Trailing spouse – embrace the opportunity

Life can take you down some unexpected roads.

Life can take you down some unexpected roads.

Today I am over at 3PlusInternational with a short personal piece about career transitions for trailing spouses, both the challenges and rewards. It is a response to my previous post ‘Trailing Spouse – the graveyard of ambition’.

The original post has been incredibly popular, shared over 30 000 times, and I’d just like to say thank you to everyone who read the post, commented and shared it. I wish I could have replied to every comment, but I did read each one. And to those trailing spouse mums and dads who came up to me in the playground at school, and thanked me for what I wrote or just to let me know that their friend in Manila, Fiji, Singapore…enjoyed it too. It was a humbling experience.

Our lives are made up of stories; the ones we tell ourselves to make sense of the world, ones that help us stay sane, ones that become part of our family’s fabric, and sadly, ones that can pull families apart. I was particularly moved by those comments which spoke of marriage breakdown, with the trailing spouse feeling left behind, redundant, and unappreciated. After all, we are following the careers of our partners and abandoning (at least temporarily) our own careers. The phrase in the title of the original post “graveyard of ambition” struck at many people’s hearts, for it is all too common for those of us ‘trailing’ to feel rudderless, and nothing more than a family support unit.

That is why I wrote the piece over at 3Plus International. I wanted to speak of the opportunity of being a trailing spouse. When I became a trailing spouse I did not anticipate the sense of loss I felt at stopping work. There was a real and profound period of grieving which I did not recognize for some time. It wasn’t only an inability to find paid employment, but a sense of powerlessness too, in that I was not allowed to work.

But one of the wonderful things about this expat life, is the number of interesting people you meet. I am endlessly fascinated by their stories and their choices. What their stories have taught me is the importance of staying open to opportunities. For some, these opportunities may be a chance to take time off work and enjoy being an at-home parent. For others, with open mindedness, flexibility and hard work, new careers, often shaped around visa restrictions, have opened up.

All of us ‘trailing spouses’ have one huge advantage. We are here (there and everywhere) because of our partners work, and hence a paypacket is coming in the door. We need to take this opportunity…to work out what makes our hearts sing, to return to education, to contribute through volunteer work, start an online business, learn to play tennis…

Whatever you do, don’t feel guilty about it….and pass me another G & T will you?

Read the full article at: Career transition lessons of a trailing spouse

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5 responses to “Trailing spouse – embrace the opportunity

  1. Hi, Chris
    Donald Davis here in California. I am still following you and enjoying your writing/musing still and i have to tell you a friend of mine Who is living in the Costa Rico for two years on a job assignment recommended your blog to me…..i could not help but laugh out loud and told her she is so, so late and i have bonded with you, family and Ghana for well over a year.

    Keep going

    Donald

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    • Hi Donald, Lovely to hear from you again, and to hear that you are still reading the blog. Pleased your friend in Costa Rica likes it too. I hope all is well in your world. Take care, Chrissie

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  2. You do an excellent job describing the situation of trailing spouses. Most of us are unprepared for the hit our self esteem will take when we follow our husbands abroad. Beyond that, we don’t don’t know how to restructure out lives. And, in my case, I didn’t expect our foreign sojourn to last as long as it did. I was a trailing spouse for twenty years, expecting every year after the first five to be our last.

    There were many things I loved about living in the Philippines and later in Vanuatu. As you mentioned, I loved making new friends from all over the world. I studied Chinese brush painting, batik, and Chinese language. I was president of the international nursery school and later a member of the board of the International School.

    But the painting and work with the schools seemed like hobbies to me. I kept waiting to get back to the career I’d prepared for. I was a teacher, and yet, I wasn’t allowed to teach.

    You mention the importance of staying open to opportunities. Now that I’ve been back in the US for a number of years, I regret that I stayed stuck in my original idea of what my life should have been. Now I’m a writer with a blog. My first novel was published this year. I could have started writing much earlier–if only I’d only been open to the opportunity.

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    • Thank you so much for your insightful comment. I wrote the post as much to convince myself, as much as readers of the opportunity that being a trailing spouse can bring. I really appreciate your words about regret on what could have been done, while we are stuck in a particular mindset. And I too think of the activities that fill my days here as ‘hobbies’ rather than real work. You’re an inspiration! Thanks

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  3. Hi Chris, I wish I could have read this post when my trailing spouse journey began almost eight years ago. It would have made my transition into my role so much easier. Oh well! Better late than never. Catching up on missed posts of Ghana – a country close to my heart. Thanks for a great post!

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