Five Ways Being an Expat Makes You a Stronger Mom
Granted, being a mom is a tough (yet unpaid) job. Becoming a mother will turn into one of those events that divide your life into “before” and “after”. An event that will deeply affect, if not redefine, your identity.
As if that wasn’t enough, a few brave women embark on this adventure while also being expats. Needless to say, the combination can make the whole experience a little bumpy, especially at the beginning.
Yes, going through expat motherhood will probably bend you at some point. And you may stay bent for a while. But you won’t break. You’ll sit up straight again, and you will be stronger than you were before. Being an expat mom makes you stronger, more resourceful, and more resilient in at least five different ways.
1. You experience motherhood without a support network.
A few lucky mothers go through the postpartum period as ethereal milky fairies living in a dream. I wasn’t one of them, and neither are most new moms. The time after giving birth can be a wild ride, and if you’re an expat, it means that your own mother (to whom you feel like you owe an apology) is — at best — a few hours away. Dad is also bound to start working soon. So the whole business can become quite lonely since the (possibly few) friends you’ve made so far are as busy as you and can't hang out with you all the time.
But your baby will grow, and you will be growing with her as a mother. You will find alternative ways of staying in touch with your family, and you will develop the strategies to create a new support system. You will make it all work, and once you take a look back at what you have achieved, you will feel accomplished and resourceful.
The postpartum period is not the only moment when you’ll feel the absence of family support Once the baby starts growing, you will start building a new routine around her. And you will soon realize that your everyday life is way more complicated and less predictable than before. You’ll need babysitting if you want to do anything alone with your partner. The baby will get sick, so you’ll need extra arrangements in case (when) that happens.
You get the picture: you’ll end up developing a network of people, work absence strategies, and techniques to make it all work. As an expat mom with small kids, you deserve an honorary project management certificate, just for making it all work.
2. You may have to deal with a traveling partner.
Expat life is not filled only with perks. Sometimes it also comes with a hefty tag. Work-related travel. While traveling to discover the world, moving as an expat family, and going on vacation are among the best things I’ve experienced in life, work-related travel definitely does not enter into that category.
If you’re an expat family and your partner has an expat job, it is likely that a demanding traveling schedule is part of his job description. If that’s the case, you’re up for a hell of a ride! Remember all those things you need to do to keep things afloat? Well, now you’re (literally) on your own.
My husband travelled on average two weeks a month, and I can tell you, it takes a toll on everyone. However, after some time I realized I was actually doing a great job! I developed coping strategies for the kids when they missed Dad, as well as a series of coping strategies for myself, and I came up with a detailed emergency plan that gave me that invaluable peace of mind and let me have a good night’s sleep.
Being a parent who spends a considerable amount of time as the sole caregiver, with no support network (maybe working like me?) and being able to make your lifework and feel normal will give you an incredible sense of accomplishment and success.
3. You become the central pillar your family relies on.
Whether both you and your partner work, you and your partner travel for work, or even if your partner is the one who stays at home, you’ll still be the mom. And moms are the glue that hold together the astonishing (and yet precarious) house of cards that is an expat family’s household.
So you won’t only be in charge of making things work on a practical level. You will also be the emotional center of gravity of your family. In the ever-changing world of an expat family, kids crave a constant force and point of reference to feel reassured.
Your kids will turn to you (sometimes not as pleasantly as you’d like) when they’re dealing with the relocation anxiety or culture shock.
You will therefore learn to deal with all those negative feelings yourself so that you can feel poised and pass on a sense of calmness and reassurance. You will get better at facing typical expat challenges and teach your children how to deal with them.
4. You become an expert on things you have never thought about before.
In your quest to make your expat family’s life richer and more fulfilling, you will start learning about many things that you may have never thought about before!
In your home country, you probably never actively thought about making friends. And yet as an expat mum you’ll become a pro at it. Not only for yourself (hello, afternoon coffee with fellow moms), but also for your little ones.
You’ll probably also become an expert on the schooling system of your host country to get a clear picture of the different options and schools near you. Since you’re an expat, you’ll also have thought about the prospect of leaving the country and minimizing the impact on your children’s education.
You’ll become an expert at planning an international family relocation (after having made a few mistakes, of course), and last but not least, you will probably start to learn a new language.
Yes, once you become an expat mom your palette of abilities will definitely be more varied and colorful than it has ever been!
5. You are able to choose what your family looks like.
My favorite perk of expat life is the sense of getting a clean slate. Moving to a new country as a family means you’ll be a bit lonely and have a harder time at dealing with all the practicalities, yes. But it also means that you get the last say on what your family looks like. And that’s incredibly liberating.
As an expat mom, you’ll be free of all commitments and judgment stemming from your home culture. You will be able to define your new identity as a family, and you will most likely have no one around to tell you off.
One day you’ll wake up and feel empowered, resourceful, resilient, and strong.
It’s easy to dwell only on the difficulties of expat motherhood, on the extra load of work, on the absence of family support, on the estrangement of your children from your home culture.
However, looking at expat motherhood from the opposite perspective is much more motivating and enriching. All those difficulties you’ve gone through, all the stress and guilt, have actually served to make you a stronger, more resourceful, and more resilient mom.
Now go and write down all the things that have helped to make you stronger. Be thankful for having gone through them. They’re the reason you are who you are: an awesome expat mom.
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