Category Archives: Managing the Transition

Relocation & Expat Resources – Managing the Transition. Information, Inspiration, How-To Guides and Tools for Trailing Spouses, Accompanying Partners, and Families in Transition and

Expat Success - Make your mistakes quickly. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful Relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global trailing spouse, accompanying partner, international assignment, expat family, expatriate

The Secret to Expat Success… And Why.

Expat Success - Make your mistakes quickly. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful Relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global trailing spouse, accompanying partner, international assignment, expat family, expatriate

 

 

I knew it. Finally, the insanity that is my expat life – and most of the website – has been vindicated, and it’s all thanks to Ellen Mahoney over at Sea Change Mentoring. She introduced me to the groundbreaking advice given by a tech start-up entrepreneur, as a recipe for global success and world domination…

 

Make your mistakes quickly

 

As a person whose family motto is “Disaster soon follows”, I have long been a proponent of this approach, with no idea that I was such thought leader. I had just assumed I was incompetent and (in a rare moment of self-acceptance) decided not to fight it. It’s a phrase that could be part of every expat mission statement, and should probably replace a lot of the well intentioned advice given in the all-too-brief briefing sessions; “learn the language”, “ get out and make friends” and my personal favorite “ join a gym”… Hmmm. Instead, the secret to expat success is familiar and effortlessly achievable – the global gaffe. And here’s why.

 

1. It reminds us that we will make mistakes.

In the assignment planning stage, it’s important to focus on the positive, but in doing so we often forget that expat life is still life. Mistakes happen, and when you are in an environment with unfamiliar language, culture, rules and expectations, they happen a lot. Making your mistakes quickly reminds us to expect – and even plan – for those mistakes. Whether that means working with a destination service provider or an expat coach, doing your own exhaustive research or simply being patient with yourself while you transition (or all of the above), it’s vital to acknowledge that perfection is impossible, and good enough is, well, good enough.

 

2. We focus on ‘right’ as a victory, rather than ‘wrong’ as a failure.

I once did a stint as a sales consultant and one of the job requirements was calling customers to set appointments. It was (and no doubt, still is) a miserable task –  you knew that your cheerful introduction could be greeted with anything from interest, to polite refusal, to a torrent of abuse and a dial tone. Thankfully, I was armed with a secret weapon; the company set targets for calls made, and let the actual results take care of themselves. So every call made was a relief – one less to do, one step closer to reaching the goal. Acknowledging that mistakes are inevitable (and in the early days, we are more likely to get it wrong than get it right) is incredibly freeing. It gives us permission to focus on the actions and let the outcomes take care of themselves. It prepares us for failure, and when things do go right, we get to stop, acknowledge it for the triumph that it is, and celebrate.

 

 3. It gets you out there.

Having taken away the fear of failure, there’s nothing like the element of competition to spur us on. Experienced expats (i.e. those who have been comprehensive in their cock-ups) can entertain for hours with hilarious stories of endless mishaps, miscommunications or general disasters; just visit the bar at any FIGT conference and listen for the raucous laughter if you don’t believe me. It’s the expat version of the Olympic Decathlon, with extra points for speed, style and variety. All that’s missing is the opening ceremony, the national uniforms and the lycra. But don’t let us stop you…

 

4. It helps you to bond.

If there’s one thing that unites the expat world, it’s our inability to watch people struggle without feeling some serious empathy. It’s one of the unwritten laws of expat life; we’re all in this together, and in my mind, there is a special place in Hell for expats who don’t help each other. Putting yourself out there and making mistakes publicly transports us all back to our early days and disasters, and gives us something in common that transcends language, culture or belief. It reminds us that we are human, and we love you for it.

 

5. It makes you brave.

Fear of failure is crippling, and stops us doing so many things that would take ordinary life and make it extraordinary. By contrast, being forced into situations where mistakes are inevitable and accepting them as a mere part of life’s journey gives us the motivation to be creative, to take risks and to try new things constantly. We dream big, and even if it doesn’t work out perfectly, we don’t go home. We learn that it hasn’t killed us, and we are really are stronger.

