10 Expat Parent Worries and How to Handle Them

Will my child develop an American accent? Perhaps, but is that so bad? (Press Association via AP Images)

Raising children abroad comes with a unique set of challenges, but there are ways to overcome your fears and have a great parenting experience.

Will my kid have an American accent?
If your offspring is being cared for or taught by an American, the answer is, categorically, yes. However, the older the child is when the exposure occurs, the longer this might take and the more likely it is that they’ll retain traces of their original drawl. If any of this worries you, it shouldn’t. Tailoring the way they speak is an entirely natural — and extremely beneficial — part of a child learning to fit in with his or her environment. They’ll do it without thinking about it. Interestingly, you might find that your kid reverts to his or her original accent — or something close to it — when they’re talking to you or other Brits.

Will learning American names for things confuse my child?
Not really. Do bilingual children seem any more baffled or smarts-lacking than their monolingual colleagues? Not at all. And all yours has to do is absorb a few hundred new terms — not master an entirely new language. To begin with, they may find it hard, but once they’re settled in school and interacting with Americans their own age, their new linguistic landscape with start to make sense. Of course, they may get some funny looks when they ask to use the toilet instead of the bathroom and call fries chips. But that’s how they’ll learn not to do it again. You can help ease the transition by teaching your children (and yourselves!) the American words for things before they start meeting other kids.

How will my kids stay connected to the folks back home?
Young children are frighteningly adaptive creatures with short memories. They tend to look forward rather than back. This is helpful when it comes to making new friends and not overly mourning the loss of old ones, but it does mean you’ll have to make an extra effort to keep them attached to your British family. Regular phone calls or Skyping, especially if your trips home are likely to infrequent, is important. You should also encourage your kids to write emails, letters, and send parcels. Ensuring that your extended family makes an extra effort to remember birthdays and big events in your child’s life will also help them stay attached.

Will my child be teased for being different?
Possibly, but most children are taunted by their peers at some point. It’s probably nothing to worry about — more than likely just mild mockery that will end once the novelty wears off. If you feel uneasy, or think this behavior has progressed to full on bullying, talk to the school and have them take action. In reality, you might find that your child’s “difference” actually makes them seem exotic and that they’re more popular than they were back home. Equally, if you live in a multicultural area where children are used to meeting foreign kids, their Britishness might not even register.

How do I make sure my kids feel British?
In addition to slathering their toast with Marmite and plying them with Cbeebies, there are ways to keep your children connected to their British roots. Lots of trips homes or having British family and friends visit regularly are the obvious solutions but may not be feasible. Talking about their old life and reminding them of their favorite people and places. Plus, showing them lots of photos will help a lot.

How can I make sure my child will get a good education?
Do your research before you move. Go online and look on local parenting forums or call the schools that you’re considering and grill them. If you’re not impressed with the neighborhood public (i.e. free) schools, you’ll need to factor in paying for private education or tutoring.

How will I handle not having a long maternity leave?
Depending on your employer’s policy, you’ll likely be granted anywhere between six weeks and three months’ paid leave when you have a baby. This is something you should try and wrap your head around before you move to the U.S. Don’t kid yourself that your boss can be persuaded to give you the U.K. standard six months to a year off, even if you beg and offer to go without pay for most of it. It’s an inadequate allowance, but there’s nothing you can do about it. However, it might be the case that you’ll be allowed to work from home for part of the week, or perhaps your boss will support your application to go part-time. It’s definitely worth having the conversation.

Will my American-born child be entitled to a British passport?
Yes, so long as one of its parents is a British citizen by birth, your child will be classified as a British citizen by descent. In fact, your American-born kids will have duel nationality. Click here to find out how to apply for your child’s first British passport and what supporting documentation you’ll need to present with your application.

Can I handle the stress of raising a child away from my family and friends?
This is something only you can answer. For many people, having the hands-on support of their nearest and dearest is crucial to the whole operation. Others may feel relieved to go it alone, away from interfering mother-in-laws and judgmental friends. But you will benefit from having some support, so investigate neighborhood pre-natal or parenting groups and make an effort to get to know locals with same-age kids.

