Emigration: and the family came too
We often think of emigration in terms of individuals only, but it’s a whole new world when a young family has to be taken into accountWhen Michael and Barbara Reidy won tickets to the Working Abroad Expo at the RDS in Dublin last March, they went along to research the possibilities of moving abroad.
But they never expected Michael to be offered a job on the spot, with a company supplying machine parts to mines in central Canada. Five months later, after a whirlwind of agonising and paperwork, they and their five children were transplanted from the Co Wexford village of Bree, to the city of Saskatoon in Saskatchewan.
“It is not something we would have chosen to do at this stage of our lives,” explains Barbara (41). But business was slow at the company Michael worked for – “every Friday you would have your heart in your mouth that he wouldn’t be laid off” – so they decided this was an opportunity they couldn’t pass up.
“It was more the fear if we didn’t take the job and the company went bust, then we wouldn’t be able to meet the mortgage,” says Barbara. Apart from that, with ongoing cuts, things were getting harder and harder.
Michael intended to go out first, to do the three-month probation. But that got too complicated, and Barbara decided they would all go out immediately.
“To leave at the age of 48 with five children on the strength of one job offer was quite a lot of pressure for Michael,” Barbara acknowledges. “He was bringing seven of us over and he then had to perform at the job and be good enough so they wanted to keep him.”
Emigration after starting a family is very different to heading abroad as a young adult in search of a job, better career prospects or just to see more of the world. For a start there are deeper roots to pull up and more individuals to consider when it comes to the effects of displacement. Parents also have to consider how the move is likely to fundamentally shape – for better or for worse – their children’s lives.
As one Irish couple in their 30s who moved to Seattle in 2010 with their two young children, and are now keen to return, explain: “ just want our kids to be raised Irish”.
“If possible, a strong cultural identity is quite a nice thing to be able to give your child,” says the mother, who asks not to be named because her husband is in the process of seeking a transfer with his current employer.
They had left Ireland with an open mind, when “everything seemed pretty dismal at home”. Although the children have settled in well, the couple don’t want to make the move permanent and acknowledge they are lucky to have that choice.
The best way to break the news to a child about moving depends very much on his or her personality, says psychotherapist Trish Murphy.
“Some children would prefer not to know until it is definite and for others, if you do it like that and it all comes up very quickly, it will be disastrous. So parents really have to trust their judgment.” However, it is difficult, she acknowledges, where there are different personality types in one family but, generally, she advises as much involvement and honesty as possible.
From early on the Reidys told their children, all aged under 10, that Michael had been offered a job in Canada and that they were thinking about it. They felt the children would pick up on conversations in the house.
“Of course they went into school about a week later and said ‘we’re all moving to Canada’ before anything had been said!” laughs Barbara. They showed them YouTube videos of facilities in Saskatoon – big Olympic pools and things like that.
“They were very excited because of the prospect of sunshine, then of snow and even at the fact that we were going on airplane” – none of the children had ever been on an airplane.
Ian Moore (47) went out to work for the Emirates airline in Dubai last September and his wife Joanne (39) and their three children, aged from eight to nearly three, left their home in Stillorgan, Dublin, to join him last month.
“Once we knew that we were definitely emigrating we spoke to the children over dinner about living in a warmer climate and all the positives of being there,” says Joanne. “We showed them photos of things they can do and of our visit in July when we went out for Ian’s interview. They were very keen and exited about heading off.”