‘I want to leave my part­ner and move back with the kids to Ire­land’

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Family - Ask the ex­pert Send your queries to [email protected]­times.com John Sharry is founder of the Par­ents Plus Char­ity and an ad­junct pro­fes­sor at the UCD School of Psy­chol­ogy.

QI’ve read some of your ar­ti­cles and ad­vice and found them to be ex­cel­lent. I was won­der­ing if you could help me out with a de­ci­sion I’m try­ing to make for a long while now. My cur­rent sit­u­a­tion is I’m liv­ing abroad for 10 years now and have two chil­dren still quite young – one and four years’ old. I haven’t mar­ried their fa­ther, who is Por­tuguese.

I was happy here un­til the chil­dren came along. Now I’m find­ing it quite hard in terms of the lan­guage and cul­tural dif­fer­ence in rais­ing them. I have to de­pend on their grand­mother a bit. My four-year-old is a lot of hard work; he’s very ac­tive and has a very strong char­ac­ter – this year luck­ily he’s ad­justed well to his new school.

At the mo­ment, he’s pick­ing up English fairly well from me only. I want to move back to Ire­land but their fa­ther won’t even hear of it. He won’t dis­cuss it. He doesn’t speak English very well and has been work­ing in the same com­pany for over 10 years now as a so­lic­i­tor. His salary is noth­ing to brag about but his work­ing days can be short when he’s not away.

I feel very trapped. I don’t think there is a great fu­ture for my chil­dren here. Au­tumn and win­ter are great weather-wise, es­pe­cially for kids, but ev­ery­thing else is a big strug­gle even if you have stud­ied for years. Very few can af­ford to buy a house with a gar­den – it’s a luxury here.

My dream would to be able to pro­vide them with an English ed­u­ca­tion here but that’s very ex­pen­sive too. Not only the ed­u­ca­tion, but my kids are los­ing out on my cul­ture, my fam­ily, who I am. It’s sad. I go home maybe once or twice a year. Would I be able to move on my own and see how it goes for a while? How would it af­fect the boys? I’ve feel I’ve made a mess of it all.


Hav­ing chil­dren makes us think longer term as we won­der what way we want to bring them up and what life we want to pro­vide for them. Read­ing your ques­tion, it is clear you have a de­sire to return to Ire­land. All the ar­gu­ments you list (apart from the weather) in­di­cate you be­lieve Ire­land would be bet­ter for you and your chil­dren.

How­ever, the prob­lem is that their fa­ther does not agree and as you say does not want to even dis­cuss it. This has led you to con­sider re­turn­ing home by your­self with the kids, which has lots of im­pli­ca­tions such as leav­ing you with­out sup­port, se­ri­ously re­duc­ing the con­tact your chil­dren have with their fa­ther and pre­sum­ably could also po­ten­tially lead to you sep­a­rat­ing.

It is im­por­tant to say that legally you may not be able move your chil­dren out of the coun­try with­out their fa­ther’s agree­ment (de­pend­ing on spe­cific laws per­tain­ing to un­mar­ried fa­thers in Por­tu­gal, which you will have to check). This is a big de­ci­sion to make so do take your time to con­sider all op­tions – be­low are a couple of ex­tra things to con­sider.

Be­ware of the think­ing the grass is greener at home

Many of the stresses you are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing are the nor­mal ones as­so­ci­ated with be­ing a par­ent of two small chil­dren. As a par­ent, your world can be­come more con­tracted and iso­lated. You don’t have time for the leisure and so­cial­is­ing that made you happy be­fore the chil­dren ar­rived. Whereas you might have been in­de­pen­dent be­fore, hav­ing chil­dren can make you de­pen­dent on others for sup­port, such as their fa­ther and grand­mother, in your sit­u­a­tion.

While mov­ing back to Ire­land may bring you back closer to your fam­ily and sup­ports in Ire­land, many of these fun­da­men­tal stresses are likely to con­tinue. In ad­di­tion, many of the eco­nomic prob­lems you de­scribe in Por­tu­gal, such as buy­ing a fam­ily home, may well be the same in Ire­land (un­less you can im­me­di­ately get back into a well-paid ca­reer).

Try to reach agree­ment with their fa­ther

The ideal is to try and reach an agree­ment with their fa­ther about how to pro­ceed. To do this, it is worth un­der­stand­ing where he is com­ing from and to ap­pre­ci­ate his po­si­tion (his con­cerns at mov­ing to an­other coun­try where he does not speak the lan­guage and where he may be worse off in his ca­reer as well as dis­con­nected from his friends and fam­ily).

Equally, it is im­por­tant for him to un­der­stand your con­cerns and your de­sire to return to Ire­land.

If I met the the two of you, I would be in­ter­ested in help­ing you lis­ten to each other and un­der­stand your dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives. Then I would try to help you open up and ex­pand out your op­tions. You are cur­rently fo­cused on hav­ing to make a de­ci­sion abut mov­ing, but are there other op­tions you could con­sider? Is there a way of you be­com­ing hap­pier liv­ing in Por­tu­gal and build­ing a life there?

Or are there ways of keep­ing the chil­dren con­nected to Ire­land and to have the English ed­u­ca­tion you seek? Or, al­ter­na­tively, is there a way of mak­ing a move to Ire­land more man­age­able for your part­ner? What would it take for both of you to be ex­cited and to make such a move work?

How will the chil­dren cope with a move?

Young chil­dren are adapt­able and fol­low their par­ents’ lead when it comes to them cop­ing. In truth, they could be happy be­ing ei­ther brought up in Por­tu­gal or in Ire­land. While a move might be dis­rup­tive to them in the short term, what mat­ters more is how it af­fects the qual­ity of their re­la­tion­ship with both their par­ents. If both their par­ents are happy with the move and good re­la­tion­ships are main­tained, then they will cope very well. If the move leads to less con­tact with one par­ent, in­creased con­flict and parental un­hap­pi­ness, then they will cope less well.

Teas­ing out the is­sues of the com­pli­cated life de­ci­sion you are try­ing to make does take time. I would sug­gest you get sup­port – per­haps mak­ing con­tact with a coun­sel­lor, coach or other con­fi­dant you can talk with over time to ex­plore how best to pro­ceed.


“While mov­ing back to Ire­land may bring you back closer to your fam­ily and sup­ports in Ire­land, many of these fun­da­men­tal stresses are likely to con­tinue.”

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