 

So there you have it – official permission to create chaos and have fun doing it. Providing of course, you follow our lead and share all your finer moments. Now we just need merit badges and an awards ceremony…

Cultural Orientation - How to Make Friends and Introduce People. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful Relocation

Really Useful Cultural Orientation – How to Make Friends and Introduce People..

Cultural Orientation - How to Make Friends and Introduce People. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful RelocationYou’ve spent the first half of your life learning acceptable social behaviour, the last ten years telling your kids not to care what people think, and then wham! Relocation. Suddenly you’re stuck right back where you were on the first day of high school, having to walk into places you really would rather run screaming from, and make nice with a sea of people who have no idea who you are. Welcome to our world.

If your cultural orientation training was anything like mine, it revolves around the country currency, demographics and religious practices. What it might not tell you is how to find the people with whom you can laugh, cry, and everything in between with. So here’s my best advice, based on years of social gaffes, awkward situations and offending people.

 It does get easier. Just as the first day of school was the worst for most of us (apart from the boy who had diarrhea in assembly in 9th grade – that’s a tricky one to beat), the first few weeks of any move are the hardest. The quicker you get out there and start circulating, the quicker you will find your first friend.

It’s a numbers game. You didn’t expect to like everyone in high school, and nor will you like everyone you meet, but you have to go through the numbers to get to one who will become lifelong friends. Go to as many gatherings as possible, safe in the knowledge that somewhere out there is someone who is doing the same thing and hating it every bit as much as you do..

Talk to a cherished friend beforehand, so that you are

  1.  more confident about yourself and will present yourself in a more relaxed way
  2. have vented all your relocation angst so that your new acquaintances don’t think you are a moany old whingebag and hereafter avoid you and,
  3. so you have someone impartial waiting to hear all the gory details. Knowing that you have someone far, far away who relish all the post party gossip and can never tell makes putting up with the fifteenth “what does your husband do?” far more palatable.

Go to where people gather to be social. This issue cropped up the other day – in Europe there are higher numbers of dual income families, so there are fewer opportunities to meet socially through school, and so a friend with school age children is struggling to meet new people.  Instead, take a class, or do something that people go to alone. And no, I don’t mean bars.

Be prepared to watch, learn and smile. There will be new social rules (cute does not have the same implicit meaning in the UK and the US), a new dress codes, language differences. You may be an avid taxidermist, but that’s probably not going to be your best icebreaker at the school social. And if you are anything like me, try to avoid sarcastic, flippant or hilarious remarks, such as “Will there be alcohol served?” at the new parent breakfast. My strategy is to seek out the person that sparks the most antipathy, and watch for who else in the crowd is wincing. Instant friend, right there.

Don’t undervalue yourself. Most relocation advice suggests voluntary work as a great way to develop a social network, and while this may be true, I have seen more people than I care to count take on the first volunteer opportunity that comes their way, only to end up in glorious isolation doing the photocopying for the PTA. (Actually, I met one of my favorite people doing exactly that, but I just got very lucky..). Find something that both gives you a sense of fulfillment and attracts like-minded people, and feel free to test drive opportunities before you commit. Tell them I said so.

Talk to anyone. My mother does this, and it drives me nuts, but she can find a friend faster than anyone I know. Her favorite targets are anyone with a British accent, anyone in a book store, anyone wearing Marks and Spencer clothing, and anyone with grey hair. And if you happen to have a baby, your chances of escaping uninterrupted are nil.

At all costs, avoid asking “What does your husband do?”. A little piece of my soul dies every time that question is asked in social circles, as if the person being spoken to is unworthy of interest. Add in the fact that you are assuming that they are a) married, and b) they don’t instead have a wife. My personal answer when asked is “Put a gun to my head and I still couldn’t tell you”; it conveys accurately both my knowledge of what he does, and my interest in finding out. As yet, no-one has taken me up on it, but feel free to find your own, less dramatic response.

In the interest of fulfilling the entire title, when you do finally get out and meet people to talk to, the basic etiquette rules of introduction are as follows:
Self Introduction:
“Hi /Hello / Nice to meet you”, “I am XXX”;  and then a single descriptor (e.g. “friend of the host”, “so and so’s colleague”, etc.)
Introducing Others: Generally, men are introduced to women, younger people to older people, and lower-ranking individuals to more senior – think of it as presenting a subject to the queen. So it would go: “Your majesty, this is my husband, the Other Half.” In a social setting, it is considered good form to give the newly introduced couple something to talk about. And no, that does not include politics, religion or embarrassing facts about each other..
I would like to pretend that I know these facts from early presentation to the Queen and life in elevated circles. Alas not.

