In this remarkable article, Claudia, Italian, shares the story of her move from Geneva to Bangkok but also another even more important move: that from being a working mother to a full-time mother. Thanks a lot, Claudia.
Thanks to Marina Cavazza for the photo, taken from the Portrait of a (Working) Mother series
It was very hard to clear my desk, prepare my handover notes, and say goodbye to my colleagues. At the same time, I was looking forward to boarding the first plane to re-join my family 10000Km away. The unusual commuting arrangement that had lasted six months had been far too tiring psychologically, physically and financially….in short, a big mistake for everyone.
So I took special leave without pay from my job for one year (which has now become two). Having worked for 15 years, it’s hard, to say the least, to wake up and watch your spouse and children off to their activities while you are left at home…and if you add the fact that you are far from your friends and family it’s even worse…
At first, I would go to the gym, have a coffee with one of the mums from my children’s school and spend a lot of time web-surfing, and yes, I must confess, I would still check my professional email. I had plenty of time, I could do anything I wanted to and still I felt so tired and unmotivated to do anything. I had always liked to travel and yet I had no interest in going sightseeing in my new home.
Days would go by very slowly: I would pick up the kids, spend the afternoon with them, hubby would come home, we would have dinner and then another day would go by…
I don’t know what clicked at a certain point: tiredness, boredom, or maybe I had just had enough of being sad about the loss of my professional identity…What I recall clearly is that I found myself in a taxi with one of the mums from our children’s school. We were off to join a group of volunteers working with asylum seekers’ children in the outskirts of town. I soon found myself busy and was grateful to have this weekly experience so I could bring some fun to children far less fortunate than mine.
At about the same time, I started training as a Montessori teacher for children aged 3-6. My children had gone to a Montessori school and I could see how much it had helped them to integrate into a very different school system with confidence and maturity. I wanted to learn more about it and try applying the method at home to my younger daughter who had not attended a Montessori school. This activity filled another two days of my week.
Both experiences helped me re-create a circle of friends and added purpose to my daily life. And guess what? I started appreciating my new life more. Not only had I accepted it as an opportunity to do things I would have never had the time for, but I was also happier as I felt I was still doing things aligned with my values and personal identity.
What started as a big threat to my professional career and identity had become a golden opportunity for me to enrich my personal and family life. In fact, the dreadful image I had of being a stay-at-home-mum and an expat housewife proved to be stereotypical: both can have a rich and busy life even if they do not bring a penny home. And I saw that my life could be as committed as my previous working life, if not even more.
I therefore realized how privileged I was in having this possibility to take one year (now two) off from my previous life. But the story does not end here…
Having time for myself and for self-reflection led me to ask what I like and don’t like about my previous personal and professional life and not only did I find out more about myself but I also took measures to prepare myself to return to my old life, or more generally to venture in my life journey with a lighter step, and hopefully with fewer difficult choices to make.
And I also decided that I would share my experience for the benefit of everyone who may have to make a similar work v. family choice.
To sum up:
– Allow yourself time for healing: it is OK to not be OK
– Be positive: see the opportunities and not the threats
– Don’t judge: stereotypes have a negative impact on your actions
– Follow your instinct but allow others to guide or help you
– Don’t be afraid to give yourself treats and do things you want to do just for the sake of it
– I would also recommend getting a coach but I may have a vested interest in this as I have started training as a coach!
If I go back to my job, I probably will not get the promotion I would have hoped for before but I have a good life and I think I will have a better balance when I go back to my old life…though sometimes I wonder if I would ever go back to it!