It’s a common misconception that the life as an expat wife is an easy one. While many expat wives enjoy benefits such as a maid, a driver and a larger disposable income than before, the emotional cost of a little luxury can be high and may result in an identity crisis.
The first expatriation may be like an adventure, a new beginning, a new country, a new culture. The first weeks and months are spent getting to grips with driving in a foreign country, enrolling the children in school, finding appropriate housing, figuring out the healthcare system, making friends and trying to settle down into your new life abroad. When all the practicalities are sorted and you’ve settled into a palatable routine, it’s only then that many recognise that there is a void in their lives, a lack of personal fulfillment but you reason with yourself that it’s only for a few years and now that you’re all set up in your new country, it’s not too bad. That is until hubby arrives home with news of a transfer and you have to leave it all behind to start over, AGAIN. Third or fourth time round, it gets old. The novelty wears off and the enthusiasm to settle in and make new friends quells, exit –positive supportive partner, enter -unhappy wife.
Like the saying goes, Happy Wife, Happy Life, and so true is the reverse. The balance of the happiness in the house is largely dependent on the woman and the level of happiness in an expat house is probably fully reliant on the woman, making it paramount that the expat wife stays happy or there is a knock-on effect on the rest of the family. Often acting as mother, father, friend and tutor to the kids as they all trail around the world after Daddy who spends all his time furthering his career.
The expat wife may at this stage begin to forget that she once held down a full-time job and enjoyed a comfortable home/work balance. Only five years prior she may have managed a whole department in an established multi-national organisation, developed the marketing plan for the upcoming year along with the estimated associated cost and presented same to the VP and the corporate sales and marketing team at a group conference in Germany. These days same expat wife may struggle to attend a dinner party without having to take a Xanex to alleviate the pressure of having to meet new people and explain that you are no longer somebody that has a job, a hobby, a talent or an ambition, you now just follow your husband around the world, busying yourself with unimportant clubs and group just to pass the time, as you no longer have your own identity, you are a “trailing wife”.
“Trailing Wives” follow their husbands to new a country, city or continent, depending on the location of his new work assignment. The sole function of the woman in this situation becomes settling the children as quickly and seamlessly as possible into new schools, activities and groups of friends but living life on the fly has significant drawbacks to the wife in particular. Unlike her husband who is gainfully employed and gets to spend his day in a dynamic environment, expat wife, gets to spend her day being a full time driver, cook and nurturer (the latter being the least well paid) to their kids that were only ever planned as optional additional extras and were never intended to give sole definition to their mother.
In many countries the wives are not allowed to work as a condition in the man’s contract so along with the issue of feeling that your sole function in life is to facilitate your children’s lives and your husband’s ambitions, you also have no money of your own, as historically his money was “ours” and mine was “my own”.
Unable to settle down fully due to the limited duration of the husbands contract many expat women spend their time, shopping, socializing, paying for distance learning courses that they never complete, having manicures and ultimately becoming blissfully unhappy and beautifully discontent.