Sunday, September 19, 2010

My Transitions Abroad

Easter Together! (Dubai, UAE)
This week's adventure was an unusual one. While we are at home, we're busy re-establishing roles and responsibilities, with my husband Tobi now back from his half-year assignment in Dubai. Strangely, there are very few resources out there for expats and spouses dealing with non-military separation. However, I've come to discover that since the conditions are in many ways similar, the potential solutions are also relevant in our situation.

Let me take a step back. The amount of women caring for their families while their husbands are away - be it for 5-days out of every 7 for a sales position or the family trucking business, or for months at a time due to a delegation through Siemens, GE, or other international companies - are abundantly high. Personally, I have a half-dozen friends for whom this is a reality, and while in the beginning I felt pity for them and felt the need to bring them casseroles or pans of lasagne, I've come to realize that it's not a terrible way of life and - furthermore - it makes you a stronger, self-sufficient woman.  

Carrie is an American mother-of-two living in The Netherlands. Her husband has non-stop business trips to Russia, Asia, South Africa, and many parts of Europe. It's not unusual for him to be gone for half of every month. Ways that she copes are weekly trips to the gym, keeping herself VERY busy (with LOTS of visitors and a TON of trip planning!), and plenty of healthy, ready-made meals that are easy to prepare.  

Angie is a well traveled Dutch mother-of-two living in Zeeland. Her husband is gone for 5 days of the week for the family's trucking business. She has the perfect support network, since she lives in the same village as her parents and sister (who also happens to be her best friend). Angie eats with her parents and sister one night a week, and with her in-laws another.

Annemarie is a Dutch mother-of-two living in Belgium (though she spends her summers in Zeeland). Her husband owns a talent-agency and works extremely long hours. On top of that, he has more hobbies than a retiree. There's cycling, sailing, racing, and more. Annemarie's tricks? A maid, network of close friends, and the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others by volunteering at a hospice-style nursing home.  

Kirstin is an American mother-of-one (with one on the way), living in Dubai. Kerstin's husband is gone for a few weeks at a time, and home for a few weeks at a time (if I recall correctly!). Kerstin chose to live in a part of Dubai that is rich in Expats -- Jumeirah Beach Residence (or JBR). She joined the JBR Sand Pit group, where she meets other expat mommies every week for coffee, play dates, beachtime fun, and informative talks about life in Dubai.

Then there's my Aunt Beth, whose husband is gone for about a month of every year with the Air National Guard; Casey, another American and mother-of-two, whose husband is gone from Monday to Friday; Shannon, mother-of-three and one-time resident of Salt Lake City, whose husband was setting up camp in Germany for what ended up being 9 long months; Petro, a Dubai-based South African and mother-of-one, whose husband is in the ship-building business and has had to travel a great deal; and so many more!!!

We've established that single-parenting and career-related separation is a reality for many families, the world-over, and that there's no single "secret recipe" for success. But imagine you finally found the perfect ratio, only for someone to come and take your whole friggin' recipe box?

Naturally while they're away, you swear that things will be so much easier when they're home. So when that time finally does come, you expect only feelings of relief. Any other emotions that sneak in are surpressed. Afterall, what kind of person actually has second-thoughts about their husband returning and the family once again being whole? Well, this kind of person.

But honestly, the transition must be equally difficult for the person coming home. To go from days filled solely with work, dinner, and quiet evenings spent studying or watching your favorite TV show to ones filled with toddler tantrums, sibling rivalry, diaper changing, and discussions about finances (translation: discovering your wife receives a minimum of one mail-order item per week) is a rude (re)awakening! I'd bet my bottom dollar that a tiny part of him is entertaining the prospect of a permanent overseas delegation.

So here are a few tips on how to get beyond the awkward stage.
1) Thank eachother for your respective roles. Try, "Thanks for being the breadwinner." or "Gee, you did a great job taking care of the kids in my absence!"

2) Be open to change and don't expect for things to be exactly the way they were before your spouse left. Allow new routines to form, and don't be insulted when s/he wants to play a role in a certain aspect of your home or family life. (Helpful personal example: "Of course I didn't get around to re-organizing the closet. I was single-parenting... but feel free to tackle that one now that you're home!")

3) As the Military-Transition website says, "Do not expect too much from your spouse. Try to simply enjoy and appreciate each others company. Remember you never know what the next day will bring so enjoy today as if it was your last day."

These are a few things that have helped me and, if you happen to be dealing with them, I hope that they help you, too! Please feel free to share this with other parents, and I certainly would love to read your comments!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi, very interesting post, greetings from Greece!