Couples and families: bridging the great divide

In some expat communities, there can be a palpable sense of division between those expats who have kids and those who do not. Is it possible for them to meet somewhere in the middle?

An obvious starting point

When an expat family arrives in a new location, the parents will often meet people courtesy of having kids. At schools, pools and playgrounds, parents meet other parents. Playdates for the kids get arranged. Coffee and lunch dates for the parents, too. In other words, expat partners with kids have a pretty clear and convenient starting point for building up social networks.

What about me?

However, these family-oriented networks exclude expat partners who do not have kids. Furthermore, the expat partners who do not have kids can, and sometimes do, end up feeling marginalised within expat communities. One Global Connection member told us how she was ignored by an expat mother, seemingly because she didn’t have kids. An Irish expat and blogger experienced something similar and recalls how ‘devastating’ it felt at the time. Even if these dismissals did not have coldhearted intentions, the women were clearly upset.

A sensitive issue

It’s also worth noting that expat couples who do not have kids can feel considerable discomfort when asked ‘why’ they don’t have kids by fellow expats that they have just met. “Back in our ‘old’ life, we are honorary aunt and uncle to several [kids] and it just never seemed like that big of a deal,” explains the Irish blogger, who had a very personal experience she was never going to share when facing this blunt line of inquiry. “Struggling to build a new life for ourselves in the expat world brought our grief back like a wrecking ball.”

Conscious of others

Is this something worth highlighting to expats who do  have kids? Undoubtedly, yes. The more any expat is conscious of contrasting lifestyles the more they will be able to build empathy and potentially develop meaningful, diverse connections. And yes, that also means expats without kids seeking ways to understand expat parents’ circumstances.

A change of subject

After all, it’s inevitable that expat parents will prioritise their kids and they will often be preoccupied with a variety of topics related to their family life. But of course, that’s exactly why they might benefit from making the time to socialise with expats without kids, who will be more than happy to supply a change of subject, and location, should it be desired.

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