15 May 2016

Families of immigrants left behind - what do they think?

“I feel frustrated she is not around. The time difference is annoying. I can’t call her up like I used to.”
“You are leaving us? Well I hope where you are going is worth giving us up.”
When a friend or family member leaves for another country or area, they leave behind loved ones. As an immigrant, it is worth considering the point of view of the people you have left behind. Put yourself in their shoes. You have denied them:

Access to you when they need or want help or want to help you.  There will be times when you can't help as much as you would like. You can't physically be there to hold or comfort them. Similarly, your loved ones would love to help you, but they can’t. They have to stand back and hope you will be able to get through the latest challenge.

Shared joy at life’s milestones and events from birthdays to sports days or everyday achievements. There is nothing like being there at the time. You can share each other's joys, but hearing about it is not as good as being there.
Parental care. As your parents age, their care mentally and physically increases. How can you make a contribution? Are you sensitive and appreciative enough of those who are caring for your parents. Have you asked, 'What can I do to help?'
Shared sadness at times of death or bad news. Comfort can be received and shared by being together. It is often not the words that help, but the being together.
Shared living. The day to day events or times when you need encouragement, support, a familiar voice that says, "I know" or "that's tough," or "that's great." The event may not be big enough to warrant a transnational phone call, but it is a time when you would like to hear the person that used to help you.

All of the above connections with you are denied to loved ones left behind. Those connections are also denied to you as an immigrant, but you are the one who moved. As you have left them, there may be an element of them feeling you don’t care enough about them.

Rather than brood on guilt, or jump on a plane back to your homeland, you could:
  1. Spend time thinking about how they feel. Ask them how they feel.
  2. Adapt your efforts to communicate with your loved ones so that it suits them. There is more on this in my book. Here is chapter 5, Keep in touch - or else! 
  3. Be prepared to make an extra effort to keep in touch.
  4. Listen to them, listen well, use reflective listening so you know they are being heard. Read more in chapter 6, an excerpt here. Abandonment
  5. Indulge in the feeling that you are missed. It feels good to be loved on two sides of the world.
  6. Keep sharing your high times and low times as best you can. Social media is great for instant news and events. Loved ones may not be there, but at least they hear about it quickly.

On a global scale, there is concern about the families that are left behind and those who are no longer there to take care of them. Here are some links that could be of interest if you wish to read more. http://www.globalmigrationgroup.org/theme/womenchildrenfamilies-left-behind

A quote from The Impact of Migration on Family Left Behind by Francisca M Antman

"Policymakers should pay close attention as the system of social insurance may need to adapt considerably given that migration may place traditional support structures in jeopardy. Given the vulnerability of elderly populations in developing countries, these results suggest that governments and institutions in sending communities should be more concerned about the potentially detrimental consequences of migration for their own elderly populations."   

I would love to hear your comments, anecdotes or experiences on loved ones left behind, especially if you are one of them.

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