Saturday, April 5, 2014

"Last Thought" feature: GHousekeeping

Here's my first editorial contribution to Goodhousekiing Magazine MiddleEast. I am very Thankful to Lena ter Laare, Editor in Chief for giving me this opportunity to write the "Last Thought" on this April 2014 issue of her magazine. It was thrilling to start writing on a blank page, but also intimidating to share personal thoughts… Hope you like it!

Where’s Home?

Emily Lidén explores what happens when a third culture kid starts raising one of her own.
Recently, an increasing number of friends and family seem to be planning or are considering “The Big Move” out of Dubai in search of something better for the family back home. I’m going to miss them, of course, but it makes me think about my own family. Should we be going as well? Why are we here, anyway?

The truth is that we could probably live anywhere we choose. We have our own business, and my husband could work anywhere he pleases as long as there’s a high speed internet connection and his computer is running happily. So being here, is our choice...kind of. We are both Third Culture Kids (TCKs), expat kids from Dubai. His family has been in the UAE for over 30 years and I first came to Dubai with my family when I was 16. We both left for school, university and work experience, but ended up returning. I guess we have the “expat life bug.” Was it passed on by our parents? Are we setting up a similar lifestyle for our daughter by raising her here as an expat kid just like our families did for us? Did they do the right thing by us? Was it the right choice?

My husband and I spent a significant part of our childhood years living outside of our parents’ cultures. It’s a fantastic opportunity to build relationships with other cultures, but it is also difficult to have full ownership of a single one. As a result, TCKs tend to struggle with a sense of belonging and adjusting to their country of origin. Somehow, I think our parents managed to establish in us a sense of identity. But now as a parent I am facing the same situation, but it is even more complicated for us because my husband and I are from different countries. Our daughter Luella needs to integrate elements from both of our cultures into another culture. (My husband is Swedish and I’m French—I won’t even mention yet that I am myself half English.)

I never asked myself these questions until I became a mum and strongly wanted my child to embrace France as her Home without neglecting her Swedish heritage. But the concept of “Home” is blurry for a 5-year old. Luella says she’s from Dubai, but it is only recently that she can articulate that she is Swedish and French. We make a point of dividing the summer between both countries and now she is starting to understand that we “live” in Dubai and we are going “home” to see the family in France and Sweden. Every year she creates those summer memories doing the same things that French and Swedish kids do. I hope, just like our parents did, that it will create a sense of identity and belonging.

I also try to follow the Swedish and French calendar so that we can incorporate all the traditional celebrations, like eating King Cake on January 6th, making pancakes on February 2nd, having a MidSummer party, celebrating Santa Lucia ... I’m not sure I would be that enthusiastic about it back home, but being here I know this extra effort makes a difference in absorbing elements of our culture that she would not get otherwise.

I am sure I am not the only mum desperate for her child to speak her mother tongue. One day, though, I know she will answer me in French (or my husband in Swedish), because there is no way we will stop speaking to her in our respective languages (despite our messy three-way conversations or the fact that she might hate us for sending her to extra French classes or Swedish school on Saturdays).

Despite these mini struggles, which we know that we share with a majority of Dubai expat families, we do our very best as parents. It makes us who we are as a family. Wherever you are in the world, if you do the best you can, genuinely love your children, be present and attentive, your kid will be just fine.

So here it is. We are not ready to give up our weekends in the desert, our beach sundowners and our lovely friends—the remaining ones! For now, we are here to stay. Thanks, Dubai, for having us.


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