Dear Dr Jules
My mum is a single parent and I am 15. I was happy with my life and school in the UK, but Mum wanted to move to France, always. We moved a couple of months ago. I have no friends and she doesn't. I hate the school cos my French is not great and I was getting ready for exams. My life is a mess and she is not happy. Already money is hard for her. I know we can't afford to move back as we have no-one there. But now I am starting to resent her.
Thank you for reaching out to ask for help. You are understandably frustrated with your situation, and possibly feeling somewhat out of control, which is never a comfortable place to be.
Moving to a new country is a huge step for anyone, as you leave behind everything that is familiar and encounter a new language and culture. Facing all the challenges of a big move is tough enough for anyone, but particularly when you are 15, and there are some good reasons for that.
When we are in the adolescent stage of life we have some vital developmental tasks to accomplish. Primarily this centers around forming strong friendships with our peers who are becoming more important in our life, while at the same time we start to pull away from our family as we need to become more emotionally and psychologically independent from them. And while all of that is going on, we know we should be focusing on school and figuring out who we are and what we want to be in life. It is an incredibly confusing and demanding time and unsurprisingly, therefore, few of us remember our teens as an easy period.
In your case, you have some complicating factors added in. You don’t yet have any close friends in France, and your mum is also isolated, so you are both forced to depend on each other more than you might want to. You are also having to navigate a new school system in a language you don’t yet fully understand, and at a time in your education where the pressure is starting to build. No wonder you are feeling resentful, and that your mum is in the firing line for all your pent-up feelings.
Whether you both stay in France longer term is something to be decided, but in the meantime, there are some things you can focus on to help you feel more in control:
- Find other British kids who are growing up in France. They can be a great source of support and help you navigate the French system. Eventually you will make French friends, but in the meantime, find some people your own age who have been there and done it already. You need a peer group around you, and although that group will likely change as you develop, having at least one part of your life be normal will be a step forward.
- Know that the process of adapting to your new life is going to take time, and don’t feel bad because you are finding it tough. It might well take you a few years to get to grips with the language, and possibly you will be set back in your education while you catch up with that to at least the point where you can function in French, even if you are never 100% perfect in it. I see many young people in France who moved here later in their education, and I am always amazed by them and their ability to move between the two worlds of being both British and French. Certainly they do a much better job of it than those of us who move here as adults!
- Have a little empathy for your mum and recognize that she has her own transition to make, and will need time to figure out the challenges she is facing. Just because we are adults doesn’t mean we have it all figured it out. This is a time for you to support each other and talk about your concerns, rather than retreat into your own space and shut each other out.
- Be aware that in time you will become increasingly adapted to, and engaged in the larger French society beyond your family and the local expats, but for now it is a matter of baby steps and being easy on yourself when you find it challenging and frustrating.
If the subject matter in this article resonates with you, then counselling might be a good option to help you to move forward. I offer a free 20-minute consultation so we can explore how I might be able to help you. Please contact me for more information.