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Questions every expat parent asks

Parenting as an expat brings a whole new set of challenges to what is already a fairly challenging time. To give a little insight into the ins and outs of parenting in Hong Kong, we asked long-term expat parent, Amelia Williams, to answer some reader questions.

expat parents raise Third Culture kids
Are you raising third-culture kids?

“I’m newly pregnant and have no idea where I want to give birth. What’s better, public or private?”

Firstly, congrats! Secondly, do some research. While this really is a personal choice, it’s good to chat with other expat parents who have tried each option, and then you can make an informed decision. If you’re after a deluxe, more personal birth experience that includes choosing your own obstetrician and a really nice hospital, or you want the option of frequent check-ups, and you have insurance (or a spare $100,000 or more), then private is the way to go. If you’re okay with a no-frills approach or your budget is limited, the public system here is world-class, and many mums have had great experiences with it. Bear in mind that if there are any complications with your pregnancy, the public system is your only, and best, option. I had my first child in a private hospital, and ended up in a public hospital after giving birth to my second in the car – so I can vouch for the high quality of both!

“There’s so much controversy over vaccinations; what’s the deal here?”

In my experience it’s very rare for parents not to vaccinate in Hong Kong, but it is voluntary. The Department of Health offers ten common vaccinations for free in public clinics, but certain other vaccines are available privately, should you wish to keep up with the immunisation schedule of your home country. If you decide to have all vaccinations done privately, you can choose when to have them administered, or even delay some of them if you wish. Most babies are vaccinated at birth against tuberculosis, which is not common in most Western countries, but there’s not much benefit in doing it if your children are older when you arrive. While vaccinations are not compulsory, many schools will ask to see an immunisation record for your child before they are admitted. It shouldn’t affect your child’s chance of getting in if they’re not vaccinated, but you may want to check the school’s policy if you’re concerned. Again, it’s a very personal choice, and the best way to make that choice is to speak to your doctor – and try and avoid reading discussions on internet forums! You can also visit the Family Health Service website (fhs.gov.hk) for more information.

There are plenty of online resources to turn to for support as an expat parent
There are plenty of online resources to turn to for support as an expat parent

“I’ve just returned to work full-time and I am struggling with leaving my toddler with our helper. Is it normal to be this jealous?”

The short answer to that is yes! And you’re definitely not the first to feel that way. It doesn’t matter whether you’re leaving your child with family members, dropping them off with a teacher at playgroup, or leaving them with a helper, you’re going to struggle with the fact that you’re not the person that’s there with them. If your helper has children herself, she will probably know exactly how you feel, and that’s worth bearing in mind when it all gets a bit much for you. How do you deal with it? Honesty is the best policy here. Be up front about how you’re feeling and your expectations for how your toddler and helper will spend their days. It may also help to set limits. It used to drive me crazy that my son asked for my helper when he didn’t get what he wanted from me, so make sure your helper knows that your rules apply even when you’re not there. It’ll make you feel better if you spend quality time with your little ones, away from your helper, and try to remember that they know who their mummy is – no matter how much they love their aunty, you will always be number one. For advice on this and other helper-related issues, visit helperchoice.com.

“My youngest child was born here and considers Hong Kong home. She knows she isn’t Hong Kong Chinese, but she doesn’t feel particularly English either. How do we help her identify with a particular culture when we’re not even sure where she fits?”

Your daughter is what we would call a “third-culture kid”; there are many of them here and it’s quite common for a bit of cultural confusion to arise. While it can be difficult for expat parents to accept that one of their offspring feels more at home here than in their parent’s country of origin, I think these kids are actually quite lucky. They have the best of two worlds, or more. They tend to be more tolerant of others, more globally minded, and open to other cultures and experiences that we probably never dreamed of. I see it in my own kids: their friendship groups are made up of children from several different cultural backgrounds – no one is put in a box, defined by where they or their parents were born – and they always find common ground, whether it’s a sport or the latest fad. And their accents and vocabularies change depending on who they’ve played with and what they’ve picked up through the day! There are challenges with growing up as a third-culture kid; if you’re at all concerned, try chatting with your school counsellor about how you can help your daughter find her way. Other resources can be found online, and there are some great books about the topic, too.

This article first appeared in the Apr/May edition of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.

Are you an expat parent? Check out our Kids section for more advice!

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