This chat's been sitting on my laptop for a while now. I've been editing it and now I think it's ready to share. Some chats flow so easily from my fingers while others are there in my head but struggle to be related thru my fingers onto the keyboard.
I'd LOVE to chat with you on a daily basis, and sometimes there's HEAPS to share, and other times, not so much. The ups'n'downs of everyday life right? At times like that, our Facebook page keeps us connected (if you've not LIKED mshavachat on FB yet, please do, the more the merrier)
Anyhow, MrsD and I went walking a while ago (actually several weeks ago). I hope she won't mind me sharing this story with you. I'm sure I said then 'this is such a great topic for ms-havacahat'.
That's how some chats end up here. Inspiration from a conversation with a friend, or in a group. It's not all me all the time.
Here we go:
One year, MrsD was unable (can't recall why) to attend the information session at night for parents at the beginning of the school year. You know the one, where the Head of School reaffirms why you've chosen the school, explains the schools philosophy to learning, promotes the upgrades around the campus that should have been finished before school started but are running over time, introduces teachers etc.
Her husband was home (a very rare happening as he travels a LOT) and offered to go in her place as he could tell having a clash of events was troubling her.
She printed the list of teachers, they discussed any issues/concerns they had and needed to be addressed, and off he went. After putting the address into the sat nav, he headed off to school and she went out. Her phone rang not long after "I found the school ok, where do I go now?'
Well, I roared with laughter, while also acknowledging, as she did, that it was also kinda sad.
The kids had been at school for a few years ...... he had no idea where to go once there because he'd never been. He, like other expat dads travel A LOT. MrD is away at least 6 months of the year and he's not the only one. MrsC husband lives/works in another country because they want their kids to have a normal childhood which they wouldn't get living where he is based. Another family has their dad on short term contracts, so moving every 6-12 months just wouldn't work for the kids, so they are based in the UK while dad visits as often as possible. Another set of friends are split mid-week due to the hours hubby works in London, so he opts to stay there rather than come home simply to sleep but has Fridays off to be with the family. And another example, is a friend who's husband's business was sold and relocated by the new owners to another country so he's there for 2 years over transition their kids are at a critical point in their school lives so they decided to stay put and have dad go and visit - often. Another friend has made the huge decision to pop their kids into boarding school in their home country for continuity of education/lifestyle/extended family close by.
These scenarios are not unique. Sadly, in expat life 'family life' takes many forms. There's a community of mid-week-single-mums as the dads work long hours/travel for work, bunker down with family on weekends and go to work again.
Before I go on I should say that this scenario is slowly changing and that there are more and more mums being the expat employee, with dad staying home with the kids. Very rarely do both expat parents work full time.
Some of you might think WT - you have a choice. No one's making you live this lifestyle. What's more important career or family? Change jobs! Move home! Redefine the work hours! Take control of work/life balance!
It should be that simple, but it's far from it.
M I A - Mums In Action! (or DIA, Dads In Action)
Co-parenting is not a term often used when talking about expats.
Single parenting, while keeping the absent one informed and included is key to a happy and long marriage/family.
When the working parent comes home, dividing their time between their partner and kids is difficult as everyone wants and needs their time and attention, friends want to catch up while you just want to bunker down with the family; or you want to sleep!
Two Fat Expats on a recent podcast talked about Lead Parent - that's the one who Leads the way - settling the kids into school, establishing yet another new home, making friends, researching doctors, hairdressers, learning where to shop for what, maybe even learning a new language or navigating a new culture. All this is done while the 'other parent' goes to work, or hops on a plane for a business trip.
At our recent Parent information session, introducing the Middle School program, G commented that there were very few dads there and he could have stayed home while I went. WHY? I asked - you don't travel! it's one a a handful of things he can attend (most stuff is during the day) and I absolutely expect his support and our daughter deserves it. (Footnote; He said it in a joking way, but I took it a little bit too seriously, so I'm just telling you what happened)
The other consideration to acknowledge is new families have only just arrived and don't have anyone reliable to sit with the kids while they go out (huge disruption to date nights), so one parent (dad) offers to stay home so Mum can attend as she's the Lead Parent.
I said to MrsD, I appreciate just how unique and fortunate we are as an expat family that G does not travel for work, he's home every night, and is flexible to a point with his hours so can be home early (providing there's enough notice) to join me at evening meetings.
Mums (or Dads) In Action ..... imagine all of this, multiplied by the number of kids you have! As the parent of one child, I'm in constant awe of friends. I also offer to help out. Having one child, there's always room for 2 more in our small car; or a spare bed for a sleep over if mum and dad need a spur of the moment date night; or notes to be shared after a meeting at school.
- School runs.
- Meetings with various teachers.
- Organising 'stuff'.
- Getting involved in Parents Group/Association.
- Keeping the school calendar and personal diaries up to date.
- Depending on the age of kids, this could mean up to 4 school calendars
- Add sports, drama, music, art, community stuff !!!!!!!!!!!!!!
- Buying another pair of indoor shoes cos their feet won't stop growing..
- Impersonating a taxi driver every afternoon.
- One car, one driver needed to be at various places at the same time - IMPOSSIBLE
- Car pooling is a great idea, sharing the dropping off/picking up
- Helping/checking/bribing homework is done, as well as musical instrument practise, sport etc.
- Encouraging hygiene on a nightly basis.
- Managing use of mobile phones or time online with friends.
- Encouraging them OUTSIDE.
- Sorting out the weekends activities around the kids social calendar.
- Organising Date Night
The list goes on ................ so how those of you who work full time outside the home do it is beyond me.
MrsD (a different one) once told her housekeeper 'I work to hard to keep you employed. If I didn't work such long hours, I'd be able to do this myself, so please help me and do as I ask' (Long story and it's not as rude as it might sound. All good. Everyone's happy.)
Reminds me again of Annabelle Crabb's recent book, The Wife Drought, Why Women Need A Wife and Men Need a Life.
We are a fortunate that G's work allows him to be home every night; that he's able to be involved with what's going on and I do not feel like a M I A. The few times he works longer than usual hours (and they are long at the best of times) for a few nights in a row I 'suffer' but then I think of friends and laugh it off.
Why do we do it?
Probably because the job opportunities at 'home' are less, that the excitement and career prospects are greater overseas, because it's fascinating living in a different country, because we are a team and we agreed to this lifestyle and if one of us doesn't do their role properly, the team (i.e.: family) is affected.
I'm proud of my M I A status. I've learnt so much about myself, my capabilities, my limitations, my strengths. I've put myself into situations I'd never thought about and survived!
So, to all you M I A's (and dads too) well done! Congratulations. You're doing a great job. Find a friend like me, who has one kid cos we're often only too happy to help you out.
Remember those famous words said by a very famous American Lady 'Its takes a village'. And you know what, it truly does.