The Expat Mom


I don’t know how in the world you can feel so lonely and just want to be “left alone” at the same time. –favorite SAHM mom quote ever.

This is totally not one of those blog posts where I proclaim that I, Mommy, have the hardest job ever. I won’t, because I don’t. You could say that I have the best job. I have the job so many others work countless hours to just one day have the chance to be at home with their little ones, who maybe aren’t so little anymore. I try not to take it for granted, even when I pray for a day alone without kids just to use my brain for something other than singing Abc’s or making pancakes into disney characters. ( I kid, I don’t do that)

I don’t have co-workers, I don’t get raises, or have a boss. I don’t move up in a company, and I certainly don’t get a paycheck. I do it because its what is best for my kids at the moment. I didn’t get to stay home because we are SO “wealthy” that who needs to work anymore? I’m a different kind of stay at home mom…

I’m an expat SAHM.

If you live in a country that is not of your own, you are shaking your head up and down. If not, let me explain.

{I’d like to stop here and say that my story doesn’t apply to everyone on either side so I will tread slowly.}

You’ve all heard of the “SAHM”. I’m in fact jealous of her.

She’s got friends and family within reach. She can read the labels on her baby food jars. She can go to the store and buy the best car seat money can buy. She probably can take her kids to the park and run errands. She might even have her own car. She’s sure of her pediatrician, she’s sure of the hospitals. She knows where everything is and who to call in case of emergency. She gets to leave her house on a daily basis if need be. The stores are packed with aisles of beautiful foods. She has wine with dinner after a tough day of monster teether toddler. She may even, gasp; get a girl’s night out every once in a while or a date night with her hubby.

For me, I didn’t choose to be a SAHM, it kind of chose me.

My life was turned sideways after my boyfriend at the time got the job overseas. Soon we were married with a little one on the way, saying goodbye to family, and moving to a foreign country that I literally had to look for on a map.

Living in Hungary, I wasn’t able to work, not to mention I lived in the tiniest of towns that felt like you were walking into the late 1800’s except everyone had cell phones.

My first experience as an expat, much less a new mom in a foreign country, read like something in a novel. Complete culture shock. No one spoke my language, I bought what I thought was flour 4 times because I couldn’t read the label, and my credit card was always being declined due to “suspicious activity”. Trust me, my activity of moving abroad was nothing short of suspicious. I cant tell you what it feels like to leave a cart full of groceries, pregnant and not be able to tell the clerk that you aren’t out of money but your bank clearly doesn’t understand we moved.
I have never had a car and in some cases not even a license.
I left behind a career, friends, and family. I had a baby in a foreign land with no one but my husband. My son was pretty sick as an infant and we traveled hours in and out of hospitals. Alone and terrified. Luckily he got better.
There were moments where I thought how could I do this? I lost track of myself, of who I was. How could I be me in a place where I know nothing and no one? More importantly, how do I do this without any help? I couldn’t remember the last time I slept like a normal person.

Being a stay at home mom of any kind, I think it’s easy to lose a sense of you. There isn’t a job title to define your achievements; there isn’t a paycheck to bring home. You may feel like there is a part of you missing even though you have 1-3 extensions of yourself running a muck in the next room.

Eventually I learned how to do it, and even made some friendships with other expats that will be everlasting as they become a sort of “pseudo” family.

For my first expat experience the overwhelming sense of homesickness wasn’t tolerated well. I kept hidden as much as I could, afraid of the world, afraid of stumbling as a mom and as a foreigner. I was learning not one new role, but two.

It was easy to feel like a round peg trying to fit in a square hole.

Today I’m stronger, I even have a yearning to live overseas and “I laugh in the face of danger”. (Lion King, quote anyone? Anyone?)
It’s still hard. Things are always a bit more difficult and a simple task becomes a long list of undertakings.

When I say I’m a “stay at home” mom, I mean literally STAY AT HOME. I don’t have a car. My kids and I try to busy ourselves Sunday thru Thursday looking at the same walls, patiently wait for Daddy to get home or for the weekends if only to get out of the house.
We don’t have nights out as husband and wife. Looking for babysitters here is a bit more challenging, as in “Do you speak English well enough to understand my toddlers need for water or food?”

I can’t tell you how hard it is to plan a “themed birthday” for a 1 year old. You cant get some of that stuff here, or at least not for a normal amount of money. Not important to being an expat or sahm, but still the struggle is real…

I go to three different grocery stores to find the formula my son needs. Most the times, all of them are out of it. I didn’t make homemade baby food because I’m “that” kind of mom. I made it because I can’t imagine spending 4-6 bucks on one of the organic American pouches.

I don’t take my sons to parks, not because I don’t have a car (well part of the reason) but for the 120-degree heat and not being able to find a park that isn’t littered with trash within our neighborhood.
My son was given the TB vaccine not because I’m pro vaccines (which I am so don’t get it twisted) but for the reason that it is mandatory in this country.

I don’t have a grandparent to call when I just need a break. I sometimes don’t even have a grandparent to call when I’m about to break… just wait 8 hours until the world wake up on that side…

I won’t even get into the holidays, religion, or what its like to experience the 4 seasons.

I MOST CERTAINLY won’t get into the lack of alcohol or bacon.

Every mom and every expat mom has it differently depending on the country, your children and situation. We have to learn to adapt and change to the country we live in. For some of us, we have to learn to be mom for the first time alone. Some of us deal with older children who too have a yearning to be back in their own culture. Some of us just are unsure of general navigation in a new territory.

It seems when you are an expat and a mom, you learn a bit slower, hope for others who have experienced it first to lead the way, and a friendly face in a sea of unfamiliarity.
Everyday life can be a bit more lonely, a bit more tedious, and a bit more overwhelming. We hate our children are missing out on awesome grandparents whom we only see at the end of a very small window on our phones. We miss the ease of driving to the store or reading a label on the back of our foods. For some of us, we just miss driving on the right side of the road. We worry about learning a new language, or fitting in. We may worry about the kind of life we are giving our children or how different the schools might be or if they are happy here. We feel hesitant to do things we’ve never tried. We watch as new friends leave to move back home or to another country.

But here’s the thing. Through all the hardships you endure as a mom and as a foreigner, you enlighten your minds and the minds of your children. You learn about yourself and grow as a human being. Some travel to places most could only dream about. We learn first hand about our world and all its beautiful cultures. We make life long friends, and we have memories that will last forever. Our family becomes stronger and more adaptable., our children more wise.

We give up a lot to be an expat mom, but we gain more than we can imagine.

-T

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