What an interesting week it’s been!
Since I published and shared my last post on “how being an expat mum is the hardest job you’ll ever have”, it has been viewed about 2700 times in 140 countries and it has got 400 Facebook engagements.
I must admit I did not expect such a fiery reaction.
I enjoyed engaging with the comments it received and how it open up a parallel discussion about the definition of “expat” as opposed to “immigrant”. For the record, I use the term “expat” to refer to someone who resides outside of their birth country (regardless of the reason why they’re there, ethnicity, religion, height, etc). Only 11% of the 14000 people who answered Internation’s Expat Insider Survey corresponded to “The foreign assignee” category (and only 37% of those are women), which is often associated with the word “expat”. So, statistically speaking, we are more likely expats for reasons other than being relocated by your company (or your spouse’s).
While most expat mums related to the words, a few outpaced me and started talking about how great expat motherhood actually is. To those mothers I say chapeau. Not only you’re right, but you were also able to see it through the generally gloomy tone of my last post.
To all the other expat mums, those who felt the same things that I did in my last post, I bring good news! While my last post was meant to build some tension, sense of camaraderie and understanding, in this second post of the series I would like to talk about how rewarding expat motherhood is.
Although it may seem lonely and grim sometimes (especially at the beginning), let me tell you: being an expat mum is the best decision I’ve made in my life, and here are 10 reasons why.
1. You get a clean slate
Regardless of how close you are with your family. Growing up in your home country shapes you. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it defines you, but it certainly sets the tone. From the opinions of family and friends, to what’s considered acceptable in your country, they all add up to shaping your behaviour.
When you become an expat you get a clean slate. Nobody knows you. And as much as that may make you feel lonely, it also opens a whole new world for you.
This applies of course to your parenting choices as well. You will be free to make your choices and (if you allow it) your past will have little influence on them. You can take the reins of your life and make your own decisions.
You also have the freedom to spend your time any way you like. Maybe you relocated because you got a new job (exciting!), or maybe you came following your spouse and left your job. Perhaps you used to work and now decided that you want to stay at home with your kids. The beauty of the expat experience is that you get a white sheet of paper and you can write on it whatever you like.
But don’t wait for words to be written on it for you. You have to write it yourself. If you feel like you lost your identity, redefine it in that piece of paper. Want to work? Go do it. You can’t because you don’t have a visa? Volunteer. Start a new mums group. You need to act – wishful thinking won’t get you far.
2. You will finally build your own home
If you were an expat before becoming a mum, then you probably experienced the “expat limbo” (aka: feeling like you’re neither here nor there), feeling detached from your home country and not integrated with your new country.
Let me tell you, once you have a baby you will finally start making your new home away from home. I believe home is where we raise our kids. And when you start that incredible adventure, you will see that you’ll get immersed in your host country and begin to form your own home in it.
You’ll learn the nursery rhymes, the language (if you haven’t still), how the health system and school system works. You will go out more and meet other parents. You’ll learn about their habits and traditions.
Yes, those little people will help you make your expat house your home.
Want to know the best part? That home moves with you. Home is no longer a place. Of course we loved our houses and we keep nice memories of them. To our little expat family of 4, home is where we are right now, together.
They say living in the present moment is the key to happiness. Well, kids certainly help us live the present moment since it’s the only way of life they know. Raising expat kids means raising kids who are not tied to a place or a set of cultural rules. This doesn’t mean they’re rootless, it means they have roots that are as wide as the planet. And that makes me deeply happy.
3. You become resourceful and resilient
When you go through all the hard things about being an expat mum you’re bound to bend. Giving birth in a foreign country is tough. Figuring out how to make it work on your own is hard too. All the worries you carry about your kids and the risk of losing your identity are not far behind either. Yes, all this weight will probably bend you at first.
But you won’t break. You can’t. Your family relies on you. And that will give you the strength you need to pull through.
No, you won’t break. You’ll bend and maybe you’ll fall, but only to rise up stronger. And you’ll carry on. You will look back at all that you’ve done and realise that you’re actually pretty badass. They say it takes a village to raise a kid. Well, often expat mums only have a handful of people at best, so you’re definitely strong and resourceful. You only need to look back and see it.
I recommend you do exactly that when you’re done reading this post. Sit down and write all the tough things you went through. And after that, take a hard look at yourself and see that you made it through all that. You will know parts of you that you didn’t even know existed. And you will find them thanks to the “expat” in expat mum.
4. The logistics are a nightmare, yes, but you call the shots
I’ve already mentioned how nightmarish the logistics of being an expat mum can be (working or stay-at-home). But, on the bright side, you choose what those logistics look like!
