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I live in the midwestern U.S. with my wife, my 8 year old stepson and our 2 year old son who shows signs of and is undergoing therapy for autism. The company I work for just offered to relocate us to their headquarters in Germany for a period of 2-4 years. My wife and I love it there and have daydreamed about spending more time abroad, and it would be an excellent career opportunity. No one can make this decision except us and I'm not looking for a recommendation. I am seeking wisdom from other parents on what kinds of issues we should be thinking about to make this decision, pros and cons, or general opinions and advice on some of the specific issues to aid in our decisionmaking.

  • My stepson visits his biological father every other weekend and they have a positive relationship. He pays child support and we would need to reach an agreement with him, maybe involving allocating the support money toward travel expenses to send him back a couple times a year. He also has two half-brothers who he sees at his dad's.
  • Our 2 year old is "presumed autistic" (our doctor won't officially diagnose it until age 2 1/2). He has serious language and behavioral delays. We're set up with local resources that provide 1-on-1 therapy sessions for language and behavioral development and have been doing this for about a month.
  • My wife quit her job last fall and has been staying home with the kids and plans to continue to do this whether or not we move.

So naturally, some things we have to think about are:

  • How would a move to a foreign country affect our younger son's development? Would being exposed to a foreign language impair his development even more or is there a potential it could actually help?
  • How would the older son react to moving so far away from his biological father? He and I have a wonderful relationship as well, he loves, trusts and respects me, we have bonded very deeply and he has adapted very well to having a dad and a stepdad. Would a change like this ruin a good thing and plant seeds of discontent, resentment, regret, ... where there don't seem to be any now?
  • We can see this as an amazing life experience for the kids - we can always come back in a few years if we want and the trip would expose them to lots of culture and history they wouldn't get otherwise. Or we can also see it as taking them away from a life experience they're already used to and happy with.

Thanks for any thoughts and talking points you might have. For the purposes of this question we can ignore issues of finance or logistics. I'll be posting a similar question on Travel.SE about some logistics questions and will add a link here when I do; but here I'm chiefly concerned with the kids and the impact this decision might have on our family.

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    In case you haven't seen it yet: there is also an expatriates.SE that might be helpful – Arsak Jan 23 '18 at 16:24
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A few things:

1) 8 is old enough to be able to think about and weigh-in on this decision. I think it would be a good idea to talk to your 8-year-old stepson to see what he thinks of the idea and how often he would want to fly back to the states. You don’t have to base your decision on anything he says, but that is probably the best way to assess how he will view the decision and what impact that may have on his relationship with you. From a more objective standpoint, he is still young enough to learn fluent (native sounding) German through immersion, and being bilingual is a huge advantage in life that he would probably thank you guys for as an adult even if he doesn’t really want to go now.

2) in terms of your 2 year old - it is true that ALL children who are learning two mother tongues simultaneously learn each language more slowly than children who are learning one language. Therefore in the short-term, I would expect the change in language setting to further slow your child’s language development. However, in the long run there would likely be no noticeable delay/handicap related to this, and in fact (as stated above) bilingualism is almost always an advantage for adults. Also, there are medical professionals all over the world, and while connecting with the right people might be tricky in a foreign country, they are probably there to connect with. So there is no reason to believe that your son won’t be cared for equally well in Germany.

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    +1 (The DV was not mine.) Just FYI, I was bilingual growing up. Where I live, I never found it to be helpful or an advantage. (I've learned two other, more helpful languages as an adult.) There are a lot of things kids 'experience" that they are not grateful for; it's just part of their lives. :) – anongoodnurse Jan 23 '18 at 3:35
  • +1 from me (OP), I appreciate your thoughtful input! (The question was downvoted too, maybe by the same mystery voter.) – TypeIA Jan 23 '18 at 15:06
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I have kids about the same age, and experience in both countries.

I second MAA's suggestion of asking your 8 year old. But your approach must be thoughtful. In particular, when (and if) you ask him, I'd say it's important to make it clear from the very outset that, although you're interested in his thoughts, it's you and his mother who are going to make the decision, not him. Obviously, try to prepare and influence him to see Germany and the relocation in as good a light as possible. With respect to his biological father and half-siblings, he's old enough to profit from video calls - which also can be more frequent than the twice-monthly visits.

But his biological father attitude with respect to the relocation is an important issue. It might be very hard for him, but hopefully he'll respect whatever decision you guys make and help you with making it easier for his son - if not, though, that must be taken into account. Of course, giving this relocation up because of your wife's ex-husband wouldn't be right, but a possibly more relevant framing is that the well-being of your stepson is fundamental for your family happiness. It could be a very difficult situation if the biological father tried to negatively influence your stepson feelings towards the move to Germany. And cutting their contact would also probably be too harsh (on your stepson) and risk litigation.

You didn't ask about schools, but whether you're considering an American/international school or a local one, your stepson should be fine. The systems are different, but both have advantages and disadvantages. And whether he'll like a given school or not is down to luck, as what really matters to that are the specific teachers and colleagues he'd have.

Your two year old care won't be an issue. To be sure, you'd have to check with your future insurer in Germany to confirm what's is offered and covered. But, especially with regard to the language, you don't have to worry: even if you and your wife and the doctors would choose to limit his exposure to only one language, at least for some time, finding a physician/therapist who can speak English fluently won't be difficult.

Summing up: You are clearly eager to try the relocation and, with the possible exception of trouble from your stepson's biological father, there is little reason not to. But make the decision freely: it's not because it seems to be such a wonderful opportunity that you must take it. Your current situation seems a happy one and there's no shame in sticking to it if you want to.

  • If you want to ask about down votes, please do so under your question, not someone else's. Thanks. – anongoodnurse Jan 23 '18 at 15:59
  • Hi @anongoodnurse, Do you see how I can improve my answer? Thanks. – stafusa Jan 23 '18 at 17:00
  • Your answer is fairly typical for the site. Adding support from the literature always makes for a better answer, e.g. something about separating a son from his father and whether video calls are as good for a relationship as spending real time together, which you state as if it is known fact. – anongoodnurse Jan 23 '18 at 20:41
  • @anongoodnurse Thanks a lot. A small detail: at no point I state it's "as good as real time together", all I say is "he's old enough to profit" from the video calls, in a comparison with a smaller kid, which tend to get much less from it. But, yes, certainly that's also only my personal experience. – stafusa Jan 23 '18 at 20:57
  • If you get on well with the biological father and his family, it might make this more palatable if you could invite them to come visit you once a year. It could be an interesting vacation for them. – Ossum's Mom Jan 26 '18 at 17:26

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