"I admit, we grossly underestimated what it would be like to build a new life for ourselves" - What Life's Like When You're An Expat Mother

“I admit, we grossly underestimated what it would be like to build a new life for ourselves” – What Life’s Like When You’re An Expat Mother



Australian in London and GRACE Collective member Lily Moffatt shares what life is like as an expat mother...

Resilience, a word synonymous with mothers all over the world. However, I never appreciated the true gravity of the word until I became an ‘expat mum’. A few years ago, in Dubai, an old boss of mine introduced me to the term ‘rope-a-dope’. In short, it’s a boxing term where one contender lets their opponent fatigue themselves by allowing him/her to throw many small punches. The contender withstands these many small punches while the opponent becomes tired. Once the exhausted opponent has little energy to throw any more punches, the contender uses the opportunity to execute his/her winning blow. I view my expat existence as my ‘rope-a-dope’ life. You get hit with so many blows, but if you have the resilience to absorb the repetitive hardships that come with starting a new life in a foreign country then when you make that glorifying, winning hit, it feels that much sweeter of a triumph.


You never really know if you’re being a ‘good mum’ as an expat mum...

Back home in Australia, I would have yardsticks by which to compare myself; friends with kids to confide in and my mum and dad to impart their parenting wisdom. Equally, there is no one to tell my husband and I that we are doing a bad job (blind confidence = added bonus!) or pat us on the back and tell us we are doing a good one. But one thing I’ve discovered in parenting across three continents is that everyone in every country does parenting differently and there is no one ‘right way’. With every obstacle and every rope-a-dope hit, you become a stronger parent. You become a more resilient and braver parent. You adapt. For me, this makes being an expat mum an advantageous adventure.


There is a sweet saying which suggests that as an adult you can experience the magic of Christmas again through the eyes of a child...

The same can be applied to exploring the world through my daughter’s eyes. My husband and I did a vast amount of travelling before we became parents but the new-found delight in my daughter’s eyes with every new adventure we embark on makes for the perfect travel companion. Watching her become seemingly hypnotised by the azure coloured waters of The Blue Lagoon in Malta. Exploring cobble street lanes and patchwork fields on weekends away in the charming English countryside. Hot summer nights wading in pools in Dubai. Eating Sunday roasts while mesmerised by the log fires at our local London pub. Letting buttery flakes from croissants fall through our fingers as we meandered the streets on Paris. Every new city is exciting and full of possibility to a child, every stranger a potential friend. Travelling with my daughter has made us more inquisitive and excitable explorers. If I had any advice for a new expat mum, I would tell her that there will be periods in setting up a new life abroad where you receive blow after blow and feel incredibly homesick and isolated. It’s then that you need to retain a positive outlook. Remain focused on what you want to achieve out of moving away from your loved ones and the safety of ‘the familiar’. For me, it was to explore more of the world and meet interesting people, have new and exciting experiences and exist within an amazing level of diversity. So, on a cold, dark, London morning when everything seems to be falling apart and loved ones seem so very, very, far away, I will pick myself up and take my daughter to the local library for story-time. It’s there that we are met with a colourful drag queen performing an exquisite rendition of ‘The Hungry Caterpillar’; an experience I know my daughter would never have had in a quiet area of suburban Australia.


Being an expat mum has taught me the benefits of being an eternal optimist...

All mums are often required to personify a ‘the glass half full’ attitude. But what started as a necessary way of thinking (when we first moved overseas) has now slid quite conveniently into my expat mum mindset. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t mean I’m always sunshine and lollipops, but I’m more often than not, transfixed on trying to find the positive in otherwise stressful situations. Reminding myself to not sweat the small stuff. Although my daughter is young, I’m hoping she will adopt some of these skills (or rather coping mechanisms) as a product of her expat upbringing.


The old African adage ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ recognises the need for not only close and extended family to help care for a child, but friends and the broader community to assist in servicing the needs of the entire family...

So, what happens when the community you live in is both void of your family and friends but is also a transient community? People regularly move in and out of cities like Dubai and London. They are modern urban dwellings that are not necessarily conducive to long-term family life. As an expat mum, you need to be able to wear the many hats that a community would have otherwise filled. It can be exhausting and challenging. I dump everything on my husband, and he on me. Every work issue, every inch of mental fatigue, every niggling anxiety. I know, as a result, this makes our partnership that much stronger. We have had to lean on each other for everything and play the role of wife, husband, family and friends.


Familiarity, friends and family ...

Three concepts that I had missed for the first two years of my daughter’s life. The sweet novelty of having my own mum around to help whenever I need it, group catch ups with my close friends and their children of the same age, or my daughter spending time with her cousins, aunts and uncles. Mum guilt is a load that I constantly carry around. The decision to move to London (not back home to Melbourne) after our years living in Dubai was not made lightly, we knew my husband’s job in London would be demanding and he would also be completing his MBA, which would often mean weekends away at university and many hours spent in the library studying. However, my mum said something to me that I believe swayed our decision. She said, “Do you want to be lying in bed with your husband 50 years from now reflecting on how you had that opportunity to live in London and you never took it?”


Being an expat mum means taking a leap into the unknown and taking risks (not just for yourself but risks for your children)...

I had always been so fortunate to have a flock of family around (I’m one of a tight-knit crew of five children), incredibly generous and thoughtful friends and have always lived a safe, quiet suburban existence. There is a part of me that would like my daughter to have a safe suburban routine, but I’m starting to appreciate the benefits of the disrupted routine we have lived under for the last few years. My daughter has become as resilient as her parents to the challenges we have embraced as expats.


My husband and I consciously decided to uproot ourselves from our comfort zone, in the hope that we would have a richness of experience and teach our daughter more about the world...

I admit, we grossly underestimated what it would be like to build a new life for ourselves. But with every new challenge, there is an equally amazing reward in combating every obstacle. I’ve achieved milestones I never would have thought possible as a mum. The expat family life isn’t for everyone, and I know for certain it isn’t the life I want forever. But, despite all its challenges, I can confidently say I am embracing the opportunity and truly living life. During this crazy period of adventure, exploration and hullabaloo I can smile and say I have found my joie de vivre.


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