A trailing spouse is one who leaves home to support the career of a spouse who is relocated for work, usually overseas. A trailing spouse finds themselves in a new life with different opportunities, ground rules, and limitations. Every trailing spouse faces adjustment struggles. Some experience an identity crisis fueled by the loss of the familiar.
For me, the lifestyle apart from cultural change is not that different. I was supporting our family at home for the past eleven years. Homeschooling and all that comes with running a family dominated my time. Before we moved, we planned to enroll the children in school the following year. This change would have allowed ample time to renew my career or morph into a something altogether new and unexpected ( I suspect Chris was somewhat nervous about option 2).
Instead, we moved around the world and started life from scratch. It turns out, such life transformation demands all your time…so there’s that. Chris travels quite a bit and settling our family keeps me close to home for now. In quiet moments, I play with ideas about what this season might hold.
“Loving life is easy when you are abroad. Where no one knows you and you hold life in your hands all alone, you are more master of yourself than at any other time.” – Hannah Arendt
A lovely Australian expat met me for coffee yesterday to encourage and educate me. She offered tips on navigating my new situation. As we talked, the complexities of expat life without work focused in sharp relief. Expat wives or husbands that are not employed tend to fall in several camps:
- 1) Vacation mindset: I won’t be here long, party, party, party! Toss in some charity work and self-improvement goals to round things out
- 2) Tiger Mom or Dad: Take all the energy and intensity of the corporate world you left behind and dominate your kids’ lives. Rule the school, schedule every amazing enrichment opportunity possible, and hyperfocus on developing academically stellar human beings
- 3) Expat Grump: frown on all the differences of the culture, pine for home, find other grumps to hang out with and count down the days to repatriation
OR, you can always try to find a job. It isn’t easy as a trailing spouse, but with connections and determination, it can happen.
SIGH…and then SIGH again. I can’t identify with any of those sweeping generalizations. What to do?
“All you will have is the present. Waste no energy crying over yesterday or dreaming of tomorrow. Nostalgia is fatiguing and destructive, it is the vice of the expatriate. You must put down roots as if they were forever, you must have a sense of permanence.”
Well, I created option 5: determined open-endedness characterized by dogged investigation, exploration, and a healthy fear of over-commitment. I have submitted a resume for a job I’d love, explored educational, ministry, and missions opportunities, volunteered at the kids’ school, and worked at meeting everyone I can. I am fixing our house and branching out to explore Singapore’s beauty. Each day, I am praying and asking God to sort and fit the pieces for me.
I know God brought us to fascinating Singapore for particular purposes…He just didn’t tell me all of them. That faith spurs me to know and love people even before His plans for me are revealed with specificity. There are hurting, busy, questioning people all around me. There are complicated, fascinating, and bold people sharing their stories with me. I’m starting there. Loving and asking questions. Making connections and seeing each meeting as some piece of His plan.
Because He is God, I am not afraid. I don’t have to join every group, grasp every opportunity or choose an expat camp. God will lead me in the paths He has laid before me if I do my part and trust Him enough to wait. He always has. I’ll share them with you as they’re discovered!
In the meantime, if you are interested in my new lifestyle, here are some informative, entertaining reads:
A happy experience: https://www.xojane.com/issues/the-benefits-of-being-a-trailing-spouse
A fun, fictional romp about expat life in Singapore that is on my list to read: https://www.amazon.com/TRAVAILS-TRAILING-SPOUSE-Stephanie-Suga/dp/9814747548
On Gender Roles and Being a Trailing Spouse: https://www.internations.org/guide/global/the-trailing-spouse-gender-roles-abroad-15283