Have you ever felt conflicted about the identity you had before you arrived here in The Netherlands and your identity now? What about your identity before kids and your identity now? For those of us who are expats and mothers, all of this is mixed up into one very confusing bundle.
In my talk at Spark! this year, I talked about my entrepreneurial journey with my business, DailyOutfit – one that is inextricably tied to my journey here to The Netherlands and my journey as a mother. When Susan attended my talk, she was specifically struck by a portion of my talk regarding my anger and guilt. She asked me to expand on that for you.
Our second year here was arguably the most difficult year of my life. My first child was diagnosed with a chronic illness that required a special school, medication, numerous doctors’ visits and a great deal of adjustments at home. I put my business, DailyOutfit, on hold. Then, my mother died totally unexpectedly of a heart attack only four days after I brought the children home for their summer holiday. Yup. It was rough.
Given the ravages of life we see every day in the newspaper, I know I am blessed that that was the most difficult year of my life. I know it could be far, far worse. But, it was still challenging – and I learned a lot. One of the biggest gifts of that year was my anger – and guilt. It sounds strange to say so, but it is true.
The first thing I want to talk about is my anger. I was so angry at having to put my business on hold when my daughter was ill. I was pissed!!
Why was it my life that had to change? Why was it my business that had to take a hit? Why did I have to cancel my work trip when the school put my daughter on part-time? Why not my husband?
Honestly, it was a clear financial decision. I am not the breadwinner in my household. And that sucked. I have always been my husband’s equal. Even when I left my corporate life to care for our daughter, it was a calculated decision that saved us the cost of our hired help. I did the nanny’s job – and I did it better. Then, I built my business organically within three years and I started making a profit. I was paying my daughter’s school fees. It felt great!
I wanted to handle my daughter’s illness with grace and kindness. And I did, of course — in public.
But, I didn’t like what I saw of myself in private. When I was honest with myself, I talked about how much I had given up. I was resentful. My lovely therapist told me that guilt is appropriate when you’ve done something wrong.
In this case, I felt I had done something wrong. I had put myself above my daughter. I had put my needs and my desire to be successful above my daughter’s needs. What kind of mother does that?!
I thought many times about giving up my business. And, when the time was finally right to start my business again, I asked myself seriously – is it time to simply let this go? Is the universe telling me this is too much?
Moving Forward. It was my anger at having to cancel that work trip that made me realize – I love my business!! And it was my guilt over my anger that made me realize — I have to figure out how to handle this better!!
Because the truth is – life is not easy. You are going to go through some shit! And you need to have the bandwidth to handle it with grace. But, if you are like me, and have found your passion AND you can make a business out of it. Well, that is worth fighting for and figuring out.I had two goals: 1. To resurrect my business and to build it so I had the time and flexibility to be a great mother to BOTH of my kids, a fun wife, a great resource to my clients. AND therefore, 2. I could be a balanced and happy person. Anger was my signifier. It signified my passion and my belief in what I was doing in my business. It signified how important it was to me. It signified how deep my purpose and commitment was (and is) to making it a success. Guilt was my prime mover. It told me that what I was doing was not working. It clarified for me that I needed to find a better way. It encouraged me to think creatively about what I have, what I want and who I want to be – as a mother, a wife, an entrepreneur and a person.
Author Information:Allison Hamilton-Rohe is a Personal Style Coach from New York, currently living in Leiden. She created a unique formula to help you discover your personal style. Through her company, DailyOutfit, she coaches you to define your true beauty and translate it into a personal style you can inhabit with ease. She believes everyone can feel beautiful & confident every day. To learn more about Allison, check out her site www.dailyoutfit.com or follow her on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.
All photos of Allison: Cristina Stoian Portraits, http://cristinastoian.nl/
In 2008, early morning on Thanksgiving day, I arrived in the Netherlands for a two week visit with a friend. After a visit to town, jet lag set in and I needed to get a little rest. Ten minutes AFTER I stretched out my legs, the doorbell rang and then he entered the room… This is how my Love story started. Go to the video to get all the dirty details!
I originally wrote this post in April 2016 for Ute’s Expat Lounge, now Ute’s Lounge blog. I’m sending it out again because today one special expat has left the flock and returned to her home country. Yet again I met with mixed emotions and thoughts about this horrible experience of saying goodbye and feeling the sadness of a friendship that has helped me through a lot of life-changing events.
