Everyone wants to have a happy and healthy family life. Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as an easy ride though. Life throws problems in the way, and, especially for expats living abroad, there are many issues to battle against.
I like to think I have a happy and healthy expat family life over here in Spain, and I’m not only talking about my health, but also about our kids’. We definitely have our complicated moments, but overall, we are happy.
Here are a few pointers on what may help you and your family develop your own happiness and health.
Healthy Expat Family: Positive Attitude
I’m a firm believer in staying positive at all times. It’s not always easy though. This summer we suffered a horrific experience.
My wife caught pneumonia during August, not the typical kind of pneumonia you catch after not getting over a cold properly, but a bacterial, life-threatening one.
Now I cherish the moments we are together even more than before. We take a different outlook on life now and try not to let life get us down, especially with things like money. At the moment we only have one wage coming in, so it’s hard to survive. I do a lot of extra teaching hours and give speaking exams on the weekends to increase our earnings. I also build extra income through my writing.
We survive, but until my wife goes back to work, we know we can’t afford the life we’d like to have. Before our situation used to get us down and, of course, we still have hard days, but it’s easier to remain more positive now; all it takes is one of us to remind each other what we went through in the summer to bring a smile to our faces, and thank each other we are together, with two lovely kids.
Eat a Healthy Diet
My diet has definitely improved since living in Spain. After leaving England back in 2003 to teach English around the world, I have been exposed to a variety of dishes and diets. I’ve enjoyed meals from all around the globe and have sampled many food types.
When I first arrived in Seville, in 2005, I used to spend only 15 euros a week on food. I’d get a massive pack of chicken, rice, a few vegetables, and make it last. I don’t know how I survived, but for about a year, I got by.
When I moved in with my wife (girlfriend at the time) I started to get used to a more balanced diet, probably because she’s such a better cook than I am. More recently, I’ve been paying even more attention to what I eat, and also my kid’s diet.
We eat about five or six times a day, but mall amounts. We try to keep away from processed foods, especially during the week. Our diet includes a range of carbs, proteins, healthy fats, and dairy products. We often eat lentils, soups, purees, and different meat and fish dishes.
Getting the kids to eat fruit is always tricky. We used to spend a fortune on those squeezy fruit packs, but now they love fresh fruit. We probably spend more than we should on food, but we care about our kids’ diet, and ours. After all, a healthy body is a healthy mind.
Get Regular Exercise
I’ve always done regular exercise, ever since I stopped playing football as a teenager and “mysteriously” put on the pounds. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I couldn’t let go like that, especially if I didn’t want to be the laughingstock of the class, and since then I’ve tried to keep myself in shape.
I used to be a big fan of running, but recently I’ve been getting problems with my foot, so I stick to the gym now and follow a strength training weights program. As an expat abroad, there are plenty of places for exercise. A lot of my colleagues are members of the gym and enjoy walking or running. In Spain people are out and about keeping fit; exercise is a priority.
We let our kids run about as much as possible. This is not only because it helps them sleep better at night, which means we do as well, but also because we know it builds their muscles and stamina. My son could probably run all day.
We just got back from a walk around our village and the countryside. We were gone for three hours and must have done over six or seven kilometers. My son was on his bike and my wife and I walked and took turns to push our younger one in the pram. We tend to walk everywhere and don’t own a car, although we are hoping to get one soon. I’ll still do regular exercise though, as it makes me feel so alive.
Communication Is Key
This is something my wife and I have both learned to do a lot more since when we first started together. We chat often about life, our problems, and our favorite memories. We could probably communicate more, but with work and two kids to look after, it’s tricky, especially during the week. We’ve come on loads though and communicating really helps us to manage our family life together.
Before we may have bottled issues up inside and not let them out, which would normally end up in a row. Now we know it’s important to communicate and chat about our worries or if we are annoyed with each other.
It’s extra hard when you’re an expat, though, not only because of the language barrier, but because you don’t have your own family around. Of course, I can give my parents a call when I want, but it’s never the same as face to face. Now I have my own family though, and they keep me busy.
Build Your Community
I firmly believe that to have a healthy family life, you need to try with the local community. We are sociable people, so it’s essential to integrate.
I found it hard to settle here in Seville at first, but since moving to the outskirts of Seville we have met a lot more people and made more friends. We’ve been able to strike up new relationships with other parents.
Before, I really felt like a foreigner. No matter how hard I tried, I always felt like an outsider. Learning the language helped a lot. Now we have different sets of friends, and also common friends, and we are more sociable than we were before. This has really helped our family. Our kids have friends, too, and it’s a great feeling to be part of a local community.
It can be hard to keep a happy and healthy family life, especially for expats, but by focusing on the above issues, it can make life easier and healthier. By communicating with your partner and kids, doing exercise, building close ties with the community, and watching what you and your family eat, you can really boost morale and help you live life to the max.
What things are working for your expat family? How about sharing your advice with others?
by: Barry O’Leary