action.

As an emigration therapist, I often witness the lived experiences of visiting parents from South Africa as they connect with their adult children and grandchildren scattered across the globe. Here, I draw on my experience to provide eight important points that should help visiting parents nurture emotional ties with their loved ones.

Start with ‘Why?’

The answer to this question might seem glaringly obvious: You and your children or relatives love and miss each other and long to be reunited; once you start scrutinising this desire, some nuances become apparent.

For many parents, the need to visit is rooted in the primal instinct to nurture and protect. Even though your children are now independent adults, your feeling of parental responsibility never completely fades. You may want to share in the milestones that have occurred over the time you have been apart — to celebrate achievements, provide comfort for losses and offer the tangible support that only physical presence can provide.

The real reason for the visit is not only to be present in the spaces where your children’s stories unfold, but also to be a part of the narrative itself. It is about being an active participant rather than a mere spectator, about sharing in the holiday warmth, contributing to the laughter and memory-making and witnessing the sparkle of joy in your loved ones’ eyes.

Before you arrive, try to pinpoint the visit’s key purpose; consider what this active participation in your children’s lives means to you. Understanding this central motive will help shape a more rewarding trip.

Plan diligently, but leave room for the unexpected

As the festive season draws closer, many families embark on their journeys to reunite, and preparing for family reunions becomes more than a logistical challenge — it becomes a labour of love. Parents and children provide mutual support to ensure that the family circle is made whole once again.

  • Plan early to navigate passport and visa delays and to sidestep high travel costs.
  • Choose flexible travel and accommodation options.
  • Coordinate schedules with your children for quality time together.
  • Allow for spontaneous, unplanned moments of connection.

Of course, even the most meticulous plan can fall victim to the unpredictable, with the potential for cancelled flights or health issues leading to heart-wrenching postponements. In this case, it is important to have a plan for moving forward. If this happens, try to accept uncontrollable factors; if a reunion is delayed, recognise the disappointment, then focus on possible actions. Use this as a teaching moment for resilience and adaptability for your children and grandchildren.

Keep communicating

To ensure that a transnational visit is rewarding for everyone involved, it is crucial that the planning is not one-sided. The key to a successful trip lies in continuous dialogue, allowing for shared decision-making and expectation-setting.

Proactive planning and open communication ensure that the trip caters to the interests of each family member, leading to a shared enjoyable experience.

Also bear in mind that when you see your children in person again, another dimension is added to your communication. The frequency and modes of communication that maintained the long-distance relationship might not translate seamlessly in face-to-face interactions. You and your children may need to rediscover each other’s conversational cues and emotional language, a process that requires patience and empathy.

Before you leave:

  • Clearly communicate your goals for the visit with your children to make them a reality.
  • Create a list of what you want to learn about your children’s lives and what activities you want to share. This personalised itinerary ensures that your conversations are meaningful.
  • Be ready to rediscover conversational rhythms and to share stories that have shaped the time you have been apart.

Keeping the cost in mind

The desire to be with your emigrant children is often met with significant financial barriers. International flights are expensive, even more so during the festive season. Hidden costs are just as real: travel insurance that safeguards against the unexpected, and planning against health risks for older travellers.

Financial costs aside, there are also physical costs to consider. Flying poses specific challenges for older travellers. Navigating large spaces like airports or sitting in a cramped seat for hours can become a genuine health concern; the stress of travel can take a toll on your energy and wellbeing.

However, if these costs make it seem like the trip is not worthwhile, keep in mind that the value of a hug, the warmth of shared laughter, and the reassurance of face-to-face contact are not just emotional luxuries, but investments into the family’s emotional reserve.

What you can do ahead of your trip:

  • Acknowledge your limitations to prevent overexertion.
  • Anticipate a slower pace if you are older.
  • If possible, plan for direct flights to reduce travel time, or ensure there is enough layover time to rest between flights.
  • Select aisle seats for easier access to the restroom and to stretch your legs.
  • To better recover, plan with your children to have a rest day when you arrive.

Have realistic expectations

The anticipation of a reunion brings with it a host of expectations and emotions. On the one hand, families expect to come together joyously after a long separation. On the other, there is the bittersweet recognition of changed family roles and identities. In this redefined context, it’s essential to align your expectations with the present realities of your children’s lives.

As visitors in your children’s world, the wisdom of balance becomes key. The urge to fill every moment with shared experiences is natural, given the preciousness of time together, yet it’s equally important to embrace the rhythms of your children’s daily lives, which includes their need for personal space and routine.

It is a delicate integration in which you tactfully find your place within the daily patterns of their lives, respecting boundaries as much as cherishing shared moments and creating memories.

When you’re together, remember to:

  • Balance your expectations with your children’s reality: make your children and grandchildren the focus.
  • Express appreciation for the efforts your children make to accommodate your visit, recognising that hosting can be demanding.

Be open to new cultures and experiences

Cultural acclimatisation is another important consideration. Emigrant children often blend into their new country, embracing customs and norms that may seem outlandish to you. The best way to approach these differences is with curiosity and openness; becoming comfortable with the unknown is vital.

Allow your children to guide you through their adopted culture. See their guidance through their new culture as a gift, offering a window into their newfound independence, and allow yourself to feel proud of what they have achieved. By navigating this new dynamic with grace, parents can foster a renewed and mature relationship with their children, enriching the family bond with layers of mutual respect and love.

Allow opportunity for spontaneity and the formation of new traditions. These new traditions merge the past with the present, creating a shared future that honours the memories of what was and the realities of what is.

Consider your legacy

Visits across borders, marked by their rarity, hold a profound opportunity to shape a meaningful legacy. Naturally, you will want your presence to have the greatest possible positive impact to create a lasting after-effect. This becomes especially pertinent if you have grandchildren. After all, these precious souls, nestled in a home far away from your own, are the reason for your journey.

To ensure your influence is positive and lasting, approach each visit with intentionality, contemplating not just the arrival but also the departure. Reflect on the essence of the legacy you wish to build. What values do you want to impart? What memories do you hope will linger in your absence? This introspection requires a candid examination of your behaviours, recognising which traits you wish to project and which to curtail.

  • Share your wisdom and experiences in ways that resonate with your family, creating teachable moments that enrich their lives.
  • Introduce new rituals that can become a cherished part of your family’s culture, bridging distances with shared practices.
  • Acknowledge your imperfections and work on them.

Say farewell while looking forward

As the visit draws to a close and you prepare once more to traverse the miles that will stretch between you and your family, there is a poignant intermingling of sadness and love — the bittersweetness familiar to those who cherish bonds across distances. This ambivalent poignancy is made even more keen by the emotional and traditional significance of the festive season.

In the quiet moments of departure, we often discover the deepest sense of connection, a paradox that only those who have loved across distances can truly understand.

Foster this deep sense of connection by creating anticipation for the next meeting, as this creates a sense of continuity and unity when you and your family are separated by distance. You can do this by planning the next meeting, whether it is a visit in the warmth of your own home, the shared joy of a holiday, or the simple yet profound connection of a digital conversation. DM


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