Now it’s your turn – any suggestions?

Camel train circa 1900's

Relocating? 9 Essential questions every expat should ask. (Part 1)

Camel Train circa 1900

 

When we think of living abroad, we instantly conjure up images of white sandy beaches, turquoise seas, friendly locals and a leisurely quality of life. That is, until we’re two days into our first relocation, surrounded by boxes, with no power, not internet, and no help in sight. By day four, the bloom has gone off this particular rose, and by day seven, we realize that we were possibly just a little naive in thinking that four bedrooms, a balcony and guaranteed sunshine were really all we needed to find our bliss. So for the anyone considering relocating, here’s part one of the ‘9 Essential Questions Every Potential Expat Should Ask’ series. And yes, the same rules apply for domestic relocations too..

1. Where am I going?

The standard ways of finding out destination information – travel guides, websites and maps – tell you very little of what you need to know when relocating. Visiting a country for a short period is very, very different to living and working  there, and it’s the challenge of day-today living that causes many assignments to end early.

To understand whether your new location is a good fit for you and your family, you need to do two things. Firstly, assess how your time is spent currently, including work, school, commuting travel, after school activities, sports, socializing etc. Using resources specific to long term living rather than short term visits, assess how much change you would experience, what benefits and disadvantages your new location has, and decide whether or not this is really the move for you.

This might be anything from a lack of sunshine /open space/daylight hours/ professional theatre to different education systems, religious practice or high crime rates. There is a whole world out there, and it’s better to keep your options open for a more appropriate assignment than be forced to terminate one early.

Ask your HR department about global information that the company purchases –  resources like Living Abroad, Expat Arrivals, the Not for Tourists guides and the Lonely Planet guides will give you much of the information you need, and online blog registries and expatriate forums have the real life experience. Consider joining a network like Internations to meet locals and expats from your potential host location.

2. How long will I be going for?

Notice that didn’t I ask how long was your contract was for?  Ten years and 5 relocations ago, we were offered a 1 year temporary assignment to Kenya. I have yet to return home, and all of our wedding photographs, birth certificates, photographs of our children as babies and furniture are still in a house in Wales. Contracts get extended, new transfers are offered, and if you are taking short term assignments, often all your belongings are not included in the relocation policy.

More importantly, you need to have a clear understanding of how long all members of the family are willing and able to participate a globally mobile life.

The long term issues surrounding schooling mean that your children may not have the required qualifications to attend the school of their choice (although colleges and universities are becoming much more flexible in terms of acceptable international admission criteria) or they may now be liable for higher ‘international’ tuition fees as you have lived outside your home country for too long to qualify for local fees.

The accompanying partner may have negotiated a year’s leave of absence, or may be required to maintain professional registration status, both of which become vulnerable if an assignment is extended.

3. What does the package include?

There are various types of relocation policies, including local, local plus and international, all of which give different levels of pay and benefits dependent on location. And while some will seem very generous in terms of base salary and hardship allowances, once on assignment you can quickly discover that the money is eaten up in unexpected ways.

If you have the information from the previous questions, you will have a better idea of what your new lifestyle will cost, and whether or not components that you consider essential are reflected in the assignment offer.

Key areas to look for are not just base salary, but frequently reviewed goods and services supplements (useful in less stable countries where the price of goods and exchange rates can fluctuate wildly) , health insurance coverage, childcare and school funding, whether you will be paid in your home or host currency, travel allowances, emergency evacuation policies, and repatriation assistance.

Talking to other expats will give you the best understanding of the real cost of living, which brings us neatly to the first question in Part 2 – “Do I get a preview visit?”

