Trailing spouse – the graveyard of ambition?

visa copySchool pick-up at an International school looks much like school pick up anywhere in the developed world. Apart from looking like a Benetton ad or maybe morning tea at the United Nations. And sure, there are a disproportionate number of drivers and nannies, say compared to a regular public school in Australia or the US, but the majority of people hanging out in the school yard before the bell goes, are mums.

Mums just like me, and maybe just like you. Women who were brought up and educated to believe that we could do whatever we set my minds to. Highly educated, well travelled, sophisticated, urbane, and overall a broadly privileged set.

We women who came of age in the 80s and 90s, we reaped the rewards of the feminist movement of the 60s and 70s. We are old enough to remember the cat calls, but young enough to remember them becoming culturally inappropriate. We were generation who could be and do it all. Until we had families of our own and ‘do it all’ became ‘compromise it all’. For working and parenting is a juggling act few people can admit to doing both well. Sure we can do it all, just not all at once.

When an expatriate position becomes available, the opportunities and experience shine like a beacon of excitement on the suburban horizon. For long term expatriates, another overseas move is a fundamental facet of life. In that first leap we put aside the concerns about our careers, and take the plunge.

We have become the dreaded trailing spouse. When the honeymoon period is over (and before the G&Ts kick in), in this age of female empowerment (in the developed world at least), the harsh reality of a spouse visa signifies all we have left behind.

spouse of Mr. R…no occupation or business for reward permitted.

A pharmacologist who worked on one of the first malaria vaccines, now mum of young, demanding toddlers, clad in tracksuits finds escape in sewing club.

A corporate lawyer, commuting between Tokyo and New York, now mum of three, develops cooking and African drumming skills.

Training spouses get a bad rap. Between tennis, coffee mornings, ladies who lunch and the (inevitable) G & T hour, what we actually do, is keep the show on the road. Not only, like millions of other stay at home parents (more the power to you I say!), keeping track of the usual after school activities and homework and keeping them reasonably clean and reasonably well fed, we’re navigating cultural differences and doing our damndest to keep life as happy and normal as possible. Sometimes it’s funny: we’re expounding the virtues of a bucket bath when the water goes off, we’re explaining why it’s ok for mum to swear at the lunatic taxi driver and why sometimes mum needs to pay the policeman. Sometimes it’s hard: why do people argue about Israel when my Israeli friend is really nice? And sometimes it’s so beyond my experience I have to laugh: when my youngest feels inadequate that he has only lived in two countries, when his friends at school have lived in four!

My husband routinely volunteers to be the stay at home parent. He daydreams of French lessons and days at the beach. School pick-up, after-school activities, days traipsing around supermarkets, hours spent sitting in traffic and waiting for tradesmen don’t seem to factor too highly in these daydreams. And what about the trailing spouses who are dads? They’re out there, keeping a low profile. Mostly diplomatic families, some of whom have found a better balance than us more commercial expats. Sometimes it is the woman’s career which brings them abroad, or in a few wonderfully balanced partnerships the postings are alternated between partners, taking turns in whose career takes precedence. Sometimes connections and diplomatic passports provide a window into a world of work more accessible than those of us stamped ‘SPOUSE’.

There was an apparent small furor over at Mamamia (a very popular Australian news–pop culture website), over an Indian woman in Australia wanting to set up an Indian mothers group. Despite Australia being one of the most multicultural nations, some mothers deemed it racist. I read it with a wry smile after attending our Australia and New Zealand coffee morning here in Accra. It’s what we do. We touch base, we ask for advice. Sometimes it’s about being around people who share the same culture as us, who laugh at the same jokes. It’s about asking for advice and simply sharing our frustrations and concerns. It’s about creating a life, outside the work we’ve all come here for.

Some women love being a trailing spouse. “I’ve done it for 20 years and love it”, others (quite rightly) take it as their job, some throw themselves into volunteer work, others take a very active role in school life. And some, like myself, have a more ambiguous relationship with the role. I’ve just enrolled myself at university. Freaking out, nervous and excited, it’s been a long, long time since I took to a text book (but these days I’ll just be taking to a screen).

