I knew that when I became a mum for the first time, it would be tough. We all know enough mums and have read enough stories to know that! However, if I am honest, I had no idea how much more difficult this experience would be, due to us living abroad.
However, on the plus side, I had both my daughters whilst living abroad, away from family, so I didn’t have anything to compare it too, so I just got on with it and I think, did a pretty good job. (Well, I tried my best and my daughters have turned out just fine)
All being said, being an expat mum is tough for many different reasons, but as I write this blog post, I now realise that all of these experiences have just made me a stronger mum and have made me into the mum I am now, which is something I am incredibly proud of.
Experiencing Motherhood Without A Support Network
When I was pregnant and gave birth to my first daughter, I obviously didn’t have any prior experience, so I had nothing to compare it too. This was a good thing, as although sometimes things were tough, so tough! I just learnt to get on with it. Navigating hospital appointments, arranging medical insurance, antenatal classes, feeling generally yucky etc… The medical system in Geneva, couldn’t be more different to the NHS, so there was a lot to learn and also meant that my family and friends back home, couldn’t really help with certain questions that I had. Many of my hospital appointments were with French speaking doctors or with professionals with limited English, so as my French was very limited, and my husband wasn’t fluent, I believe that I went through my first pregnancy, maybe not knowing or understanding everything, which some may say could be a good thing!
I am a very social person and I was used to a big friendship group back in the UK, so I went out of my way to make friends. I had joined meet up groups whist I was pregnant, I knew people through antenatal classes and they were also all expats and we all gave each other advice and recommendations. So before I knew it, I was so busy with coffee dates pre baby and then actual playdates once my baby girl had arrived. I also joined as many baby groups as I could, to get out of the house, to be social and to get my baby girl socialising too. Some of these included classes such as, Music Together, Gymboree and other groups through meet up. All these groups and classes were in English. Soon I had lots of friends and most importantly, a good support network, which looking back now, was invaluable to me as a first time mummy living abroad.
Throughout both my pregnancies and after the births of both my daughters, I obviously found alternative ways to stay in contact with my family and friends, through Facetime and Skype, which were a godsend. It meant that they could follow my journey and see my ever growing bump! I sent pictures via email or through a family whatsapp group. I would also update them on any new milestones, so that they all felt that they were part of it. This also made me so sad, as I wanted them all to be part of my child’s life. We had some friends and family actually visit us too, so they could actually meet the baby, mainly close family. This was lovely and something that I really appreciated, but without sounding ungrateful, I do remember thinking how much easier it would be if we actually lived in the same country as them, as everyone who visited would have to stay over and sometimes I found this quite tough, especially when I had a newborn.
My second pregnancy was a very different experience, as this time I had a very active 2.5 year old daughter to look after, run after and entertain. Not having family around, also meant that we had no one to help look after her, so when she wasn’t at nursery, my husband was at work, it was full on! The one good thing about this, was that running around after her, kept me fit throughout the pregnancy!
Babysitters in Geneva are ridiculously expensive, so we rarely had one. I personally found this very difficult, as I knew the grandparents would be over in a flash, if we were living back in the UK. However, friends offered to look after our daughter when we had routine hospital appointments, which we were so grateful for!
Looking back, I did feel a lot calmer second time around, as even though I did have two very different births, I knew what to expect with the hospital, routine appointments and check ups. I was also a little better with my French and I felt that I had more confidence to speak up, if I didn’t understand something.
Being A Trailing Spouse, But Proud Of It
I had never actually heard this term before I became one! But once I moved countries with my hubby, I heard it all of the time.
I obviously moved to Geneva, for my husbands job. (See my first ever blog post) I always knew, even before I got a job there, that his would bring in the most money and I was always fine with this.
I soon realised that every time I would meet somebody new, they would ask the question, ‘Are you a trailing spouse?’ or ‘What does your husband do?’ This was always the first question within the expat community. I would obviously answer ‘yes’, but I found that I would then go onto say things like, I was trying to find a job, or when I had my teaching job, say how much I loved it and how hard I worked and then when I became a Mum, trying to explain how much I was up to in the day etc… What I was saying to people were all true facts, but I soon realised, that I was always trying to prove myself and my worth to other people, which is just silly!
When I became a mother, I stopped working and like many mums, I put my absolute all into being the best mum that I could. I very soon realised that I didn’t have to prove myself to other people, especially people that would judge me for something like that. (Although, I am pretty sure that most of it was in my head) Being a mum is hard work but I loved it and I went out of my way for myself and my baby, to experience as much as we could in Geneva.
One day, I was finally able to respond to people, ‘Yes, I am here for my husbands work and I happily stay at home with the children’. I remember suddenly feeling very confident about what I did and essentially my role and that was a fantastic feeling. I was proud at what career my husband had chosen and I was proud of my choices too. We made a good team!
Making Good Friends And Then Having To Say Goodbye
It didn’t take me long to realise, that making friends with fellow expats, would be such a wonderful thing. As soon as I arrived, I inevitably met so many different people and I soon realised that if I had met them back home in the UK, I probably wouldn’t have even bumped into them, let alone become great friends wth them.
