The easy part of family relocation

Family relocation is tough for a stay at home mum (SAHM). There is much to organise in packing up one home, and settling into another. Doing so with children in tow gives hectic a whole new spin. SAHMs have school places to research, and children’s health issues to coordinate. If you tackle this whilst maintaining a happy and calm environment for the kids, you’ve done well.

The emotional side of family relocation also takes its toll.

It’s a lonely time

Your other half (OH) helps with the packing and decision making before leaving your country or city of origin, but frequently, upon arrival at your new home, he’ll be whisked off to company induction. Because he’s keen to make an impression, long hours and tunnel-vision towards work may be required.

Whilst OH is busy with work, you’re not by yourself; you have the kids, but you can’t help feeling lonely. Unless you have friends and family at your new home, you’ll be alone as you make important decisions and complete everyday tasks: supermarket shopping, arranging doctor’s appointments, choosing schools, servicing the car…In an unfamiliar place with different rules and procedures it’s a daunting and overwhelming time.

“Back home” you might have rung a friend for advice, or chatted to a local shop keeper who you’ve known for years, but these support systems are gone. In your new life, the support network will be created; until then you talk to friends on Skype and Facebook, but it’s not the same.

Once the initial unpacking is done, you focus your attention on making friends and connections for the children (and yourself).

Whilst OH is being wined and dined to get to know his team, you get to know yours based on half conversations, interrupted by the kids bickering and demands for snacks. It takes four or five playgroup sessions to remember the other SAHMs names, and feel confident enough to suggest a play date or coffee.

Having created the beginnings of a friendship circle, you would like to relax and be yourself but you might not recognise who you are anymore.

Loss of identity

Unless you’re a serial mover, used to reinventing yourself, the additional challenge for a relocating SAHM is that you might experience a loss of identity. This is particularly true for mums who are experiencing overseas relocation for the first time.

The feeling is similar to the sense of loss some women feel when becoming a mother. After several months of being at home with a new baby, many women say they can’t remember who they were before their precious little one arrived. Life before baby seems like a fuzzy dream, and you wonder whether you’ll ever be that pre-baby person again.

As baby gets less dependent, you look back at what you did before. Many women return to work. Mums are often in contact with friends from school or other study. These connections allow you to feel how you used to, before becoming a mum.

For a SAHM who was used to tapping into life before children, moving overseas can trigger a profound sense of loss. Before relocating, you were SAHM most of the time but could be your career, or student-self by having a night out with friends or lunch with old work colleagues. Once you’re distant from this, you feel like you’re just SAHM, and it might not feel nice.

For most mums, staying at home full time is a choice, nothing to grumble about; but when you leave behind everything else that made you who you are, it can be overwhelming and you can be forgiven for wondering what you’re worth.

If you’re living in a country where you don’t speak the local language sufficiently enough to work, or fully interact outside the home, the sense of detachment and loneliness can be severe.

Overcoming your loss of identity

For many the solution is simply time. The longer you stay somewhere the more ‘life’ you’ll build around you, and you’ll re-establish your identity. Your friendships and support network will grow and things will be easier.

For others the answer might be to return to study or work (perhaps part-time) so that your previous sense of identity can be rekindled.

Whilst it’s no walk in the park for dads who risk moving their family for a new job in a different country or city, spare a thought for SAHMs; we might be playing in the park for much of the time, but it’s not an easy journey.

Five tips to ease the pressure on a relocating SAHM

1. Be realistic – don’t expect to the hit the ground running, or even walking. Most people feel it takes at least two years, and loads of effort, to feel established.

2. Look forward – as natural as it is to look back at your old life, try not to compare. What may have been good in one country could be perfect in another, given time.

3. Get out there – don’t expect a new life and support system to come to you; get out there and meet people. Search for clubs and community groups that interest you and get involved. Offer your services to other people (for babysitting etc) and when people offer it to you, accept.

4. Talk about how you’re feeling – however you’re feeling, talk to someone. Online relocation forums can be a great way to talk to like-minded people and feel less alone.

5. Be proud – try and enjoy the adventure you, and your family, are having. Be proud of the opportunity your family has been given to experience something new.

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