When I was 14 my mother said to me “never be financially dependant on a man”. Wise words, which I took to heart. And while I love being a mother, I’ve always struggled with the idea of abandoning my career at the feet of my family. But here, in the 21st century, in this age of female opportunity, it is what I, and countless other mum’s, have done.

I’ve met wonderful women from all over the world; intelligent, smart, funny. And across the oceans various well-meaning friends and family have asked us all the same question: What do you do all day?

I’ll tell you what we do.

We keep the show on the road.

Happy International Women’s Day everyone!

100 responses to “Trailing spouse – the graveyard of ambition?

  1. Fantastic post Chris!

    I’m sort of ambivalent about the role, myself. Some days I’m happy for it – and many of those days I’m feeling like I’ve learned more in my years abroad than I would have at my job anyways. Other times, I miss that feeling of ambition and accomplishment and I miss the days of feeling like I was really ‘doing something.’ I try to stick to the positive end as I really do appreciate the unique and varied experiences we’ve had abroad and I wouldn’t change that for anything.

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    • Thanks Jay. I think you’re right (and sanity preserving) to remember all the positive aspects of this life. But it at the heart of the matter is do we require paid work to feel like we are ‘contributing’? Theoretically, I know that we don’t, but day to day, I do find having a job makes me feel more useful. But I too have certainly learnt so much more about the world and people from this experience than I would ever have learnt in a regular job.

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  2. Hey Chrissie,

    How are you and the kids? I have been meaning to email you for ages , not that I have any news but just to say hi.

    You’re blogs regularly coincide or echos of home here, definately parralell (I still can’t spell). Thankfully, I don’t need a visa to work in WA but there is definately a strong sense of trying to make things work for now, with a strong question over how long now will be.

    We have just returned to the vaugeries of Cam being away after having enjoyed having him in the same city for 8 weeks. Now at the end of the first week we are faced with that empty sensation of trying to fill a weekend and organise outings without anyone really caring. I shouldn’t complain I am very lucky, like you always said, if you were born in Australia you have already won the lotto.

    Anyway what are you going to study? I think you and I are living parralel lives, I am in the process of trying to enroll in a masters of audiology by research with an aim to upgrade it, with the assistance of a spell check.

    How are the kids going and what is capturing their imaginations at the moment, what does your weekly routine look like at the moment?

    Did you hear that Alli and Dave sold their house a brought one in Bruce St in Cooks Hill and are staying in Vic and James’ East Newcastle house for 3 months. I am hoping that Cam will email John and Rachel to see how they are all going.

    Anyway, I love your blogs and I hope that you enjoy the study. More power to you.

    Love Susan
    Sent via BlackBerry® from Telstra

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  3. Great piece Chrissie! I feel privileged to have had the time at home with Taj in his younger years. I am also proud to say that some of my key achievements have been the birthday cakes I have slaved over, Lego masterpieces we have conquered and being the person who can instil a calm influence at home even when the world outside is crazy.
    I am currently going through the interesting phase of transitioning into the ‘paid’ work force as we will return home at the end of the year. So far I have had only positive response to my efforts but I guess time will tell when it comes down to the interview stages!
    Thanks
    Zoe

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    • Thanks Zoe, I have no doubt you’ll transition really well back to paid work. I think you have been really clever in your time off work, not only with birthday cakes and lego masterpieces, but your commitment to activities here in Accra. C x

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  4. Just thought of something else. I think a trailing spouse is still much higher up the hierarchy than wag!

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    • I’m such a dag I had to google wag, but it’s a pretty funny (and accurate) comparison…missing you too lovely.

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  5. We should never devalue or underestimate the value of a spouse who keeps the show on the road. As a widow who now has to to do it all for and by herself ( and who manages quite well) sometimes when I get home at night it crosses my mind as to how good it would be to have a ” wife ” !! :) Lol

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    • http://sixdegreesnorth.me

      Hi Jayne, I’ve never had to do something as difficult as you have. Even when I was working and my husband was on a fly-in/fly-out roster, I used to joke that I wanted a wife. All the best to you!

