We’re reaching the end of the series and we’ve been through a hell of a journey together. We went from reaching inside of us and seeing all the things that made our expat mums lives difficult, to putting on some rose tinted glasses and realising that there is a lot of beauty in what we do. We also tried to see our lives in context with the rest of the world and discovered that we may very well be helping to make the world a better place. But now we’re reaching my favourite part of the series. The part where I tell you all about how I was able to get rid of my limiting expat mum beliefs and become a more serene and happier expat mum.
That dark place
It is very easy to fall into despair and desperation during a rough patch as an expat mum. I distinctively remember the moment when I hit rock bottom. It wasn’t pretty, I assure you.
Expat motherhood had hit me hard. I hadn’t had an easy start with my first child, battling with a fierce few weeks of baby blues and a newborn who stubbornly didn’t seem to want to nurse, even though he was hungry.
That darker place
But the hardest period I went through as an expat mum was the one right after moving my whole family to the UK. Yes, after planning (and executing) all the moving activities. To be fair, I was on maternity leave for my second child and I am an organisation and planning aficionado, so of course, I did all of the moving in a sleep-deprived state.
Believe it or not, the move wasn’t the hardest part. Once we got there, the kids started in their new nursery, which was easy for the youngest, but a struggle for the oldest. He didn’t speak the language and couldn’t communicate, so he went through a few rough weeks (and so did I) at the beginning.
And that wasn’t the hardest part either! It turns out that the only job that my husband was offered in the UK (yes, we moved because I obtained a research fellowship at the University of Cambridge, so he had to tag along) was one that entailed travelling 50% of the time. For those of you who are not into numbers, it means he was away –on average – 2 weeks a month.
It was terrifying. I was alone 50% of the time in a foreign (several times foreign) country where I didn’t know many people, working and bringing up two kids. Dealing with all the night wakings, illnesses, tantrums, food fights. You get the picture.
So, yes, at the beginning I was terrified. The nights were the worst part. Right when I just wanted to pass out until the next day, I would start freaking out about what would I do if anything happened, or if – holy crap – something happened to me alone with the kids.
But, time lets you see things with a new perspective. During one of Dad’s trips (somewhere between the 30th and 40th trip), I found myself at home on a Friday afternoon sipping on a cup of tea. The kids were playing with some Legos on the floor. It was cold and rainy outside (I mentioned it was in the UK, right?), but the house was full of warmth and colour. The kids were alright. And I was alright too! I could, after all, be a happier expat mum!
I had been through all the things mothers go through, but I didn’t have the family and friend support network to help me through it.
So it hit me! I had been through a lot. I had been through all the things mothers go through, but I didn’t have the family and friend support network to help me through it. We didn’t have anyone to leave the kids with if we wanted to go out for the evening. We didn’t have anyone to turn to if the kids were sick and we had to work.
I made a mental note of all the tough moments I had gone through: birth and a bumpy breastfeeding relationship, caring for a baby alone in a foreign country with no family around, starting to work again and feeling the guilt eat me up, seeing my son fight the anesthesia (and lose) on the operating table, having a newborn while that happened, moving the whole family to yet another foreign country, working with two kids and with not much of Dad around.
It was a long list! And yet, there I was, on that rainy Friday afternoon in our house in Cambridge, UK. With my husband and parents about 2000 km away, my sister and brother at about 15000 km away. My kids playing on the floor and me drinking a cup of tea.
And we were alright.
The one thing that made me a happier expat mum
After that blissful moment, I decided to try to find out why I suddenly felt at peace, serene and happy. How did I come to reach that blissful feeling? After all, I am a researcher so I like analysing things and finding correlations.
I had artificially created the one thing that expat mums crave and need the most: I created my very own expat mum support system.
It turns out that I had developed systems that helped me cope with the hard job of being a working expat mum with very little help and a travelling spouse. I had artificially created the one thing that expat mums crave and need the most: I created my very own expat mum support system.
And the funny part was that it wasn’t exclusively composed of people. One of the most important mindset shifts an expat mum must go through is accepting that they’re pretty much on their own on this one. And that’s OK.
This is the way you chose, so embrace it and make it yours. You’re an expat mum, you’re on your own most of the time. You need to develop your own support system. And you probably partially have, without realising it. I have only rationalised it and put a name to it. Seeing it on paper gives you the feeling that being a happier expat mum is not as hard as it seems.
I did, of course, made a few close friends who I knew I could count on if things went badly even in the middle of the night (hello, peace of mind!). But they were just the emotional support I needed, I never had to call them (thankfully). I also developed systems to deal with all the practicalities of life as an expat mum.
How to build your own support system to become a happier expat mum
After this realisation, I sat down one day and started to define and shape what this support system looked like for me. And a beautiful mindmap full of balance and strength came out. And I’d love to share it with you.
By now you’re now probably wondering: So how do I build this “expat mum support system” of yours? And what exactly does it look like? What does it take to become a happier expat mum?
Those are excellent questions! Unfortunately, there is not enough room in this post to answer them. Most of all, I wanted to create a cliff hanger for the last post of the series. Keep an eye for it (or subscribe below). It is due next week.