Being a new mum is a tough enough job, right? Dealing with a new baby, loss of identity, sleep deprivation, teething, constant conflicting advice is enough for any new parent. Try adding a move to a different country and starting your own business into the mix……I moved from London, UK to Geneva, Switzerland just over a year ago. With my new born baby we relocated for my husband’s work. I left my career working in one of the biggest teaching hospitals in the UK as a specialist nurse and began to pursue a new career as a paediatric sleep consultant, helping parents with their children’s sleep problems.
Not all what is seems
Firstly, just to set the record straight, the majority of expat women are not pampered housewives drinking G&Ts on the veranda, nor are we shielded from the stress of adapting to life in a foreign culture. New language, not to mention driving on the other side of the road, remembering shops aren’t open Sundays, and some days you just won’t be able to get a decent flat white (gosh I still struggle with this) are just a few things to get your head around.
So how to adjust?
Apart from nowhere being quite like central London living, one of the toughest things I immediately found is being without your support network of family and friends around you. Those days can be long and tiring! How did I get over this? I reached out to mum groups and baby classes and soon found lots of other mums in a similar position. What a relief! This took time and energy. Getting out of your comfort zone and attending groups sometimes in a foreign language was tough. Making the effort was so worthwhile.
Then came the worry that my friends in London and family would become distant. Will I ever see them? What a turnaround, we now spend real quality time with them when they visit for long weekends. It’s amazing how you don’t make the effort when you are living in the same city. However, a bit of distance seems to have made a stronger relationship with some of my family and friends and given us more quality time together.
It’s ok to feel like ‘this country sucks’ sometimes
I get it, not every expat mum struggles with this transition. However, I bet more women experience struggles than they are willing to admit. Grappling with a loss of career, identity and support network back home. The super woman persona that has taken years to build can take a hit and that can hurt. Being honest and getting help if needed is ok and strikes me as a foundation for survival in what can be a very difficult transition.
It’s amazing what a bit of culture development and language learning can do for your confidence. Get stuck in, I say. Joining some local language classes can be a great way to make friends, develop your business and give you a sense of success in what can be a very overwhelming time.
I now feel capable and resourceful
Expat life has it positives and negatives. While traveling around the world and living in different countries has been some of the best things I’ve experienced in life, unfortunately my husband’s job has required a lot of time away from us as a family. He has to travel on average four times a year for work, for weeks at a time. I used to dread this. Being sole carer at home in a foreign country is tough. I would have sleepless nights weeks before his trip, wondering how I would even manage to get the bins out on my own! After I’d managed these business trips a few times, I began to realise that I was doing an amazing job juggling home life, parenting and running my business helping other parents with their child’s sleep. The “guilt gifts” he bought back from duty free were an added bonus!
Look after yourself and enjoy your new country
Looking after yourself is an important part of the expat transition. Eating well, getting enough sleep and doing things that make you happy are so important. Forget the mum groups and baby classes for a moment and make sure you are getting some time to yourself. Whether that’s skiing, hiking, lake swimming or going out for drinks with a local group. Make the most of your new country surroundings. Your well-being is just as important as your baby or husband. If you’re not functioning well, it will take its toll on those around you.
An incredible sense of accomplishment and success
So far from being enticed by the high life, those of us that sign up for an expat life do so not because living abroad is easy, but because we love the stimulation of a challenge. It makes you feel energised and alive. Balancing that with a family life and a successful business running across two countries has been one of my biggest achievements. Managing all of these things I have overcome tough times through my relationships and surroundings. I better appreciate the good times as a result. Expat life has its struggles, but it can be a great adventure too.