Living abroad, I found that it was very easy to overlook things that may have divided people back home. For example, age, socioeconomic status, culture, politics etc…. I found that, as we all had the English language that bonded us together, strong friendships formed just from that and very quickly! We were all going through the same things and needed each other to feel a sense of community. Without family around, I did find that myself and my new expat friends, relied on each other a lot more than you would on an average friend back home. It is therefore inevitable, that it was much easier to make close friends quickly.
However, the real downside to this, is that Geneva is a very transient place and people tend to only stick around for an average of 2-4 years and then move on. This can be due to job opportunities and various other things and therefore meant, that good friends would leave and I found this tough! I still remember the first time that a friend left to go back to live in the USA and I felt so sad.
When I became a Mum, I really felt the need to be able to meet people (Other new mums), in a similar situation to me. I did all the research on baby groups etc and I made myself go along to them and I soon knew so many new people, it was fantastic! As I mentioned above, I soon had a big group of friends.
I continued to make friends and also say goodbye. I went to many leaving parties. It was always horrible, but I did almost become hardened to it and I would look on the positive side, which was that I had made such an amazing friends and that I had them dotted all over the world.
When I left Geneva for the UK, I really was very sad, as I was leaving behind such a fantastic group of people. We had a big goodbye brunch (See picture at the top of this post) and there were a lot of tears. These girls had literally been my support network and we had gone through so much together and I felt very lucky to have met them. We are all still in contact and two of them have visited me already, which was great.
I have been told in the past, that I am good at making friends, but I do feel that my experience of being abroad and almost being pushed into it, has made me a far more confident person. As a result of me making lots of friends, my eldest daughter did too and still talks about them. She is a very sociable little girl and I like to think that her experiences in Geneva, helped with her becoming that way. Looking back now, I count the friends that I made, as a highlight of my experience.
Now I am back living in the UK, I did fear that due to my expat experiences, I would almost come across as over friendly. But actually, I have found that it has really helped me to meet people and to meet like minded people. It has given me the confidence to take my youngest daughter to all the baby groups and parks and just strike up conversations with people and as a result, I have already met some great people. Ironically, two friends that I have made, are ex expats.
Dealing With A Traveling Partner
I actually count myself as lucky, as my husband did go away for business when we lived in Geneva, but not nearly as much as some of my friends partners. However, I would absolutely dread him going away.
Before I had my first daughter, I would just fly home and stay with my family in the UK during the time that he was gone, but as soon as there was a little person thrown into the mix, doing that wasn’t just expensive, it also wasn’t that easy. As tough as it could be, being left with the baby, I actually found it easier being in Geneva in my home, with all of our things around us.
I always kept myself so busy, I didn’t mind too much and the time he was away, would usually whizz by. That being said, I always preferred it when he was around. But I did feel that being able to make your lifework and feel normal, gave me an incredible sense of accomplishment and success.
Now we are back living in the UK, he sometimes still has to go away for work, (Which is hard with two kids!) but I find that I am able to cope well and I also have the comfort of knowing that my family are not too far away if I need them.
Choosing What My Family Look Like
When I moved to Geneva, I have to admit that I liked the idea of having a clean slate. I saw it as a new country with new surroundings and a new me. When it came to starting a family, it was much the same. As I have mentioned previously, it was difficult being away from friends and family when I had my first daughter. However, it also meant that myself and my husband, were able to do exactly what we wanted and by that, I mean parent in our own way and get the last say on what our family looked like and I found this incredibly liberating.
As an expat mum, I was free of all judgement stemming from my own culture. I was able to define our new identity as a family and we had no-one giving us too much advice or telling us off!
Becoming An Expert At Things, I Never Thought I Would
Looking back now, I think it is so funny at the things that I became an expert in, when I was an expat mum. (I say expert very loosely!)
Being an expat mum, did seem to come with a lot of travelling. Although, this was mostly travelling to and from the UK, to visit friends and family. So inevitably, I spent a lot of time travelling by plane with a baby, then a toddler. I did a lot of this travelling on my own. Let me tell you, that was not easy, but I got through it and I am here telling the tale. (Maybe, that could be another blog post!) But, with each journey, I became much better with knowing what exactly I should pack in the suitcase, hand luggage (Snacks, drinks, toys etc…) Anything so that my toddler wouldn’t have a huge tantrum! Also, what time to check in, so that I could choose the best child friendly seat, if that even exists! What exact time to get the bus to the airport, navigating the airport. Too early means too much time at the airport, timing for a nap on the plane etc…. But lets face it, with all the planning in the entire world; this won’t ensure that your toddler will behave and not have a huge tantrum on the plane!!
Other things you seem to become an ‘expert’ in once becoming an expat mum is, knowing where to go to meet other English speaking mums, be it, the best baby groups to go to, baby friendly cafes, as well as the best parks and playgrounds. When I left Geneva for the UK, I actually gave a few of my friends who were pregnant with their first, a whole list of places and things to do, once they had given birth. I think that I just know how hard it can be to actually find out about all of these things and places and can also be very overwhelming and you don’t really know where to start. Its something that I myself would have hugely appreciated anyway.
To some it all up, I do think that it is easy to dwell only on the difficulties of being an expat mum, on the extra load of work, on the absence of family support etc… But, I did find that by looking at it from the opposite perspective, it is much more more motivating and enriching. All those difficulties that I went through, have actually served to make me a much stronger, more resourceful, and more resilient person and mother.