Four Rules for the managing emotional health of transitioning expat children

How to survive moving your kids to a new school, district, city, state or country..Four Basic Rules for Transitioning Children –

Four Rules for the managing emotional health of transitioning expat childrenI can’t pretend to be a child development expert, nor a global relocation counselor, but having transitioned two children through a total of 15 schools over 3 continents in 11 years, I’ve worked out a few basic rules of my own for getting from A to B while minimizing tantrums, traumas and general rebellion. (These rules relate to the emotional transition rather than the physical ones – for my (dubious) wisdom on the rest, see the Basics – Family section or click on the links at the bottom of the page.)

1. Keep them informed, but not overwhelmed.

My mother spent many years working in child development, which included doing the dreaded ‘puberty’ talks. Experience taught her that the earlier you give them information, the less intimidating it becomes and that they only absorb what they are emotionally capable of taking on, so you may have to repeat things later. This advice holds true for relocating; once you know you are moving, include them in the planning and discussions, and let them have some control over their own lives. The amount of information and input will vary according to the age of the children concerned – see the Basics – Family section for more specific information.

2. Move at the end of a vacation, not at the start.

The biggest mistake we ever made was moving to the US at the start of the summer vacation, thinking it would be exactly that – a vacation. Instead, we were swamped with paperwork, house hunting, car and home furnishing purchases and generally no-fun stuff – all with two very lonely, grumpy and unhelpful children in tow. We learned our lesson, and on the next move, we spent the summer in our old location, with the kids fully occupied with friends and us free to do a great deal of the planning, packing and paperwork in the comfort of our own home with internet, friends and leisurely goodbyes. We arrived rested at the new location, with five days to get oriented. It was enough to unpack essentials, register at school and meet a few people before the kids headed into school  and I could get on with the grunt work of establishing a new home. Within days they had friends, play dates and a routine that made them feel more secure, and within six weeks, I was once again Chief Transportation Officer for their many and varied social activities..

3. Fill the void.

For the first month or so in our new location, I plan activities geared around the children, including many things that I would ordinarily avoid like the plague. I do this for two reasons; firstly it helps to remind my children that I once was good at something other than nagging and gets them desperate to make friends and escape family outings, and secondly, it fills the time void with things they have chosen to do in the local area (and hopefully have planned themselves). I also make sure that they have unlimited texting on their cellphones (cue eye roll) and access to email and Skype, so any extra time can be filled moaning to their global buddies about just how lame their parents are. It’s a strange form of normal, but it bridges the gap remarkably well..

4. Expect issues.

The more they transition, the more they understand the process of relocation, but sometimes that works against you, and you get a stubborn, unwilling teenager on your hands who can make your life a living Hell. I’d like to offer sage wisdom to get you through it, but all I can really say is that it is our fault so deal with it as best you can. Robin Pascoe’s excellent books are a great place to start, and in most cases it will work itself out once they start to make friends and establish their own life. If necessary, get counseling for whoever might need it – either with a local family therapist, or via online expat counseling.

Finally, bear in mind that you are under a great deal of stress, and so you will almost certainly be taking this very personally. Sadly, no-one has written the definitive, foolproof instruction manual for raising children in a static environment, let alone a nomadic one, so just give yourself a break, remind yourself that no-one is perfect, and we are all doing the best we can. If you need evidence of how badly the rest of us are doing at the whole global parenting thing, check out the Trailing Spouse blog. You are in excellent company..

What really matters in job interviews? And no, it’s not the size of your resume..

Relocating means change, and for any accompanying partners who want to find independent employment, that means crafting a resume, applying for jobs, and if we get really lucky, landing an interview. We may have the qualifications, the experience and great references, but once we get into the interview room, what really gets us the job?

Richard Wiseman, author of 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot outlines three characteristics of success in job interviews, and they may come as a surprise.

Be pleasant and likeable. Candidates who had gone out of their way to engage with the interviewers were more likely to be offered the role, regardless of qualifications or experience. Behaviors that positively influenced ‘likeability’ included being positive and enthusiastic about a feature of the company, smiling and maintaining friendly eye contact and showing interest in topics not necessarily related to the job, but of interest to the interviewing panel.

Be forthcoming about your weaknesses, but save your best for last. Wiseman notes that faults, mistakes or weak areas have less negative effect when raised early in the interview, and can actually be seen as evidence of honesty and self awareness. Strengths, accolades and achievements have the opposite effect, however. The later they appear in the conversation, the more positively they are viewed by interviewers; the same achievement mentioned early is seen is bragging, whereas later signifies modesty.

