Moving to France: six ways to deal with guilt over family back home

It is normal to feel guilty about leaving relatives but it does not have to cloud your new French life

Thanks to the internet, it is easier to keep in touch with friends and family around the globe
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Perhaps you have elderly parents and worry about their health and what will happen to them without you.

Or you might feel bad for taking your children away from all that is familiar, their roots and their friends.

You might even feel selfish for living the French life you always wanted.

Guilt, although understandable, need not be overwhelming.

I am not going to feed you platitudes such as ‘be positive’ or ‘think of others who are worse off’.

Instead, here are some practical ways of taking action to alleviate your guilt. Ruminating endlessly never helped anybody.

1. Find your tribe

It is challenging making friends in a new country, but essential.

Finding supportive people in a similar situation, with whom you can discuss your feelings, will reduce guilt.

Read more: How to fight off expat isolation in France

2. Keep in regular contact

Thanks to the internet, it is easy to keep in touch with friends and family around the globe.

And if you don’t ‘do’ social media, you will surely have a landline to arrange regular calls using a cheap network.

You might even like the therapeutic effect of good old-fashioned letter writing.

If you are in regular touch with your family and friends, you will have less time to feel guilty.

3. Remind yourself why you moved

It can be useful to write it down. Journaling helps you work through your feelings and lets you look back at what you have written the next time you throw a guilt ‘wobbly’.

Keep reminding yourself of your motivation for moving to France in the first place.

You had the courage to do something extraordinary. Focus on the ‘why?’ as opposed to the guilt.

4. Care for elderly relatives

It is natural to worry about elderly family at home. You might believe you have let them down by moving to France, but you are entitled to your own life, thanks to the choices you have made.

Others might have made different choices. If they feel resentful, that is their issue.

There is no right or wrong here. You are not a selfish monster because you moved to France and others are left with the burden of caring for elderly relatives.

You can agree to return regularly to take over from them.

Or, if your relatives are well enough, perhaps bring them over to France for frequent but short periods of time.

You could also take over administrative duties to share the burden. Caring for elderly relatives does not mean you have to be there on tap – and there are plenty of external agencies who can be called in to help.

Read more: Stress-busting tips for when friends come to stay with you in France

5. Do not fret over children

Focus on the benefits of their new life abroad.

Learning a different language and being part of a new culture can be inspiring.

I know this from my own experience, having been brought up bilingual in Glasgow and Nice. To this day, I remain grateful to my parents for this gift.

The world is huge, but has become more accessible due to international travel.

You cannot live your children’s life for them. If they choose to return to their native land, they can do that later.

Make their friends welcome in your French home in the meantime.

Read more: ‘I studied for my Bac in France, and travelled to Britain for rowing’

6. Accept the things you cannot change

You deserve every good opportunity to grow, and cannot please everyone.

We only get one shot at life, and this is your moment. How others feel is none of your business.

Expat guilt will not vanish so create space for difficult feelings, be clear about what made you decide to live abroad, and practise self-compassion.

Expat guilt-busters

• Keep in touch with family and friends abroad. Good communication is vital for sound mental health.

• Remember their birthdays and anniversaries. Send surprise gifts.

• If you feel a guilt attack coming on, talk to your spouse, partner or friends.

• Guilt could be a sign of a deeper problem. If in distress, contact your local doctor and ask for a referral to an English-speaking counsellor.

• Remember you have a right to be happy and to live your own life, wherever that may be.

If you have any experiences to share about overcoming expat guilt, or any questions about the emotional aspects associated with living in France, please feel free to email Cynthia via

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