Lately, I feel like I have been hearing the term “trailing spouse” an awful lot. When I look at my fellow “trailing spouses” whom I am surrounded by daily…I don’t imagine any of them as someone who has ever trailed anyone. Except for maybe that cute boy in their 10th grade English class.
I am a strong, capable and independent woman. I am not someone who has been schlepping around behind the scenes while my husband is stealing the show of importance in the movie we call LIFE. I am an educated, fun loving and adventurous person. I too had a successful career which I chose to leave in order to pursue OUR expat life and raise OUR children. I have held various positions in multiple countries where I have been responsible for helping fellow expats acclimate to life in their new home — and no, I wasn’t paid for it…half the time you aren’t even thanked…but it was fulfilling to me, and I know it was work needing to be done.
I don’t think “trailing spouses” (male or female) are given enough credit where credit is due. This isn’t 1953, and I’m not your typical housewife. There’s another one…I hate the term “housewife” too. And, what do you call a man who stays home? A “househusband”? Both names are seriously lame.
A few years back, I was in the US working on our new renovated house. I was getting it ready for our summer arrival…you know…putting bunkbeds together, hanging curtains, washing sheets…really exciting and mind-blowing stuff. While in Mexico, my 7 year old daughter had been caught skipping her after-school activity — she was playing on the playground in a lightning storm (awesome choice) instead of making a vase in ceramics class. I was notified by the school via email as they knew I was traveling, and I had let her dad know about the day’s episode via text. When he returned home from work that evening, he had a conversation with her about responsibility and initiative (in other words “I don’t care if you hate it, you have to finish what you start!”). He explained to her one simple rule…When you turn 18 you either go to college OR get a job and move out. Her response…But, Mom doesn’t have a job! And, so he explained why my “job” was so shitty.
Funnily enough, my husband thinks my job is tough as nails. He realizes I work 24/7/365 with no vacation days (unless I am actually physically removed from my children — which is not very often), and no sick days (especially if your spouse is a heavy traveller…though my husband is great when I say I’m not feeling well and he is actually home), and no nap-time for me either since I’m usually trying to complete one last task before the kids get home from school or have to be picked up from a plethora of activities or friend’s house…You can insert your own personal mind numbing task here. Besides, the first years of any parenting career mostly involve poop and vomit. So, that’s pretty shitty in it’s self. I’m not saying I don’t get a great deal in return — mainly the unconditional love of my girls and the ability to be such an integral part of their lives. But, I must admit, I’ve been getting my fair share of hate lately too…I’m seriously scared for the approaching teen years.
But, you know what is funny? This last bit is just the “mom” stuff…it doesn’t even tap the hellish expat surface of crap you have to deal with daily. From the beginning to the end of an assignment…You are the point person. You are the contact for the movers and relocation consultants, the one responsible for purging your entire life’s possessions, the one who has to sell stuff, the one who has to organize paperwork, the one who arranges dogs being shipped halfway around the world…shall I go on? Your spouse has most likely moved on to his or her next assignment, and is relying on you to pull it all together like a damn magician. And, you know what? You do it. You do it like a God damn machine. You might look like a hot mess on the day of departure, but hell…You got the job done!
But, hold it…That was just the beginning! Once you arrive in your new country, you are all of those things and more…Now you’ve got to get “settled”. YAY! Now is the time when you have to learn how to pay the bills, figure out how to get the internet set up so you can watch Netflix, find someone to repair the natural gas tanks, pray to God you manage to get the friggin’ pool pump to turn on again when it stops working, and fight with the garbagemen when they try to extort you for drinks because you have too much rubbish! And, yes…Life gets easier, but there is always some dumb thing (which would be a cinch to fix if you were “home”) lurking behind the next corner. It may not be today, it may not be tomorrow…but it’s coming…it’s patiently waiting…and it’s gonna slap you in the face at the most inopportune time!
And this is where I think we “trailing spouses” stop getting the credit we deserve. DEEP IN THE SHIT. We do a lot of shit jobs. We figure shit out. We get shit done. And, we don’t give a shit of what others think…well, maybe some do, but I sure as hell don’t.
So, if you are a “trailing spouse” and feel like your life is worthless or without purpose…you couldn’t be more wrong. Without you, your spouse would not be where they are today. Without you, your family would not have the home they live in. Without you, your new friend from across the street who just moved here from Shanghai wouldn’t know where to get that damn gas tank filled so she can take a hot shower again.
The behind the scenes support system we “trailing spouses” are responsible for has a great magnitude riding on it. If we waiver, the entire house of cards can fall. So, don’t get down on yourself. Most days will be good, some will be great, and others will be absolute shit. But, the shitty ones are where you really learn to bloom.
You will start to piece together the puzzle of your life…And, believe me…It’s not going to happen overnight. Most of us will likely continue learning how to piece it together until the day we leave our host country. So, don’t look to try and finish the puzzle as fast as you can because the puzzle has an infinite number of pieces.
Just remember…We are not trailing. We are leading. We are supporting. We are expats.