Don’t overestimate your own importance. Interviews are stressful situations, and mistakes are both usual and forgivable. In fact, studies show that most people overestimate both how many people notice and the magnitude of their errors. Your reaction does have an impact, however, so becoming increasingly embarrassed and awkward can have a far more negative effect than the actual blunder itself.

Other tips Wiseman suggests to persuade interviewers that you are the candidate for the job include:

Keep it Simple. When writing your resume, avoid using complicated names, titles or embellishments. Studies have shown that people are drawn to words that they can easily pronounce, and will avoid using words that they struggle with. Which is absolutely no use if that words refers to your greatest career triumph.

Make it Easy Reading. While we’re on the subject, Wiseman points out that the more complex you make your description, the less intelligent you are perceived to be. Clarity is seen as a trait of intelligence, so squelch your desire to grab the thesaurus, and use plain language instead. And a plain font, because one that is hard to read has the same negative effect on the reader.

Play Piggy in the Middle. Studies he reviewed identified a ‘center stage effect’ where people towards the middle of the group were perceived as more important, and were more likely to be chosen, or conversely less likely to be eliminated, than those on the outer edges. So in group interview situations, be aware that where you take a seat can have a far greater impact on your chances of success than you ever imagined.


The Ugly Truth about Reinvention.

It’s the time of year when we are bombarded with “How to be Better / Smarter / Richer / More Efficient” articles, and I’ve had enough. I have been re-inventing on a global scale for the last ten years, and all it’s got me is tired, cranky and more aware of my own cellulite. Reinvention means that someone, somewhere is giving us a ‘C’ grade, and to make it worse, they are telling us lies. Every damn year..

1. We worship false images. One only has to watch the MissRepresentation video to realize just how susceptible we are to external influences – and they are no longer outside our homes, but are streamed in constantly via the TV, internet and even product packaging. Our idea of normal has changed, and we are intent on achieving a perfection that only exists in marketing storyboards. And it goes way beyond our physical appearance – now it’s the car we buy, the way our houses are decorated, whether our children are tall, muscular, acne free and getting perfect grades while setting up non-profits.. It never ends. But here’s the kicker – as Cindy Crawford famously said “Even I don’t look like Cindy Crawford”. It’s all an illusion, and we’re falling for it hook, line and sinker.

2. The harder we try, the more likely we are to fail. Robert Wiseman, author of 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot, points out that the minute we try to deny ourselves something, the more importance we give to it, and the greater the likelihood we will do exactly what we are trying not to. Parents realized years ago that if you want to avoid the toddler tantrums, distraction and reward is a far more powerful tool than denial. Perhaps if George Clooney made an exercise video, I might be a little more motivated..

3. It’s easier to follow than to lead. The easiest way to learn a new skill is to have someone skilled to teach you, but throughout our school life we have been taught (notice the irony here?) that copying is cheating. Yet watching and replicating behaviors is how the animal kingdom has evolved since life began, and it is by far the most efficient way of learning. So let’s raise a glass to all those who happily share their expertise on YouTube, online or in person, for no other reward than to help those of us blundering away in the dark.

4. 80% of the results come from 20% of the effort. The rest is just wasted in the hopeless quest for a perfection that we have already established does not exist. I was horrified to discover that in my son’s school, to get an ‘A’ you have to score over 90%. When did that happen? In my school days, a mere 75% got you there, and if your grade was above 80%, you were hailed as the next Einstein. I’m with Pareto, and I’m saving my 80% for the good stuff.

As you may already have guessed, this year, I’m not re-inventing. Instead, I’m ReBranding. I’m not going for slimmer, smarter or richer, I’m going for more interesting, and if I have to lie to do it, so be it. I’ve realized that I’m not perfect, and there’s plenty of room to change, but actually, I quite like me the way I am. I’ve spent every New Year for as long as I can remember planning to be different, and like me, it’s getting a bit old. So I reserve the right to appear in public in my pyjamas, to wear inappropriate clothing to parents’ evenings, and to refuse to attend lunches where only salad is served.