Will my new community accept me and my child?
Worrying that you’ll feel like aliens in your new environment is inevitable. Chances are that you won’t, unless the parents you meet have radically different ideas about child-rearing from your own. In my neighborhood, for instance, women who chose not to breastfeed report being given a hard time. If this is your experience, seek out like-minded folks as soon as you can. Post on forums and really put yourself out there. Parents like you do exist but might be hiding to avoid being stigmatized.

Ruth Margolis

Ruth Margolis

Ruth is a British freelance journalist who recently swapped east London for Brooklyn. She writes about TV for Radio Times and is working on her first novel.
View all posts by Ruth Margolis.
  • JLo

    If your children are British by descent, they will not pass on that citizenship to their kids unless the other parent is British by birth. Just FYI.

    • Graeme Robinson

      Unless their kids are born in the UK.

    • Caroline A

      I was born in England. My US born Daughter can get a British passport. Also her children will be able to hold a British passport as she will be a British passport holder. I recently checked with the Embassy.

  • gn

    It’s worth noting that, relative to the UK, publicly-funded education starts one year later in some (all?) of the US.

    My daughter is going to enter Kindergarten (the first year of state-provided schooling) the SeptemberAugust after her fifth birthday. Her English cousin started Infant School one year earlier, the September after his fourth birthday.

    (There may be regional differences in the US and/or UK — I’m in northern California).

    • Graeme Robinson

      I started primary school in Scotland in August following my 5th birthday. It depends whether your 5th birthday falls before the start of the school year or not, but starting age is roughly the same (at least here in SoCal) as it was back home in Scotland.

    • Caitlyn Johnston

      This depends on the school district’s cut-off date.

      • gn

        Yes. But I’m pretty sure that my daughter would be in public/state education right now if she were going to her cousin’s school. I’m not sure how all the state/district/regional variation plays out.

        • expatmum

          Typically in England, kids start in the year that they’re turning five. If you’re born in September like I was, you’re pretty much 5 when you start, but if you’re summer baby you’re going to be 4. The biggest difference in my experience is that they’re straight into reading and writing in a much more academic way.

          • gn

            “More academic” in the UK or in the US?

  • Caitlyn Johnston

    Oh for cryin’ out loud – it’s America, not Nairobi! Do you freak out watching our TV shows? Cuz we can certainly handle watching yours (which are admittedly better). …. Unless you’re going to the Deep South (Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, or Louisiana, and parts of Texas) in which case you’re screwed. NOTE TO THE EDITOR: The plural for mothers married to your spouse is “motherS-in-law”. It’s mothers that are plural, not the law.

    • CVJ

      Sorry – mothers OF your spouses.

      • gn

        So what’s worse in your view — Nairobi or Mississippi?

    • Kay

      “It’s ‘mothers’ that IS plural.”

      “Mothers” is singular in this instance because it’s the word itself that’s being referred to, and it’s just a single word (not multiple words); therefore, you would use “is.” You would only use “are” if you were talking about a group of women who’ve had children. Cheers! Kay from Texas ;))

    • Debbie Riddle Davis

      Note to Caitlyn…you’re dead wrong about the deep south. My mother happens to be British and I live in Mississippi…We are more open to new things than most places. This isn’t your grandfather’s deep south.

  • expatmum

    I always hear Brits over here going on about how they don’t want their kids talking with an American accent and using the American words instead of the British words. It’s nonsense really. Why on earth would young kids want to use different names when playing with their friends for example? It’s only going to make them stand out more if they are told they have to say pushchair instead of stroller or see-saw instead of teeter-totter. Plus, these kids are growing up as little YankeeBrits (or whatever); by criticizing the way they speak, you’re sending a very negative message to them.

    • gn

      Americans say “see-saw” too. I think it’s regional.

      • expatmum

        Yes but Brits don’t say teeter totter so it’s one “American” word that could be banned, as I have seen. There are so many examples of “banned” words, that’s probably not the best example, but it’s all a bit silly really, especially as they’re not exactly swearing. Now “butt” and “fanny” took me a while to get used to….