When we first moved back, a lot of people were curious about our kids and how they identify themselves: do they feel more Dutch (after all they were born here and lived here the first 7, 5 and 2 years of their lives) or American? My answer was a resounding ‘American.’ Five years is a really long time in kid-terms. And they were still so little when we moved. Obviously my eldest was the most ‘Dutch’ of the three, and my daughter, starting kindergarten that fall, had the most adorable Dutch accent when she spoke English. My youngest had just started talking and quickly learned that people didn’t understand his Dutch words. For him, The Netherlands was where we went on vacation, where Oma and Opa lived, nothing more.
So yes, this move was hard for them, and a huge change. It didn’t feel like coming home; not in the least. I’ve talked about it here before. We’re a few months further in now and it’s still rough at times, but I see them settling, I see them finding their way, and that makes me happy. And in the same breath, a little sad. They are slowly, while still 100% completely themselves, becoming more Dutch, less American. I see it in how my youngest writes his cursive capitals. In how my eldest casually uses the word ‘chill’ while speaking Dutch. The silly songs they pick up from school and sing at the top of their lungs. The way they complain about the weather. The increased Chocolate Sprinkle consumption. The classic Dutch kid experiences that I cannot relate to at all, or don’t know anything about. What? Mama? You mean you don’t know about…..?? Nope.
I don’t think they are aware of it. Which is good. As parents we alone are privy to this view, from outside yet so very close by, of our children’s development. What a privilege, and how painful, to be so aware of each new phase they enter and the old ones left behind. It’s a constant state of rejoicing and mourning all mixed up in one. This is common to everyone, but a move like we have made brings extra change, more obvious change, based on a new cultural experience that they are adapting to.
I just recently wrote to a friend considering a potential move overseas with kids for her husband’s job and I encouraged her that we end up where we are supposed to be, or more precisely, WHO we are supposed to be no matter where we live. This was the realization, when I finally, after two years of struggling, learned to accept and trust this, that allowed me to feel okay about moving back to the Netherlands. Basically, I was giving myself way too much credit for my kids’ formation. We make the choices we make now, in their best interests and to the best of our ability, but really, as long as the basis is there for them (love, support, and then letting them go) they will thrive and becoming their own incredible people, no matter where we are. Dutch or American, they will become fully themselves, and I look forward to having front row seats as the show continues.