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  6. Oh Christina, I do hope that University gives you some of that feeling of furthering yourself & your future ( not too far away) career. In the mean time enjoy your time as ” show director”, Your terrific at it, and your writing & prose just gets better & better. Love to all. Jodie et al. Xx

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  7. Great piece! You have it in one – I am the facilitator of everyone’s lives – and now still even of my uni aged children that we left recently in London!! I do generally manage to find some parttime work in one of my fields (preschool music teaching in Warsaw and teaching singing on a Musical Theatre degree course in London, and now music education here in an orphanage – which is of course unpaid as I cannot work here unless the company does the legal stuff…good luck with the study – I think my brain has turned to mush after 4 moves in 8 years….couldn’t do it!!

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    • http://www.sixdegreesnorth.me

      Wow Bernadette, From looking at your web page it looks as though your brain has turned to anything but mush. I appreciate the frustrations through that the work we can get is unpaid (although completely worthy, giving work). Thanks for your lovely comment.

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  8. Great post Chrissie. The study will be so great and will give you a huge sense of achievement as it’s no mean feat to fit that into a busy schedule as well. Makes our first uni days look very easy. Keep up the great blogs!

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    • Thanks Tracie. Here’s hoping the uni gives me some direction…I could do with it!! Thanks for your sweet words on the blog, I really appreciate it. C

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  9. Good thoughts! I add; we can do much for ourselves so that living abroad does not become the graveyard of our ambitions, just as you are doing Chris by continuing your studies online. We can ‘Live Our Legend’ in many ways. If we have children, we need to remember that raising healthy and stable children is one of the very most important jobs on this planet and takes lots of ambition! Finding our own way and smoothing the bumps as much as possible for our children and spouse in a country other than our homeland; there should be rewards given for this! It’s a noble job to be the emotional and practical center of our family. But alas, this job too shall pass.
    At another point in our life, we may have more time and opportunity to discover and follow our career visions. It may sound theoretical when your baby is in a highchair, but your time being their caretaker will quickly pass! What something can you do now (like Chris going back to University) that will help prepare you to experience fulfillment in other areas of interest to you?
    What we learn and can ‘bring to the table’ because of our international lifestyle is invaluable! After raising three Adult Third Culture Kids I am now combining my wisdom, training and expat experience to coach others through the ‘issues’ that automatically accompany us as we accompany our partners. I love to inspire expats in leading a fulfilling life. As you write, “Sure we can do it all, just not all at once.” That has been mostly the case with me but with the way online technology is today, maybe we can sometimes do it all… and at the same time. If not possible for you, due to work permit restrictions or loving work that cannot be done online, then please take inspiration from me; my kids are grown and I’m 57 and excitedly and busily building my second business, both online and locally in Berlin. “Have Adaptive Roots and Flourish on Foreign Soil” I say!

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  10. Thank you for such a great post. It couldn’t have come at a better time for me to read havibg moved 5 weeks ago from Perth, Australia to Lusaka, Zambia. So far we have had more downs than ups, but medicinal G&T’s have kept my husband and I sane! Settling in 3 boys to a new school in a different country, one of them starting school for the first time, has been a challenge and did have me doubting we had done the right thing for our family. However we are now all slowly starting to feel more settled and are meeting people and making friends. I also left behind my job as a vet, but hope to find some volunteer school hours work with the local animal shelter once we are more settled. Hopefully this move will be something we will look back on as a great family adventure. I look forward to reading more of your posts ib the future.
    Emma :)

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    • Hi Emma, It sounds like you are really on the right track (never underestimate the power of medicinal G&T!). We also moved with three kids, one starting school in Ghana. My only real advice is to take it easy on yourself. I tried to achieve so much in those early days and had such high expectations of keeping everyone happy, when, of course, it was impossible. No one can walk into a new, and very different life, without some grieving for the old life, and culture shock in the new (life). Once everyone settles in, don’t forget about yourself…if animal welfare in Zambia is anything like in Ghana, you will be a very very welcome addition to any animal shelter. I hear Zambia is stunning, and I really hope you love your new life. C xx

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  12. Dear Chris,
    I’ve ‘liked’, ‘tweeted’, ‘followed’ and ‘pinned’ your post.

    I have yet to read a better description of the ‘trailing spouse’ dilemma. Thanks for this!

