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

I’m finding it a struggle to bring them up in Portugal but their father won’t discuss leaving

Question: I'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 youngone 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 gardenit'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. 



Answer: 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 to 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.

Dr John Sharry is founder of the Parents Plus Charity and an adjunct professor at the UCD School of Psychology. He has published 14 books including Positive Parenting: Bringing up responsible, well-behaved and happy children. See solutiontalk.ie