Being an expat mum is the hardest job you’ll ever have
I’d like to take you through the journey I went through when I became an expat mum, so I am starting a new 5-post series on expat motherhood: how being an expat mum is the hardest job you’ll have and yet how ridiculously important it is, and how you should be proud of it.
And I was a seasoned expat by the time my first-born arrived. And it shook my soul. Nothing truly prepares you to become a mum. Nope. And if you’re to become an expat mum, fasten your seat belt! You’re up for a hell of a ride.
A ride that may start rough, rugged, untidy, but that will gradually calm down only to reveal itself to you in all its glory and let you see the beauty you’ve created and how you’ve been transformed from head to toe. We expat mums are sort of like butterflies. The most badass, resourceful, resilient and complex of butterflies.
So, I’d like to start the series creating some tension – because that’s good storytelling (or so I’m told). Without further ado, here’s why being an expat mum will undeniably be the hardest job you’ll ever have (apart from the obvious fact that it is a 24/7, 365 days, the rest of your life kind of job).
The act of becoming a mother is 10 times harder as an expat
When you’re pregnant, you usually obsess over one thing and one thing only, and that is childbirth.
Oh, boy. If only I had spent 10% of that time thinking about what comes after childbirth, I would have made myself a huge favour. I wish someone had told me – convincingly enough – that what comes next (particularly as an expat) is way (way, way, way) harder.
I know there are a lucky few who sail through their puerperium (that’s a fancy word for post-partum) as ethereal milky fairies living in a dream.
That wasn’t me, and neither are most newly mums. I was a messy heap of tears, cold compresses and general soreness. That’s because expat puerperium is much harder than regular ones, and here’s why:
- Your family (and particularly your mother, who knows what you’re going through and to whom you feel like you now owe a lot of apologies) is – at best – a few hours away.
- Since your tribe is not around (and Dad is back to work), you can feel very lonely. Expat parents are very busy, so don’t expect your expat friends to come to you every day. If you need to talk to someone in person you have to make an extra effort to organise it. If you’re going through this right now and you feel like you need to yell at someone, drop us a line or two on our Facebook group. We. Get. You.
- The problem with the lack of close family around extends beyond the immediate delivery. You’ll find – after things have normalised a bit – that you need to take care of A LOT. As I said, mums don’t think about what’s after the delivery, but we should. With plenty of time. Because we’re mainly on our own.
The logistics of it is a nightmare
Even if you were smarter than me and brought your family along when you gave birth, it won’t last forever. Eventually, they’ll go back home (I know, thank goodness). After they’re gone, you’re left to your own devices. You and your partner have to figure out a way to make it work. And it feels daunting at first.
Expat mums often feel all the weight of their families on their shoulders (logistically and emotionally). Expat spouses – due to the expat nature of their jobs – often need to travel for considerable amounts of time, which aggravates the already delicate situation.
Yes, as an expat mum you’re pretty much on your own. So the logistics become delicate. We don’t have a support system, so we need to create one ourselves. I’ll go deeper into the expat mum support system later in this blog post series, so I won’t give too much away just yet (see what I did there?).
It’s easy to lose your identity
Expat mums can lose their identities on two levels: on an expat level and on a mother level (as if the first wasn’t enough).
Expat mums, just like any mum can feel like they’ve lost their identity after their kids are born. A mother is never the same person after childbirth. Whether we like it or not, these little people change us and our perspective of our lives completely. Not to mention the endless string of diaper changing, breast/bottle feeding, tending and caring. Who has time (or energy) for “me” after all that?
As if that wasn’t enough, we should add expat loss of identity to the mix. Here’s what it looks like:
- Expat mums may become inactive, waiting for things to happen to them. In this life, very little things happen to you without you trying hard for them. Newton said it in his first law of motion: things stay the same unless an external force changes them. Trust him, he was really smart.
- Expat mums may stay in the past. Reminiscing how great things were before they moved.
- Expat mums may give up trying since they’ll probably move and lose everything again. This is a biggie and a very dangerous game.
Your worries about your kids reach a whole new level
What do mums worry the most about their kids? Everything, of course! All mums – regardless of where they’re from or where they live – want their kids to be happy.
Well, if you’re an expat mum then you’ll have to consider quite a few variables more:
- Worry about their language skills. You’ll worry if you’re hurting them by exposing them to 2-3-4 languages if they’ll be scarred for life. They won’t. They’ll probably thank you for it one day. But we’re mums, so we can’t help but worry.
- Fear for your child’s connection to your own culture. You’ll fear that they grow up in a completely different culture than yours and that they won’t identify with it when they grow up.
- Concern about how (and if) they’ll adapt to the nth move and change of country.
- Stress about them being “Third-culture children” and being home-less.
- Worry about schooling in a new country/with a new language.
Let’s wrap it up
I must confess that I didn’t intend this first instalment of the expat motherhood series to be this long. But as I was writing, more and more things came to my mind.
I can clearly see three reactions to this piece: a) veteran expat mum who recognizes herself in these lines and is a bit amused/depressed about still not having figured out some of the stuff in here, b) a newly expat mum or an expat-mum-to-be who suddenly feels overwhelmed and stressed about all the things she should have been doing apart from checking if her cheese is pasteurized and learning the amount of mercury in fish and c) those who don’t care to whom I wish good luck in the future.
If you’re amongst the first two: don’t despair! I’ve created a cheat sheet to help you start building your so much needed support system.