I dedicate this to my friends, Jo Thomas and Katie Miller, who courageously moved with their families to far away places in the world, one a new country and the other returning home. I’m not sure if we will see each other again but I wish you both so much success and happiness in your new homes,countries, jobs, and lives. xx
It’s late on a Sunday evening. My Spotify playlist selects, “Somebody I use to know” by Gotye. Ironically, I feel like this song really hits a nerve with the subject of this post. It’s also my biggest worry; will my friends who are moving away become “Someone I used to know”?
It was also a Sunday when I got the news. The news that one dear friend was moving, in just a week and a half! Another scheduled to leave several weeks beyond her. The maelstrom of emotions came hurdling at me while riding in a car home with a few friends after a women’s weekend away. We shared this pain and well, this shock as it was one member of the carpool who was the subject of the fast move. I couldn’t help but think, “Where was I for all this conversation about departing during the weekend?” All the women in the car were talking while my head was rounding in circles asking:
What am I going to do that last day when she leaves?
How can I prepare for this?
Why is this happening so fast?
Will we keep in touch?
Will the friendship fade?
Can I go through this twice?
I have to chuckle at myself because even as I grow older I see how we do not ever really GROW up from childhood.
[inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”null” suffix=”null”]Friends are always an important part of our lives.[/inlinetweet]
I would dare to add friendship is more cherished as an adult, even more so, when it’s coupled with being an expatriate.
In that car drive home, I listened carefully to what my dear departing friend was saying about all of the arrangements and plans for her move. I listened also to what the others in the car were saying. I wanted to hear their feelings and take careful notes on how they seem to be taking it in. I’ve been an expat for 7 years now. In that time, I haven’t had a close “inner” circle friend move and now, I will see two leave. After we dropped our friend off, we talked about a few of our feelings but not too much. We were all on the verge of breaking down. The emotion was palpable. We got to my house and well, the hugs started and the tears flowed. We were all beside ourselves. It was a healing moment but awful at the same time because we knew there would be more of this for sure. There was a comical round of, “Do you have plans to leave?” We reassured each other that none of us did. We parted to our homes, assuming to tell our husbands and partners of the awful fact that we’d be down a few great friends. This is when I realized something that I never thought a lot about: There are two groups within the Expat Community:
The ones who move here indefinitely to settle down and watch kids grow through school.
The ones who always had plans to either return home or move on to another country.
I’ve known about these two groups but never really gave it a lot of thought. Let’s face it 7 years without a single expat friend moving gets you comfortable with the way things are. And why examine things that don’t relate to you, anyway. Pfft! But there it is. When we were asking each other “are you going to move?” it came from this feeling of loss and desperation. We needed to feel secure again, though, it won’t help with what we were really running away from, grief. No matter what I would have answered that question, eventually, we know that it’s each person that makes up a whole. Neither of these women can nor will be replaced in our hearts and minds. When one leaves we have to deal with that vacancy in our community. No, they are not dying but they are gone. Our children won’t have playdates anymore. The social events will be down a woman or two. Events you all regularly attended will be missing them and your mind will note it every, single, time. It’s devastating!
As an American who lives so very far away from her own family and home, I’ve come to realize that my friends have become my family. We can laugh together about the differences that living abroad brings, look at how our kids are coping beyond us in so many ways(and thank god for that), and now and then check in with what is “normal” in raising our children among foreigners! These people know all my struggles and have shouldered me through some huge life changing moments: becoming a wife, a mother, a house owner, retaining my driving license (again), becoming a business owner, etc… These are often bittersweet events and moments that when you go through them without your family around can be hard but with these women, friends, they more than fill that gap. This is what makes it all the more difficult to say goodbye.
I’m still working through all the emotions and questions that this life event is bringing. I recognize that this should have been, by now, a big part of living my life as an expat. It’s extremely special that seven years have gone by and I haven’t seen another go. I can only reflect back on many years ago when I decided to leave Washington D.C. and move back to my home state of Michigan. But even this pales in comparison because I was making the decision to leave and now I’m the one being left behind. What can I take from that? As I write this exposé over my feelings, I realize a lot more has to be going on for the ones that leave. They made the decision, got the job, and now have to move their families to another country or back home, which by now can almost feel like another country. I remember when I moved, it was time. I was sad but ready. The busyness of moving helped me keep a lot at bay, emotionally. I wonder how it is for them and if they feel the same, will we become to them: Somebody they used to know from a place they used to live?
What are your thoughts on friends moving away? How do you cope with saying goodbye? Please share in the comments.
