Expat Life: Being a Trailing Spouse

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A few years ago I stumbled upon the term, “trailing spouse” to describe an expat spouse who ends up overseas due to their partner’s work arrangements.  While a feel like an equal partner in our decision to move overseas, it has certainly changed my day-to-day life a lot.

As a trailing spouse, I play a supporting role.  I support my husband and his career and I support the family by organizing their schooling, driving them to activities and managing the household.  I am used to working and having something of my own.  In our life overseas, I volunteer at the school and I got to the gym and meet other moms for coffee, but my life completely revolves around my family.  I knew that it would be like this when we decided to move to Australia and looked forward to having lots of time with the kids and being able to complete projects that never got done and explore new hobbies and interests.  But, like anything in life there are advantages and challenges of being an expat trailing spouse.

We have come to love this city

Time with the Kids

Although I am an extremely efficient person, I struggle with the pace of “regular” life.  I loved the time we lived on a sailboat in the Bahamas and that pace slowed to a crawl.  Sometimes I felt bored and I learned how to deal with that and I learned that it is actually an important feeling.  One of the things I was most excited about in this move was more time with the kids.

In our previous life, I often felt like my attention was split in a million different directions.  I would come home from work and want to spend quality time with the kids, but there was dinner to be made, forms to be signed and so many other things calling out for my attention.  Without work in the equation, I have more time to be with the kids.  I love being able to pick them up each day after school and not having to rush right into dinner.  I like that I can do the groceries and cleaning while they are at school so that our evenings are free.  I am so thankful for the time that being a trailing spouse allows me with the kids.

I love our time together after school.

I often worked part-time back in Canada because work-life balance was important to me.  I know there are so many families with both parents working full-time and it is a struggle.  Even in Canada, I know I was lucky to have the balance I had.  There are definitely times where I miss having something of my own, but all in all, I love having this special time with the kids.

So fortunate to have so much time with these 3.

Last year when we first moved here Miles wasn’t yet eligible for school and so while the other kids started school, him and I had two months of special time together.  It was lovely to go to the parks together, stop in at cafes and explore our new neighborhood.  He loves school and has transitioned so well this year, but I feel so fortunate to have had that special time with him.

Time for Me

Being a trailing spouse who isn’t working also has given me the gift of time to explore my own interests.  I love that I can go to the gym during the day and not feel guilty trying to choose between time with the kids in the evenings and being active.  Having all this time has also allowed me to really focus my attention on my travel blog and test the waters about where that might go.  I sink endless amounts of hours while the kids are at school into the blog and even though I regularly question the worth of that time,  I feel fortunate to be able to have that gift of time.

Weekly lunch dates with Paul

When we lived in Malaysia, I had three young kids at home with me and I struggled at times being so tied down and not having time for me.  In Melbourne with all the kids in school, it is such a gift to have so much free time.  And yet the days still zip by and I never accomplish everything I want do in a day.

Sometimes having so much time isn’t always a good thing.  I have enough free time to really think about what I want out of life and what I want our future to hold.  This can get tiring to always be questioning what will come next.  Since I am so involved in blogging, I also see so many other families living alternative lives or travelling extensively.  You can’t help but feel urges of envy when you scroll through your Instagram feed and see fabulous places and experiences every day.  Paul regularly comes home from work to my new schemes, dreams and ideas about full-time travel, sailing and living a nomadic lifestyle.

This time off for me has allowed us to travel extensively and explore Australia.  Since I work in education in Canada, we are always confined to travel at school holidays.  It is so lovely to be able to go away whenever we want and take long weekends to go camping.  I can’t pass up a good deal and it has also allowed me to take advantage of random seat sales to Asia and spontaneous holidays that are too good to pass up.

Gavin and I on our special trip to Singapore.  Photo by Wanderloud’s Kaye in Singapore.  

Having so much time has allowed me to really dig in and explore our new city, Melbourne.  I make sure I get into the city centre once a week to meet Paul for our weekly lunch date and to explore a new part of the city I haven’t been.  I take advantage of the amazing bike trails and appreciate things that I wouldn’t normally do in Canada.

Being a Trailing Spouse

Moving overseas is an adjustment for all family members.  Paul has to adjust to different ways of doing business, new clients and different work expectations.  The kids had to adjust to a new school and new activities, make friends and get used to a new home.  As a trailing spouse, I had to get used to my new role, meet new friends and learn how to navigate a different city and country.  For all of us, it has taken time to settle in and we are just at that sweet spot now where we feel settled.

Always exploring our new home

My Recommendations

  • Reach out – it can be hard to constantly be interacting with people you don’t know, but reach out and make connections to your new community.  Go to the school coffee mornings, initiate conversations at the playground and ask other parents for recommendations (dentists, babysitters).
  • Stay busy – I definitely went through a homesick phase when we first arrived and staying busy is the best way to beat that.  I was used to working and being busy and staying home and thinking about what you are missing “at home” is not helpful.  For me, going to the gym, volunteering at the school and working on the blog were great outlets.  Many of these also led to more connections in the community.
  • Focus on the positives – While I love Aussie life, there are some things that frustrate me.  One of the things I love the most living overseas is seeing new and different ways of doing things.  Some you like and some you don’t, but being open-minded and positive will help you adjust.  Most people when moving overseas don’t want to replicate their life “at home”, so try to embrace the differences.
  • Load up on new experiences – The first year I was so sad that the kids were missing out on Halloween and a traditional Christmas.  However, focusing on all the new experiences we were having and not the things we were missing out on helped.  Yes, we were missing wonderful family parties and our home in Canada, but we got to go to the beach on weekends, go to school camps, and had trams go right by our new house. 

    Expat life is amazing, but there are challenges as well.

Also Read: our monthly Expat Updates

Have you been a trailing spouse?  What did you find the most challenging part?  

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Expat Life: Trailing Spouse

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