Expat families who move frequently know that it’s a challenge to keep everybody happy about all the changes. And few families move as often as military or diplomatic families, who move about every 2 or 3 years. So who better to give advice than parents who did it successfully for over 34 years?

Dr. and Mrs. Ivany – or Robert and Maryann – know a thing or two about successful moves, having raised 4 children around the world during (retired) General Ivany’s military career. They were invited to speak as a team to those gathered for FIGT, and their sage and practical advice inspired the audience to give them a standing ovation at the end.

Here are 8 steps to building a close expat family?

1. Family closeness does not come by itself. You have to work at it. It takes extra effort.

2. Build excitement about the next move and be positive. They had a ritual of always getting out the State Farm atlas and finding their next location on the map. They learned about the location – whether it was foreign or domestic – and found things to look forward to.

3. Family rituals are important. Dr. Ivany drew laughter from the crowd when he talked about one family ritual they had – a weekly “Forced Family Fun” day! They called it “FQ” for short. Robert and Maryann would plan an activity that everyone could participate in and would enjoy – the kids knew that they needed to show up. How many of us have negotiated with kids who reject our ideas of fun? Instilling this ritual in family life when they are young, and sticking to it, meant that the family did spend lots of quality and FUN time together.

3. Focusing on something bigger than yourself keeps perspective. They found that practicing their religious faith was an anchor for the family as well.

4. Take advantage of unique surroundings. If there are camels to ride, ride them! If there are new sites to explore, find them.

5. Connect with other members of the community so that there is mutual support. Give as much as you take.

6. Stay in touch with family as you are separated. “Thank God for Skype!” Dr. Ivany exclaimed.

7. Check out the school. This was their number one challenge and concern throughout his military career, especially since they had one special needs child. Hopefully you will find the right school for your children – but if you don’t, find the support your child needs. If that means making changes, then do it.

8. Keep your sense of humor. There will be bad days, and you have to find a way to laugh.

The Ivany’s must have done something right. All four children are grown now and serving the military in one way or another – and still continue to travel the world. It’s no wonder that at the end of their humorous, candid, and inspiring talk, this husband and wife team received a standing ovation.

What are some things that have worked for keeping your expat families strong? I invite you to comment and share what you have learned, too!

Next – the Ivany’s tips for couples to keep their relationship strong.

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