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  13. Fabulous! And oh so familiar. It kind of reminded me a little of this (but yours is much better)http://kirstyriceonline.com/2010/11/the-expat-woman.html I’ve linked to you on 4 kids, 20 suitcases…today. I really enjoyed this one, thank you.

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  14. great post! I really love your writing….- but just one question – is being a “trailing spouse” (god I hate that term) more of a death knoll to ambition that aspiring to be a nail technician and living in your home town forever…..if you had to choose one of those destinies for your daughter what would it be??? and while I agree with the “never be financially dependent on a man” philosophy, I also like to think that if it were not for me doing just that, we couldn’t live this life… as I am pretty sure “he who must be obeyed (joking!) (?!)” would not be able to juggle it all to keep the show on the road. Not sure ambition is always financial…..give me TS over suburban nail technician any day.
    anyway – better get back to keeping the show on the road…. k xx

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    • Hey Karen, thanks for your comment. Between those two choices, you know which destiny I would prefer…but I also think the ambition is not necessarily financial. A job is easy shorthand for feeling like you a making a contribution beyond the realms of the family…and general stage direction. C x (ps When I use the term trailing spouse, it has a fair whack of irony to it).

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  15. Great piece and very well written, you capture just how many expat wives feel. This is my first experience of expat life and I love it. I think that might be because I still run my own business and I have been able to bring it with me to the Middle East.

    All is not lost ladies, as an ex Marketing Director I found a way to follow my husband and still have my own career and financial independence.

    There are only so many groups, coffee mornings, spas you can go to before you start losing your mind lol

    What I do love is the fabulous life long friends you make along the way :-)

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    • Thanks for your comment Judith. I think as long as we have some employment, whether paid or not, it really helps in staying sane. So funny and so true about losing your mind at coffee mornings!

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  18. Thanks for the post! I’m an American trailing spouse living in Adelaide, Australia. Your blog puts things in perspective for our situation. I get frustrated dealing with Telstra and pretentious private school mums after I’ve had an awesome day on my bike training for mountain bike racing in the Adelaide Hills. It’s just not home, but it’s not a bad place to be. :)

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    • I’m from Nebraska. My hubby’s family is from Adelaide. We live in Canberra. Let me know if you’d like some support from some of my extended family in Adelaide, or if you ever come to Canberra. We’re always full of help, unless we’re travelling.

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      • Thanks for your comment Peggy. Where did you live in the 80s? Would have been very different in the pre-internet world!

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      • Between 1976 and 1987 we were posted in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Burma. We were supposed to go to Ghana in 1984, but Australia closed its post that year because times were so hard there. So we went to Burma instead. I managed to keep busy on all our postings. Even turned down a request to be principal of a high school because it would have been too limiting. The kids and I were in a state of shock when hubby resigned from the Australian diplomatic corps in 1989, and it took us several years to adjust to not travelling. But I re-entered the workforce at that time, so had plenty of distractions. We’re all still big travellers. Just today I declined a job because it would interfere with my travel plans. So a travel blog rules my life now. :)

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    • Hi Kate, Not a bad place to be, but as someone else said in this comment stream, its sometimes harder being an expat in a developed/western country, rather than the developing world…keep enjoying those bike rides. C

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  19. What a great article! The name “trailing spouse” is part of the problem isn’t it? It carries so much weight and encourages a stereotype that doesn’t describe the reality of most expat partners. But we are lucky in the 21st century that being an expat partner doesn’t have to be the death of ambition if we don’t want it to be. The supporting role is an important one but, with creativity, planning and determination, it doesn’t have to be the only part of our lives if we want there to be more. It’s not always an easy path but it’s worth it. Congratulations on taking the plunge and starting your university course – you won’t regret it!

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    • Thanks Evelyn, and I really couldn’t agree with you more. The title for me is thick with irony, that in this age of opportunity we are relegated to ‘spouse’, when we are obviously so much more. And as you say, with creativity, planning and DETERMINATION (love it!), we can be all we want to be. I realise too how blessed we are that we can break from the stereotype, which may have been harder in previous decades.