Here’s what I’m proposing for 2012. This year, we aim low. We ignore the stuff we don’t like, and just cut straight to the dessert menu.  We spend less time pleasing people we don’t even know, and more time having fun with people who love to laugh with us, however ridiculous we look. We recognise that most efforts above 20% are wasted. We learn to salsa, where copying is encouraged. We learn to use Photoshop, and use it ruthlessly for both good and evil.

This year, we’re Good Enough.

The F Bomb – Expat Education Challenge Update

Update – He has just received his PSAT results (yet another test of which we have very little knowledge) and apparently his results were considerably better than his grades predicted. He is now avidly consulting college resources to explore his career options, with the current frontrunner being anesthesiologist. The reason for this? “It’s well paid, and you get to sit down and read magazines”. I can sense a visit to the career counselor coming on, lest he be unleashed on the health service..

We had a particularly interesting moment with the Wiggy One this week. Normally very mellow, he occasionally explodes into a seething mass of hormones, hair, uncoordinated limbs and spectacular examples of poorly thought out accusations.

The latest detonator was the high school ‘Grade Point Average’ system. For the non-US expats amongst us, college entry in the US is based on academic scores over the high school period across the classes. An A requires an above 90% score for the class, and gives you a 4.0 GPA; a B is 80 – 90% and scores a 3.0, and so on. Sadly for all concerned, this level of academic scrutiny is carried out for the next three years, during which they are going through puberty, growth spurts, acne and obsession with all things Xbox, so the potential for disaster is huge.

Needless to say, the grades that prompted the explosion were not A’s. Nor were they B’s. They appear somewhat later in the alphabet, and are usually associated with profanity. Which is exactly the unguarded response that they triggered in the Other Half at the dinner table when we finally learned of their existence.

Parentline, an excellent British parenting resource (which sadly does not have a toll free number for expatriates, but really should have) recommends staying calm in these moments, and maintaining channels of communication with the Tasmanian Devil formerly known as Tom. (They also don’t specifically refer to him by name, but I’m thinking of suggesting it for future advisory publications.) So I took a deep breath, washed it down with a large amount of gin, and reminded him that the longer he took to inform us of these small hiccups in his school transcript, the less able we were to help him resolve the issue, and the fewer choices he would have down the line when he was applying to college. (Excellent Mother Moment, even if I do say so myself).

His response showed the maturity, wisdom and critical thinking skills that can only be gained by an expensive, global, carefully chosen and often privately funded education, which has been our highest priority throughout our expatriate journey. It showed passion, attention to detail and considerable volume. And it took us a little by surprise.

“I don’t even want to go to college – it’s just four more years of work!”

Quite what he felt would happen to those ‘college years’ should he chose not to attend is a mystery. Maybe they give out scholarships for excessive hair growth or ability to sleep for extended periods, without the necessity of attending an institute of Higher Learning? He appears to be under the impression that work and/or college are optional extras only to be attempted as a last resort between editions of Call of Duty, and that living with your parents is a long term life plan.

So I’m off to see the school Career Counselor today. We obviously need to start with the basics. Like ‘Where do  Mummy and Daddy go when they leave for the day?’ and ‘How does money work?’

Wish me luck. I may be some time..

Teen Social Networking Infographic

It’s no longer just putting pen to paper – like many expat and TCK kids, mine rely on social networking sites to keep in contact with friends around the world. But while we keep track of them in the real world, Zonealarm’s infographic outlines just why we should be doing the same in the online one.
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Other Resources:

Newsletter Nightmares

I’m about to wring Robin’s neck. The Robin in question is not a bird, nor a person, but the round type that circulates at this time of year. The really, really annoying kind.

I seem to have morphed into a manners guru, doling out guidance on everything from parenting to organization, none of which I am remotely qualified to do. And yet again, I am required to weigh in with my two-penneth worth to keep you all on the straight and narrow.

Firstly, let me be clear – I love to hear from you. I open greetings cards with anticipation and excitement, and it’s always lovely to hear what’s going on in your lives. Recently, however, there seems to be a change in the wind, and an increasing number of cards circulating include a glossy newsletter that would be more at home in a travel catalogue, Vogue, or a political campaign. They detail lavish holidays, breathtaking adventures, stunning exam grades, unblemished children, noble good works and attentive partners with a full head of hair and excellent abdominal toning.

