I was sitting down at a café and getting to know some new mums at a coffee morning. The conversation started off with the usual questions – where are you from, how long have you lived here etc. and as the conversation continued, the inevitable one was asked – “what does *your* husband do and why did his job bring you here?”. Ouch. I never liked this one.
It’s such an innocent question, yet it packed a punch. Because it meant the reason why we were here in this new country, our “raison d’être” so to speak, was because of my husband. And not me. I just followed and everything that I was before coming here, a career-oriented woman, someone with dreams, with aspirations, with a stable salary, was no longer applicable. I was a wife. And I was a mum. I was being identified by these two primary roles.
And I’m guilty of pigeonholing too. There have been many times I took for granted that the woman I was chatting with had her own identity before becoming “mum” and “wife of”. I remember having a mouth agape moment when I was writing an article about a fellow mum for a newsletter and found out she was a psychiatrist….a psychiatrist! How did this never come up in our countless conversations? Because I hadn’t bothered to discover who she was *before* she became a trailing spouse (in my defense, neither did she know I used to work in Corporate Communications…though granted who ever *does* know what someone in Corporate Communications does???).
There’s nothing wrong with solely being identified as wife and mum, and many are content with it. There is no shame in that. And there is no shame in wanting more either.
In some countries there was no choice – I couldn’t work under a spousal visa and that was that. This was the case when we lived in Shanghai, China. And it took me a good long time to come to terms and accept that I was going to have a long pause in my resume and when I got back, I might have to fight off those that were more up-to-date in the industry.
And I wasn’t the only one. Many mums were feeling the same. We felt like our identity had been lost and the worst part for us was, after having earned and spent our own money, we now had to rely on the money our husbands were making.
So what *can* you do? This is what helped me, so I’m hoping you can take some of what I found helpful and apply it too.
Acknowledge how you are feeling
This was a hard one…as I felt like I should be grateful that I had the opportunity to come to a beautiful new country and have an experience not many would get. And yet, I felt a bit resentful I had to give up everything I worked for. Once I stopped burying how I really felt and talked it out with my husband (placing emphasis that it’s not his fault at all, I just needed to vent), I felt a weight lifted from my shoulders.
In the same vein, talk with your husband about how you are feeling with the finances. What can you do to help you feel more in control or ease the guilty feeling that you need to ask for money? Tell him your expectations and hear his too. Talk it out together and create a plan that works best for you.
Accepting the situation
Once I acknowledged and truly felt my feelings, from there I realized I could start accepting my situation. I started thinking that yes, I am here and I can start making the best of the situation. When I was working, I would day-dream of being able to go to a café and work from there, or be able to go to the hip brunch spots during the weekday to escape the weekend rush. Now, I could actually do it (minus the work part)!
Take a chance on studying again
If like me, you are worried about staying current on the skillsets needed for your job, why not take the time to do some online studying? There are plenty of online universities (and with Covid-19 even more have gone online) that offer short-courses or more in-depth ones for you to level-up your knowledge. Some places even offer one-hour Masterclasses or workshops you could attend virtually.
Or maybe take language lessons so that you feel confident enough to explore the new city you’re living in and expertly order some local delicacies.
Volunteer for something you are passionate about
Take the time to find and volunteer for a cause or an association you feel passionate about. You are helping those in need and get some feel-good serotonin, win-win! It could also give you the feeling of purpose in this new country you are living in (and a chance to meet people!).
Discovering a new identity
And sometimes, the loss of identity and how we previously identified as isn’t a bad thing. In fact, losing my corporate job and trying out different things is what lead me down this new career path, one that makes me happier overall. But that’s a post for another day (so stay tuned!).
What do you think? Could some of these tips could work for you? If not, why? What would you add? Drop me a line and let me know!
*The featured image is of the Shanghai Marriage Market in People’s Park in Shanghai, China. I thought it was fitting regarding identity because parents will post their son’s or daughter’s “biography” and achievements for others to peruse and set up potential dates and marriages based on age, occupation, how much money they make, what kind of car they drive and more.