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Wrestling the father identity as an international

Photograph: Unsplash

Text: Nanna Hauch

Wrestling with the father identity while navigating the complexities of expat life is a profound endeavour that requires introspection, adaptability, and a commitment to authenticity.

My male clients bring three recurring themes to sessions regarding raising their children in Denmark.

#1 Finding work-life balance

Expat fathers are often the primary breadwinner in their families – not always, but often. Finding the balance to excel professionally while entering a new culture like the Danish, where parents are actively involved in their children's lives, sports, and schoolwork, puts extra pressure on expat-fathers. The couples I meet in my clinic (single and dual-career couples) experience conflicts revolving around the issue of involvement and the feeling of inadequacy in meeting expectations of the new culture. Finding the balance of Danish family logistics can provoke old conflicts to resurface and might need a readjustment of parenting expectations.

#2 Cultural and legal adjustment

Expat parents confront unfamiliar cultural norms, values, and legislation that can differ significantly from their cultural background. Despite Denmark's high trust and safe environment, many fathers raise concerns about bringing their children up in the Danish youth culture where freedom, drinking and gap years are the norms. In some fathers, it ignites a need to increase parenting control, and the cultural clash between fathers and young adults can create conflicts in the family and with the other parent.

When I meet fathers with these very valid concerns, they know it calls for deep introspection and evaluation of which norms and values to hold on to and which to renegotiate in alignment with local culture. Fathers, like mothers, must examine why the norms or rules are essential and how to adapt to the new culture without losing authenticity.

When "New Nordic Parenting" meets patriarchic parenting, there is often an internal family system culture clash. It can leave fathers feeling confused about issues of discipline and consequences. My experience is that when expat-fathers discover that "New Nordic Parenting" is not a borderless approach to raising children but rather a dualistic approach engaging children with trust, recognition, equality and respect, international fathers embrace the approach and report experiencing closer relationships with their children.

"When "New Nordic Parenting" meets patriarchic parenting, there is often an internal family system culture clash."

#3 Emotional well-being

The emotional toll of adjusting to a new culture, work culture and social network can exhaust even the most energetic person. In many cultures, there's still a bias towards men being emotionally strong(er) and less affected by international transitions.

However, culture shock, homesickness, stress, doubts, and loneliness also affect men – and fathers. Taking good care of your emotional well-being – in due time – is an essential part of being able to engage and be present with your children. If you struggle, you're not the first father to experience challenging emotions in the wake of international transition, and I strongly recommend seeking professional help to work through your emotions, alone or with your partner.

When we feel challenged as parents, we might seek to control more or give up and withdraw. Neither strategy will bring us closer to our children or obtain what we hope for in terms of upbringing.

Recognising and proactively addressing these challenges can help expat-fathers thrive, maintain authenticity, and create a nurturing environment for their children, themselves, and their relationships. Every expat-father is unique, but no matter the challenge, it is never too late to readjust parenting styles and learn new strategies to engage and improve our relationship with our children.

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