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      • We’re also blessed with a different set of expectations than our predecessors which can sometimes make it seem like more of a struggle. At the end of the day it’s about finding a way to do something that gives you purpose and to be comfortable with your choices…..

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      • I agree Evelyn, I am constantly saying “manage your expectations”, when it comes to living in the developing world, and our expectations of ourselves and new lives. And the most important thing always, is as you say, being comfortable in your own choices.

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  20. Great posting! You have put in words what I feel! It is a great feeling to know there is more of us who are not easily satisfied by glamourous life between coffees, tennis and the gym sessions. Expat life it is fantastic way to see the life on other countries and cultures, but the ‘accompany spose’ life could be sometimes a bit claustrophobic… Good luck in your studies! Enjoy!

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    • Thanks JNT, accompanying spouse is a much more appropriate term, though I did use trailing with a fair amount of irony attached ;). And you’re right, expat life can be really fabulous,,,and a bit claustrophobic.

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    • Thanks so much for your comment, and the share and follow. I’m so pleased it resonated with someone who has moved around as much as you have. Have a great day. C

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  21. Wow, what a great article, brillantly written and articulated my feelings exactly. Thank you another fellow aussie trailing her husband across the global. We love it and we love what our children get from it too
    .

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  22. I’m so pleased to “meet” you. Sometimes I think moving to a completely foreign country like Africa (we lived in China) is easier than moving to a civilised “English” speaking town like LA. I look forward to swapping stories with you!

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    • Hi Gwen, Lovely to ‘meet’ you too! I think you are completely right about it being easier to live in a foreign country as an expat, rather than somewhere like the states…where the cultures are similar enough for you not to stand out, but different enough to make you feel like a fish out of water sometimes. China must have been an amazing experience. Please keep in touch. C

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  23. Your post just got shared amongst a group of us expat moms in Costa Rica. We all loved it. Thanks for writing it. As all the comments before mine express, we can all relate to what you wrote. It’s a great experience for the whole family, but what happens next for the professional working moms who took 3-5 years off to live abroad?

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  24. Great article, beautifully written, but what a horrible headline! For me, moving to the Middle East has been a massive opportunity. From the moment I got that visa with “Housewife: Must not work” stamped on it, I grabbed the opportunity and started to write. As a result, I now have a two book deal with Simon & Schuster. Something that I doubt would ever have happened while I was working full time and following the usual routine. Hooray for life as a ‘trailing spouse’. R x

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  25. Arm yourself with a career or training, 25 years of trailing,beautiful family life, 4 children , 9 schools and as the youngest turned 18? Traded in for the 20 something from the office , dumped overseas, kids in disarray and a battle to crawl back

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  26. Thank you for sharing. I recognised myself and many of other expat spouses I have known in this. It’s important for our stories to be told. I went myself into art, into sport, passed all my English language exams – I am French – I went to Uni trying to become educational psychologist specialised on bilingual children with no social background! To end up by going back to a law postgraduate course in Internet and telecom law….. It’s hard to seat and just be the wife of someone. It’s hard to be financially dependant, it’s even worst….. Read this I need to rush out! I am also volunteer mediator, http://clarinettesblog.wordpress.com/2011/11/30/abusive-institutions-or-abuse-of-institutions/
    I’Ll be back.

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  27. In Germany, I was ‘Rabenmutter’ wanting to enrol my child of less than 6 years old in the kindergarden.

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  28. Trailing spouses – you are not so different from we at home keeping the show on the road! Having chosen this trail until the last chick left the coop, I have no regrets and a healthy self image. Thanks to all of us for a major contribution to civilization!

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  29. I enjoyed reading this post but I kept thinking…..We need to stop with the term “Trailing spouse”.
    it undermines the bold choice we have made to move to a foreign country and set up home there under what could sometimes be very challenging circumstances. That is not trailing, it is trail blazing! Lets own our expat experience and blaze a trail instead. Why be a trailing spouse when you can be a trailblazing spouse? Please see my take on this ” trailing” issue.

    http://naijaexpatinholland.com/trail-trail/

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    • Thanks for your comment. But what I’d really like to point out is that I used the term Trailing spouses ironically, given that any move overseas, particularly with children, would be very challenging without a spouse whose main job was to keep everything on track. I have alternatively heard the term Accompanying spouse, which I don’t particularly like either, as I am not a fan of labels. I thought trail brazing spouse was funny, and made we want to grab my cowboy hat!! If we need a label, perhaps Expat spouse carries the least pre-conceptions, and is the simplest of them all.

