First things first, a confession. The title of this post is only half the story. To be an accurate reflection of content, the title would need to read something like ‘ Things Living Abroad and Being a Trailing Spouse and Moving Every Two Years Has Taught Me’. But that isn’t very punchy. Title aside, things I have learned walking this path include…
You will get homesick. And that’s ok.
No matter how willing you were to leave home, no matter how much you love where you are now, there will be moments of homesickness. I used to feel like this was some sort of weakness on my part. Feel guilty that I didn’t love my new home so, so much that it eliminated all longing for home of old. Remember, when we look back its often with nostalgia and rose-tinted glasses. Take it as it comes. Missing home, be it the place you originally hail from or the last place you lived, is normal. Accept it, knowin that feeling wont last forever.
Home is a fluid term.
How do you define home? Where the heart is? Where you come from? current location? Maybe all of those things. I call the place I was born home, but when on the road I talk about where I live now as home, and miss it after a few days. If you live a life of high mobility, the ability to see more than one place as home and to be comfortable making a home wherever life takes you, gets you through a lot. Although there will still be down days…see point one.
You have to say YES…
To everything. To things that scare you. To living in places you haven’t heard of and know nothing about. When you are a trailing spouse, you have to rebuild your life over and over again. Meet new people, make new friends. Help the children make new friends. All whilst trying to hang on to the friendships you forged in the last however many places you live. The quickest way to build a new life is to just say yes. Yes to coffee with a neighbour, yes to choir even though your singing is all enthusiasm and no talent, yes to the Pilates class you don’t really fancy. Saying yes to things puts you out there. Meeting a few people will help you meet a few more. And, in time, you settle in and have, if not a huge network of friends, at least some friendly faces and hopefully someone to call on when the days are long.
…And say it in a foreign language.
If you are living in a place where English is not the first language, its good to pick up at least a few phrases of the local tongue. You may not strictly need to but its worth the effort. Locals will warm to you if you can at least greet and thank them in their mother tongue. You will feel an immense sense of achievement when you use your new-found language skills and are understood. Life feels less alien and isolating when surrounded by people speaking a language that isn’t yours if you can at least pick out a few words. And it can be hilarious when you try , but make mistakes. My German is not too shoddy now but early mistakes included asking the bus driver to sell me a night-gown and telling my neighbour I was horny. A sense of humour gets you through and whatever language you are slaughtering with your efforts, a smile is universal. As is the middle finger, depending on with whom you are dealing.
Self Care is not a Luxury.
When life as you know it is dismantled (literally, when the movers turn up) and you are facing the double whammy of grieving for your old life whilst simultaneously being expected to build a new one, possibly whilst managing the practical and emotional change for several small people…you have to take care of you. And the temptation to let that slip whilst in transit or out of routine is huge. Make the time to exercise, get outdoors, eat regularly and right and get enough sleep…as a bare minimum. Make time for something that makes you happy, even if it seems frivolous.
Reach Out To Someone…Everyone!
People need people, and women need other women. This resonates with me as I live in an environment where the majority of households are made up of a stay at home mum and a dad who works to an unpredictable schedule. It’s easy to think everyone around you already has their life together, a fabulous social circle and that you are on the outside. But you never know who is feeling lonely, or who might appreciate a compliment, a hey-how-ya-doin’, or just a smile. It’s good to have some small talk conversation starters to fall back on. Obviously, being British, I often go in with chit-chat about the weather. But other topics are equally acceptable. Just reach out , make contact and remember…
Social Media is a tool, not a substitute.
I am not knocking social media. Facebook, Instagram et al…I’m a fan. There are some brilliantly supportive, inspirational feeds out there. But its a tool to use alongside real life, meaningful interactions. Don’t let having thousands of virtual friends create a false sense of security and community, and run the risk of not realising until it’s too late that you don’t actually have enough of a real life network. It is so easy to let that happen. A lot of people we ‘meet’ online, we don’t go on to make a real life friendship with. I was once in a position living in a new area where I had many friends on Facebook ,but when I went down with a stinking migraine and the husband was out-of-town, I didn’t have anyone I felt I knew enough to ask for painkillers until I got to the shops. It’s a horrible, isolating feeling and it taught me a lesson. Use the online world to cement and extend friendships and networks, but don’t use it to replace them. It can’t.
At the end of the day, It’s all worth it.
There is a lot of sacrifice involved in being an accompanying spouse. You build a life, and break it down…often just as it feels right. You meet amazing, inspirational, dynamic people only to have to leave them behind. Career plans have to be shelved, aspirations adjusted and jobs hard-won, given up with little notice. You have to guard against bitterness and resentment, fight hard to be seen as more than an extension or ‘wife of’.
You also find strengths and skills you never knew you possessed, and capabilities you didn’t know you possessed. The sense of achievement when you thrive, having been thrown into a situation that terrified you, is immense. You don’t sweat the small stuff, when you know its pretty much all small stuff. The friendships forged might be fewer than I may of in another life, but these are friends of a different calibre. Pick you up, fight your corner, tell- it -as- it- is friends who know when that smile is fake or when you need a kick in the shins with instruction to ‘man up’. Friends who don’t see distance as a difficulty and can pick up where you left off, every time. The opportunity to travel is golden, and not just to the popular destinations. Off the beaten track, follow the locals, there and back to see how far it is. Living in another country and culture teaches a lot about how others live, but you learn even more about yourself.
It’s not an easy life, but its my life. And although I reserve the right to have the occasional (regular) moan, right now I wouldn’t choose to live any other way.
Until next time,-