Written by David Enser, RES Forum Director
The first, somewhat bold, statement I’d like to make is that many organisations are out of touch with what constitutes a family. Most now acknowledge that the married couple cliché, the 2.4 children, etc. are no longer to be assumed. But experience shows that many haven’t got their heads around the patchwork family – the separated and the divorced. Sadly, there still isn’t universal acceptance that families come in different shapes and sizes.
The same applies to governments and organisations responsible for childrens’ rights and welfare. Especially when navigating different systems, one can encounter all manner of conflict and unanticipated complexity. One example is the German court who I had to remind that their place is not to judge the fact that I am a committed and loving father to two boys, who happen to reside in different countries. Or there’s the UK child support agency who told me, before quickly taking it back, that I should consider seeing my children less (so unburdening myself of travel costs), to allow me to pay more in child support.
There is also the fact that the calculation of child support differs from country to country. In one, the calculation is based on net income. Another uses gross income. Then you add the assertion that, if one of your children lives in another country, maintenance costs and the cost of travelling to be involved in their life cannot be taken into account before a calculation of child support is done in your country of residence.
The list really does go on. Trust me, I’ve ridden a tsunami of challenges ‘on the job,’ so to speak. Among other things, I’ve discovered organisations that I simply would not want to work for. For example, the one that questioned why I took a call from my 11-year-old during a virtual interview. He had tried to call repeatedly and I clearly and politely asked if ‘I may take an urgent call from my child?’ The request was a point of criticism post-interview. There’s also the company that urged me to choose between a highly paid ‘career accelerating’ Head of Reward position in Asia Pacific, or continuing to see my infant child as often as I could, as if that was a rational thing to ask.
There are, of course, the opposites. My current employer showed their support and understanding right away. ‘Need to work remotely overseas for a week here or there?’ Not a problem. ‘You’re running out of holiday due to conflicting school schedules?’ I’m sure we can find a solution. Understanding, empathy and compassion count for a lot.
Now, you may consider this a rant. Or, you might find parallels with your own circumstances. All I would add is that child-centricity can be a powerful lever for an employer. While there could be more, there are organisations such as Expat Valley who can advise you on this topic. The RES Forum can help you get started.
We’ve accepted that family norms have changed. We’ve also added the needs of spouses and partners into our GM policies. Isn’t it time to cast a net around the needs of the children, as well as the parents who are navigating these oh so choppy waters?
I believe so.
RES Forum research
This piece is from the RES Forum’s research paper – Expat Children and their role in successful global mobility. You can download the paper here.