I have a confession to make. I am an expat wife. There. I said it. I admit it.
I know that this is not the most shocking of revelations but it has taken a little time to come to terms with.
We have been in Switzerland now for over six months and I have not got a job. Actually let me re-phrase that, I have not got a paid job. Being a full time stay at home mum is most definitely a job, it’s just one that has little perceived value, and even less economic value. My family back home cannot reconcile themselves to the fact that I am quite happy to “do nothing” all day. “You should get a job Sarah. It’s not good for you to be on your own all day.”
Indeed before we left the UK this was the one thing that I was most worried about. I had a stint of being stay at home mum when my children were babies, for three and a half years I stayed at home, went to playgroups, coffee mornings and the like, and I can safely say that I went a bit loopy. I wasn’t very adept at socialising with other mums when all we had in common was the fact we all had a child, so I was apprehensive about repeating the experience. However, now the little cherubs are in school I have 6 hours a day, 5 days a week all to myself which is TOTALLY different to having a baby and toddler sapping every ounce of energy out of the day, which in turn was totally different to being a Marketing Manager for an International Company!
Expat wives get bad press though and so I can understand why my family have been reticent about embracing my new status. I mean look at the stereotypical expat wife: husband works for an International Company (probably finance or pharmaceuticals) and has had a healthy renumeration to relocate to a new country, children are at International School (or if older at boarding school in England) so during the day Penny (this is a stereotype remember) dashes from tennis or pilates to coffee with ‘friends’ to beauty appointments or shopping for a cocktail dress for yet another ‘do’ on Friday night, before getting home to say goodnight to the children who the nanny has got ready for bed before welcoming some of her husband’s colleagues for supper. Penny and her family spend every weekend during the ski season in a catered chalet at Gstaad before the long summer holidays in the South of Italy or South of France. Penny lives in her own fabulous bubble and has little handle on what is actually happening in the real world.
I am most definitely not this stereotypical expat wife. Indeed, in my limited experience, I believe there are only a handful of this type of woman still in existence. The extreme minority however gives the rest of us a bad name. Being an expat wife is in reality a long way from the stereotype. For a start there are an increasing number of expat husbands. Men who have moved countries and continents to support their wives (or girlfriends) careers, and let’s face it as women continue to break through glass ceilings the number of expat husbands will also increase.
As an expat wife I get the company car to use (after all how else would the children get to and from school) whilst my husband goes to work on the bus. The amount of Audi’s, BMWs, Mercedes and Range Rovers that are in the school car park at pick up indicate that this is not uncommon. As an expat wife I get a lot of ‘me’ time. As I said 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, all to myself. This means that I have a lot of time to fill. I spend vast quantities of my day alone and so loneliness has to become a friend otherwise depression will quickly follow. Fortunately I am comfortable in my own company but even with that said I have days where the loneliness gets unbearable, days where I simply cannot face going back to the apartment once the children have been taken to school. Usually these days co-incide with another of Steve’s overseas trips, he has a lot of international travel in his new role (5 out of the next 7 weeks he will be away). This brings a whole other set of issues to deal with not least the isolation. As an expat wife with all these hours to fill I have begun to do things that I never thought I would: I go to pilates once a week, I took German language lessons, I have started writing a blog, I have been to coffee mornings and actually enjoyed one or two of them, I do my weekly shop in three different supermarkets for the best value, and I even do regular housework. I am learning things all the time not just about this strange country that we find ourselves in but also about myself. Whilst I have become invisible in many ways I feel that I know myself better than I have ever done.
Being an expat wife there is a sense of life passing by and of me not making much contribution to it but then I remember… Expat wives are the lynchpin of the family, the rock, the anchor, the glue that keeps everyone together and everything working. It is down to the expat wives that the kids don’t run screaming for the first flight home after a particularly awful day at school. It is down to the expat wives that the travelling husbands have a home cooked meal and an excited family to come home to at the end of yet another trip overseas. It is down to these strong and inspiring expat wives that the multinational companies are able to function. So you see I am, surprisingly, proud to be an expat wife.