We have a word for it in Britain. It’s called bragging.

Now, I haven’t yet received any, so I can comment with a clear conscience and you can breathe a sigh of relief. But should you be undecided about what people are really thinking about your Christmas newsletter, here’s a rundown.

1. If it includes pictures with wrinkle / sagging / acne  free skin and immaculate hair, we need either the number of your plastic surgeon or the name of your photo editing software.

2. We assume the best about your children, so when you list their accomplishments as if we are the college admissions team, we either assume you are being ironic or trying to make us feel inadequate. When you mention that your eldest child is moving schools because the previous one didn’t have the resources to really challenge your child, we are hearing ‘juvenile detention centre’, for ‘gap year’, we assume unplanned pregnancy, and as for ‘working with the under privileged’? Incarcerated at Her Majesty’s pleasure.

3. When you retell stories of romantic sojourns with your partner, doubt about the state of your marriage creep into our cynical brains. When you mention the 2 carat diamond bling that you received for your birthday this year, we assume he/she is having an affair, and using the gift to you to cover up large other large purchases on the credit card, namely an even larger bauble for the totty. When you include pictures of your renewing your vows on Hawaiian beach at sunset, you’re pretty much confirming our fears.

4. When we hear that you are starting a new business, we assume that you have just been fired for making inappropriate comments to your boss at the office party.

What we do love to hear, however, is your disastrous run-in with a box of hair color, just what you said to your boss after getting drunk at the Christmas party, and any amusing but effective strategies for managing teenage children. Don’t however, do as one of my mother’s lifelong friends did on a yearly basis, start the letter with the words.

“It’s been a terrible year..”. Irresistable

 

The “No Fair” Rules of Parenting

There is a code of parenting solidarity, that guides our behavior in those early years. It’s there for a reason – to provide a large group of people who will provide support, comfort, alcohol and surveillance services through your child’s teenage years. For those of you who may not be familiar with this unspoken code, here it is…

Thou shalt not post pictures of home-made birthday cake excellence on Facebook, so that my children spot them and spend the next ten years bringing up my own birthday cake inadequacies.

Thou shalt not point out that your child is walking and talking while mine has spent the last three hours with his hands down his trousers.

When spying my child indulging in antisocial activities in public, thou shalt utter the words “her mother will be very cross when she finds out about that”; implicitly underlining that a) I am the all seeing, attentive parent, and b) I have high behavioral standards. It is irrelevant whether you believe this or not, and extra credit is given for saying it when other parents are present.

When spying my child inappropriately dressed, thou shalt sing out in a helpful tone “Would you like me to call your mother to drop off your sweater / trousers / anything that doesn’t look like a Britney Spears outfit?”, thus communicating to the child that a) she’s busted; b) you are willing to go there; and c) there are eyes everywhere. Extra credit is given for not telling me about inappropriate attire unless there is a repeat occurrence.

When my teenage child makes an inappropriate remark, thou shalt enter into a lengthy and awkward story about your own teenage angst, preferably with reference to kissing. The mental picture of adults ever indulging in such behavior is enough to silence any outburst, and serves as a cruel and unusual punishment which rarely has to be repeated.

When my child comes looking for sympathy about my latest parenting gaffe, thou shalt listen kindly and then retell the story about how said child once had diarrhea next to the deli counter in a crowded supermarket, and until roles are reversed, the balance was still tipped in my favor.

When my child comes looking for support in opposition to the latest parenting policy, thou shalt listen sympathetically, nod furiously, make noises of agreement, and then reiterate policy without the benefit of parent type shrieking. Extra credit is given if child thanks you for being so reasonable and fails to notice that it is the same policy.

When my child leaves home, thou shalt not mention how many times I uttered the words “I can’t wait for them to leave home” and instead hand over tissues and gin to drown my sorrows.

Should my child get married, thou shalt attend the wedding without publicly mentioning the pant fumbling, the diarrhea, the inappropriate clothing or the teenage years. Extra credit is given for having photographic evidence for use in ensuring timely Christmas visits etc.

When my child has children, thou shalt smile and enjoy the show..