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      • Hi Chris Your comment is quite valid, however, it is worth noting that names and title are important. They can influence to a large degree our thoughts, perceptions and outcomes. When we adopt the term “Trailing spouse”, we do ourselves no justice. I love the term trail blazing spouse because it has an inspiring and uplifting effect. It motivates as opposed to the dampening the morale. It says I am not a victim of my circumstance, rather I own it.
        …and yes, I definitely agree “Expat spouse” is another good term that can be used and its quite short, nice and simple.

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  30. Hi there, I wanted to note that in spite of the challenges, the visa restrictions and the knock backs being a trailing spouse has been not only an amazing journey full of experiences I would never have had if I was at home. The diversity of the wonderful people I have in my life is one of the highlights. For me however, the experience has also given birth to a whole new career I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t “trailed along”…I always struggled to define myself as a trailing souse, even though I certainly was one and now I feel pretty lucky to have had the chance, and this is said at the end of a long, rough day away from home….

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  31. Great article Chrissie.
    I could add so many more minor frustrations of living in Accra, but won’t!!
    I’m lucky I still manage to work back in the UK every so often, but still agree with every word you said.
    Good Luck
    Joss
    X

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  32. Reblogged this on Somedays by C and commented:
    As J is about to start full time school, I have been asking what am I to do with my time? This is beautifully written and explains so well about what it’s like to be an expat wife.

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  33. It has been a good compromise for me. I have worked around the world on different capacities and was able to raise my children dedicating more time to them. When I worked I wished I had more time for the kids, when I was a stay at home mom I wish I was exploring career opportunities. There is no right or wrong, but a way of life. Wrote a bit about my experience on http://www.gabyaroundtheworld.blogspot.com

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  34. I am glad to find here a crowd of expat spouses. I myself grow up in an international community, moved countries around and loved the whole atmosphere of an international school. No doubt, I am convinced of the enrichment of such a life.
    However, it is a fact that many spouses that we are, have high qualifications, giving up carriers to the benefit of the family. Being educated mothers, we accompany our kids, supporting them in each of their new environment. Sometimes it goes very smoothly, sometimes the adaptation is tougher, especially when it involves language acquisition. Of course, it’s generally easier when you speak English. As for the spouse carrier, if you are lucky to be creative or a writer, it’s all great. things become tougher if you are lawyer or doctor. It all demands more sacrifice and adaptation. it is still enriching. We need to take account of what is best for the children as they have not chosen to live a nomad life we impose to them. I don’t think I would be very wrong by saying in many of our cases, the relationship that we bound with our children is stronger than on average families. Why? because in many cases the expat worker tends to be very busy with a job with big responsibilities that might involve regular trips abroad. As a compensation, we live a somehow artificially inflated level of life. All is fair.
    Fair until … things like Jory’s case above happen. I know of too many cases of separation where suddenly, the ‘trailing spouse’ is traded for a new spouse or partner when for various reasons, the couple split. This is where suddenly, the devoted wife and mother is left with not much but a nasty legal fight that don’t always recognise the value of the ‘trailing spouse’.
    One day, suddenly the spouse becomes only ‘ex’ with no job and a ‘whole’ on her CV. for the ones who are European, there is the Sword of Damocles that is the Brussels 2 Convention and the competition for the most favorable jurisdiction.
    I’d be interested to know how many expat spouses have envisaged the case. Do you think it only happens to the others? Should anything be done to prevent this? Did you know that Europeans have now the option of fixing by common agreement the place of their eventual divorce? This is the point I raise on my blog. I’d love to know your opinions. http://clarinettesblog.wordpress.com/2011/11/30/abusive-institutions-or-abuse-of-institutions/

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  35. Great post – just what I needed as I’m struggling with the new identity (or lost of) even 18 months in, without (yet) children in tow. I’m encouraged very much to work to maintain our dual income very comfortable lifestyle, but the judgement that I face within our social circle of trailing spouses makes for it a very lonely time and place.