I know, it takes planning and organising. If you’re an expat mum you need to plan and organise. It comes with the job description.
But, hey! That means that you decide what to do with your family time. Plus, there will be fewer “commitments” so you’ll have plenty of time on the weekends for exploring your new home, going out, organising a play date or staying home for a nice cuddle. No obligations, no judgments.
I feel obliged to add a little note here: there is a particular time in the life of an expat mum where she really needs to wing it (no planning allowed!). And that’s the first few weeks of post-partum – if you care about your sanity.
5. You will become an expert friend-maker
Expats often struggle with making friends. Well, as an expat mum you’ll become a friend-making expert. The truth is that having kids makes it much easier to meet other people with similar interests.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be at nursery/school. You can meet other mums at baby massage/toddler music/baby gym activities if you decide not to take your kids to the nursery.
Heck, you can strike a conversation with anyone in the park while your kids are playing. It’ll be good for your language skills and your friend network. Being able to grab a coffee with another mum who is going through the same things you’re going through is priceless.
6. You change the relationship of your family with the world
One of the biggest perks of being an expat is experiencing the world through a different lens. This is an excellent lesson in humility. It releases you from your preconceptions and allows you to explore and experience the different habits of all the different host countries you’ve lived in. You can then adopt the ones that resonate with you the most. Your family will be able to create their own unique international culture and identity.
If you’re afraid of your children feeling uprooted, fear not! Not belonging to one single place doesn’t mean that they don’t belong anywhere. It means they can choose to belong to many places. And that’s a great way of experiencing life.
7. You’ll grant your children the gift of multilingualism
Bringing up a multilingual child (or children) is hard work. It requires a clear plan, discipline and patience (a lot of it). To spice things up, there are some potential disadvantages to multilingualism. They may speak a bit later (my first did, my second is ahead of her age, so I doubt it’s the multilingualism), they may mix the languages (yes! Especially if they’re similar as in our case) and if you are striving for full literacy, you’ll have to go the extra mile to teach them. However, there are many advantages to raising your kids in a multilingual setting.
I’m anxiously waiting for the day my kids will thank me for it. Although now that I think of it, my son is always proud to say he speaks 4 languages to whoever asks him about it, so that’s a start.
8. You’ll spend quality time with your relatives
As expat mums, we often feel the lack of our extended families around to lend us a hand or two. However, having a few hours of distance ensures that you’ll have to arrange for them to come visit (giving you time to prepare!). This means you won’t have unexpected visits in your everyday life that may mess up your routine and plans.
Then, when the family comes to pay you a visit, they’ll be more than willing to help you during their stay and you’ll be able to spend quality time with them.
We often don’t engage as much when we see someone every day than when we only see them sparingly. The reunion becomes a reason for celebration. Make sure to make exciting plans and involve your little ones. Take them to the airport to greet them, that’s incredibly sweet and moving for your relatives and it will reinforce their relationship.
9. Your family will grow stronger
If you’re an expat mum, chances are that you will relocate while your kids are little. While children adapt to change more easily than adults, they still have to deal with mourning their losses and building new relationships.
The family nucleus is usually the one point of reference that stays constant throughout the changes. So, you might not like the idea of being a nuclear family, but you have to love the fact that you will be closer and have stronger links with your kids.
10. You will give your kids a rich and unique cultural background
Rather than absorbing all the culture of your birth country, you’ll be able to give your children the best of it, while cutting out the background noise. They’ll also be able to absorb the culture(s) of their host country(ies). Every expat child has a unique combination of culture and languages, which depends on the birth countries of their parents, their host country and the preferences of the family.
Each expat child is truly one of a kind. An incredibly interesting human being with a rich and textured background, with so many different levels. As an expat mum, you’d be granting your child the ability to see that the world is full of people who is different from them. That they do things differently, and you’ll give them the chance to be totally fine with it. My kids have a deep sense of awareness with respect to their place in the world, much deeper than I could ever dream of having. And I can’t wait to see how that richness helps them grow to be remarkable people.
Let’s wrap it up
I’m happy to announce that this significantly more positive post is longer than the previous one by a thousand (!) words. This feels great to me since I am not a born optimist, but I work hard to see the positive side of things.
If the previous post was meant to show other mums that they were not alone and that what they were united to other mums in their struggle, this one is meant to make us see that, however hard it may be, it’s still damn awesome to be in our shoes.
It’s meant to bring hope, support and reassurance to all those expat mums out there who are still feeling that being an expat mum is the hardest hob they’ve ever had.
Now go and write down all the things you went through that made you stronger. Be thankful for having gone through them. They’re the reason you’re who you are: an awesome expat mum. Cultivate the feeling until next week, when I’ll tell you all about how important our work is.