This vlog is about “owning your shit”. How often don’t we tell our truth or when we aren’t honest about how we feel about situations or people. I think for expats this is an important topic because often our support structures are created by the friendships we make. In this video, I suggest it’s better if you own your $#@! at the start of creating friendships. I would love to hear your experiences on this topic.
Did you struggle to find solid friendships when you moved abroad? In what ways do you still have to “own your $#@!”?
Share with us in the comments your experiences with NOT owning your shit.
A reader of the Life Coach for Expats blog came to me and shared with me that this post inspired her. This is what happened.
I was traveling to Den Haag. At the back of train station, I stopped for food before getting my train. I saw an elderly homeless man and asked if he’d like some food. He was French and couldn’t speak so we used hand signals. I told him, in my best hand signs, to wait for me to get him some warm food. When I was coming back with his food he was looking like he was about to leave – he’d probably given up on me. I ran to him and gave him the food. He seemed to be saying “bless you”.
Before I approached him, I went through a case of, “should I, shouldn’t I” as I’d been disappointed in the past for doing something like this. But I followed my initial feeling, remembered this story, and ignored the part of me trying to talk myself out of it. I’m so glad I followed through. The smile on his face was something I’ll always remember.
I’m so happy she shared this. People always need someone to help or listen. There are opportunities out there. Listen to your inner guidance, be brave, even if it’s for one moment, for someone who may need help to find their way or have a warm meal tonight. Could you be the next one to be inspired?
In our town, Utrecht, we’ve been under massive attack, by cranes, tractors, constant drilling, and all forms of construction, for last few years. Each time I go into town for an appointment, to meet a friend or shopping, I’m astonished at all the changes taking place. The transformation from what it was to what it is now is simply amazing. But before some of these changes were accomplished there have been, and still is, a lot of commotion, chaos, and confusion.
We moved last summer out of the inner city and settled into a bigger home in the ‘burbs. The last year I’ve been virtually unaffected unless I go into town. Though, I remember when I lived in the city, how overwhelmed I would get each time I got on the bike to drive into town. There was a point where each week, and sometimes down to each day, the bike paths were being re-routed into the strange and often, nonsensical patterns that felt dangerous to me. The danger was highlighted more by the fact that I was riding around with my child on the front of my bike. But I am also acutely conscious of how change can cause a lot of potential for dangerous situations. When people are unsure of how to get around in their own town that is when there is a greater risk of accidents. At one point last year I felt that Utrecht was on some manic construction schedule that didn’t make safety for those traveling through it a top priority. I realize this is coming from an American who tends to be a bit safety cautious because, 1., it’s something drummed into my head “look both ways before crossing,” or “don’t trust the other drivers” “always be prepared for the worst” etc… 2., a new mom in a foreign country. I’m on high alert about everything.
About a week ago, I was traveling through our train station that has been evolving like the bike paths and roadways outside it. I had been coming up through the new entrance that opened a month ago, just coming from the Nijntje statue (a mandatory stop point for my daughter). As I entered the station there was a man waving a cane and approaching people grunting with arms in the air in obvious distress. One man who was pushing a stroller with a child walked quickly out of the man’s way. The man waving the cane kept running towards people. Every person responded the same, to get out of his way. I could see that the cane was actually a blind person’s cane. The grunts sounded as though he was also deaf or couldn’t speak very well. I thought, well, if I can get close enough I will try to see what he is saying and if I can help. Just as I started towards him a young man, no more than 25 years old, approached him and asked him if he could help him. The blind man explained that he could no longer find Spoor (train track) 1. The area where he was flailing his arms about and running at people is entirely new. I know the station is most likely equipped with special treads on the ground for blind people, but I hadn’t noticed any in that specific area. You can understand why he might have felt so overwhelmed if there was nothing in place to help guide him.
The whole scene changed the moment the young man went over to the blind man. You could see the others that had previously moved away from him, looking on to see what would happen next. The blind man was more at ease and more, well, normal because he wasn’t running at anyone hopeless and afraid. He had someone there helping him and listening. The young man offered his arm to the blind man and escorted him to Spoor 1 which was less than 100 meters away. I watched how he smiled and talked to the blind man reassuring him and taking care of how to guide him. It was a beautiful moment of human connection. But it showed me more things too. [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]We build a lot of our sense of safety in the familiarity of our surroundings. When that fails us it becomes extremely important to find it in people.[/inlinetweet] I think a sense of relief came over all of us that someone was brave enough to help him. Sometimes it is the smallest things that make the biggest difference in someone’s life.