sending money home – “COSETTE SYNDROME”

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It is December, and the question of gifts for loved ones is more present everywhere around us. 

Consumerism has turned the Birth of Christ into a money carrousel, and many of us can feel guilty if we do not manage to buy something for people around us. In the collective memory, it has been implemented that we show love only if we give presents for Christmas. 

I disagree. Love can be shown all year round, not only by buying stuff but by doing considerate things for people around us, whether they are blood relatives or not. I disagree with the feeling of guilt inflicted upon people by commercial trends. A good book on showing love is “The five love languages” by Garry Chapman.

There are many gifts we can give, gifts which do not cost money, such as:

– Seeing when someone is upset and making that person smile, if possible. If they are willing, be there and listen to why they are upset. A hand to hold and an ear who listens is priceless. 

– If you are able, keep to yourself the story you heard. It is not yours to tell. If the person who needed to talk trusted you with the secret, then he/she considered you worthy of placing their story with you. Keep that worth. That is their gift to you. 

Spend some time with people around you. Do something nice for them. Small chores around the house or help them with something you know they’ve been struggling with for a while.

If you want to, and have money to spend, then spend them on experiences: theater/movie/concert tickets/SPA/travels and trips, or therapy/coaching sessions – even if I know it may not be easy telling someone they need to talk to someone else than family and friends. But if you know they are aware of it, and they wish it, it is possible. So give people something that would be an experience they won’t forget, something they need and something they would appreciate.

Yet, to do this, it means we need to know the people around us, it means we have listened to them enough so we can spot their wishes and what can make them feel good and appreciated. 

When we live abroad, we feel like we do not have that time to spend or talk with those people we consider dear. And many immigrants and expats are traveling to another country to earn more money. It is a chase after a better quality of life that people think they can buy with cash. A better material world. People often believe that if they could buy more things, bigger houses, expensive cars, the latest of the latest gadgets or brand clothing, that will make them happier. 

If that is so, why are there so many celebrities, who have all these material comforts, depressed and unhappy? On the other hand, it is better to be depressed in a Tesla than in the middle of the street, and with no roof over your head. But from living comfortably to exaggerating when it comes to spending money on unnecessary things, it is a big difference.

Therefore, many people travel for work to provide a roof over their families in their birth country. There would not be so many websites helping people transfer money abroad if this social and economic phenomenon would not happen. 

What is it really that makes people feel the urge to take such a big step in their lives, such a bold and radical decision as moving abroad to work and earn more money so they could help the families in the countries of origin? Why don’t they just do this simply for themselves, because they want a better life for themselves?

With a background in my experience as a human, and as an immigrant, my training, and practice, I would say that first of all can be the feeling of not being enough – not feeling of being enough as people and not feeling that actions are enough either. This feeling makes people believe that they alone do not deserve a better life, except if they also send money to their families and friends in their birth countries. Or that they need to pay something so they can be considered worthy of attention. For some people, the saying “Those who say that money does not bring happiness, do not know where to shop” is very true. Money can buy many things and feelings.

The feeling of not being enough usually comes from childhood, and the dynamic children felt happened between their parents. If the parents struggled and put pressure on each other for various reasons, children would think that whatever was happening was their own fault and try to save one of the parents or both. If the struggles parents had were material struggles; in other words, they were having difficulties making ends meet, then the children would grow feeling guilty for all the efforts and sacrifices parents went through to provide for their material comfort. As adults, they feel the need to pay back; therefore, they get well-paid jobs and return the favor. Some of them are willing to move abroad to make that happen. 

There are many societies where children are born as an investment for old age: someone to take care of the parents when they get old. Children and the later adults are considered labor force. Of course, this is also allowed by the political and economic systems, which do not have a social welfare system that provides care for the elderly. Therefore, children grow and travel abroad to earn money to send to their parents, eventually younger siblings. Norway, the country I live in, does not have this system. I explain more about it in this article. The state social welfare also helps, and parents do not want to burden their children. In this country, I have also seen how parents are very willing of seeing their children out of their houses as soon as possible, which means 16 to 18 years old. In opposition to many other societies where children live at home by the time they are 40 or more. Another choice of words would be that in a country with a bad economical system, the parents are kind and they are helping their children by letting them stay in the same house.

It is true that in societies with good economical systems and where the state provides with student loan opportunities for youth, it is easier for young people to go out of their parents homes and experience life on their own. It is not the same thing in countries where there is no such thing, like the one I grew up in. I was dependent on my family my first year at university. I hated it. Second year I’ve got a job, and have provided for myself ever since.

In other societies, people have children just because everyone else does, without thinking if they can afford to raise them or not. I know, this choice of words sounds harsh, at the same time I wonder how many people really, think when they decide to have children. There is contraception these days, and it is possible to plan, and there are many reasons people decide to have children:

to perpetuate the family blood and name

to have something to live for

pure love

one night stand

drunk/drug sex

rape (unfortunately this things happen both inside and outside a relationship)

family and society pressure after two people get married

to have someone to inherit the family business.

to save a relationship – give the couple a common reason to stay together, etc

The country’s economy is not good and parents are left without jobs and decide to travel abroad to provide for their children. The kids are placed in the care of grandparents, siblings, or other family members. In extreme cases, they are also left with strangers who are receiving money for the service of taking care of a child. I like to call it the “Cosette syndrome” (see “Les miserable” by Victor Hugo). 

Like Cosette’s mother, parents who travel and work abroad want to compensate for their absence by sending money home. Some would argue that there is no difference between leaving your child at the daycare with strangers, and leaving them with strangers because one goes abroad to work. I would say that it is not quite the same thing when the children know they will have at least some time every day with their parents, and not seeing them for months. There is a good psychologist talking about it, Alice Miller, and her books are available here.

These parents who are away for months, abroad, because they love their children and want to do their best to raise them, also get a different idea about money, and they lose somehow the value of the currency in their birth countries. 

In enough cases, the family or caretakers in the birth country is well restored economically and can support themselves. However, people left behind start to feel like they deserve to be sent money and stop working themselves. They believe that it is very easy for their family members abroad to get money, and they start asking for more and more, without regard. They have no idea or experience over how is it to work abroad and how much effort it implies for their children or siblings. Some can start to take the help they are getting for granted and, even worse, to consider people sending the money stupid. It is a common thing in many cultures to mistake kindness with stupidity (I keep promising to write an article about this issue, and I will)

There is also a kind of emotional blackmail involved. People working abroad feel guilty for leaving family behind, for not being present, for missing out on the events in the life of people left behind. Some tend not to protest when they are asked for more money or simply send them willingly, hoping that they would put a plaster on the emotional wound created by the separation. 

In my therapy room, I often encounter feelings of great disappointment from people who send money to their families. They suddenly discover trades in their family’s behavior that they did not know existed. In some cases, when they stop sending the usual amount every month, they get protests, and they are shouted out and called names because suddenly they refuse to be the income source. 

It is a confrontation that is part of cutting the “umbilical cord” that keeps these people still in a sort of limbo state. They can either put effort into ultimately settling in the new country, and they can either go back to their birth countries because, in time, they feel they do not belong there anymore. They have got used to civilization and the working schedule, the rules which are respected, and the fair treatment they get as human beings in the new country. However, their hearts are split, and it takes some time to figure out what to do and what is significant for them.

If you send money to your family and friends in your birth country, how is that working for you? Have you ever thought about how it would feel if you kept that money to yourself and what could you do with them if you kept them? 

If you decide to give yourself or someone you know a gift in the form of a therapy/coaching session, click here to get my offer. 

I wish you to receive the gifts you need and to give gifts that will be appreciated.


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