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  37. I delighted that I found your blog today. You write with such clarity and wisdom. I was a trailing spouse in the Philippines and then Vanuatu from 1971 until 1993. In those days, though, we were just “expat wives.” How nice it would have been to trade experiences over the internet! But we were just starting to set up email accounts near the end of my stay. No one had even heard about blogs.

    This morning I was writing a short piece about how after many many years of fumbling around trying to find a career that worked for me, I finally became a writer. What I’ve learned from the trailing spouse experience is that one needs to let go of the expectations we started out with. Be creative.

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    • Thanks for your comment. I have such admiration for you ‘expat wives’ who managed these lives without the internet. I love your comment of fumbling around trying to find a career, I think many of us feel this way. After only a few years of being ‘an expat wife’ I’ve learnt one of the greatest advantages to this life is the opportunity for reinvention, and as you say, to reinvent, you have to let go of the expectations we place on ourselves and others. All the very best for your new life as a writer.

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  38. I came accross your article yesterday and felt identified giving my current and first time “spouse of status”. We’ve been travelling together but my husband and I made a deal that no one will give up the career and so far it has always worked out perfectly. We both have been working and developing our careers.
    Many times I felt I wanted to be a “housewife” in one of our duty stations. I saw many of my friends enjoying cooking classes, going out, going to the gym etc…So the opportunity has come and here in Ghana I hold the title of the “spouse of”…But starting with this my new title to all what this “position” carries, I don’t like it. I enjoyed my first month and from there I started to understand that I’m definitely not ready to give up my professional life and that feeling I’m so unproductive makes me feel completely unconfortable.

    Even social life is difficult because without a job it isn’t easy to find a circle of friends. I have a baby and thought playgroups will be the place to find friends but no they haven’t helped and having no other activity I guess the other option was hanging an ad on the poles on my road that reads “I need to know people. Please call me”. So as this was not an option it took me several months to find a small circle of “friends” and find out that everyday coffees, lunches and so on would also not fulfill my life or make me feel more productive.

    Moreover I think I became allergic to the question ” what brings you here?” As immediately I have in my mind the image of a little dog being pulled by its owner…and I breath deeply and answer “my husband”.
    So I’m not ready to be a full time “spouse of” so I have started looking for a job and I find interesting to find other wives that react very surprised when I say I’m on a job hunting mission. Some have even told me that I should volunteer or accept low payments if I want to do something, and often I find myself trying to explain them that I’m talking about a real job related to my career path and that this is what I’ve always done. I’m not looking for something to “keep myself busy” rather for a job like the one my husband has.

    Anyway I respect and admire those partners who give up their careers especially now that I know how difficult it can be. So hats of to all the wives and husbands travelling around the world giving up things they would like to do.

    Cheers

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    • Hi Gaby, I’m sorry to hear you’re having a rough time of it. Being the mother of a young child, let alone as a spouse in a new country, is a tough gig. How long have you been in Ghana for? I think it can take a really long time to find a group of friends you really click with, and the only solution (as exhausting as it is), is to keep trying and keep putting yourself out there. I agree with Apple in the next comment, not to dismiss volunteer or lowly paid work. They can lead to ‘real’ jobs, but also provide a sense of purpose and social connection too. Have you thought about telecommuting jobs? Not much social contact but it means your career is not indefinitely on hold, or even further study. I’ve just started back at Uni with a masters, and wish I had started it 2 years ago! All the best, and feel free to keep in touch,

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  39. Don’t be quite so quick to dismiss volunteer work Gaby – in countries where visas are an issue for the accompanying partner, getting involved in voluntary work can open doors with people in the local community, which in turn can sometimes lead to paid employment – the visa issue magically having disappeared. It also extends ones comfort zones and is a way to give back to the host country. I speak from experience. Good luck.

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  42. Indeed keeping the show on the road is what family is all about,each and everyone benefits in some small way and a happy life is what we make it. Lovely seeing you and the children again Chrissie and congratulations on your new adventure University online, you are awesome and mum would be so proud of her girl xx

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