Expat mum: how to deal with the ‘empty nest syndrome’?
The kids are gone, and my husband is very busy with his responsibilities, whilst I keep our expatriate life on track. I have not worked for years because my job was actually the best job in the world: that of Mum. Today I am alone, walls resounding with the silence that weighs upon me. Which woman has not experienced what is called the ‘empty nest syndrome’? The
big question now is: how to manage the absence and return to a project that makes sense once the children have taken off?
When you are a young Mum, active socially and busy with a family routine, it can be difficult to do more than just keep pace. In addition to supporting a husband and family, whilst trying to remain available to other parents and friends, a mother also needs to manage the household, homework, activities and holiday planning. And on top of this, she is strongly encouraged to flourish with a project. Phewww, that’s a handful; ‘when is it time to retire?’ some of you may feel like asking! Yet when this time actually arrives: when the youngest has left home, the oldest is abroad to study, and we find ourselves alone with our partner, the absence of our children can be difficult to live with.
Maintain relationships beyond the distance. Long distance relationships can be difficult to accept and manage. But the fact is that distance is a catalyst for refining human relationships. Links that are weak disintegrate naturally, but a strong relationship will see distance as a good opportunity to be open and be honest. Distance encourages us to express things that really count and matter to us; it sometimes allows sometimes allows new types of communication, which may not necessarily take place in person. We are clearly beyond the days of romantic epistolary communication, where one watches the mailbox impatiently, however modern technology advantages us by making daily contact much more accessible. Sharing the little things of life: a picture, an emoticon, a reflection of the day are all made possible. New technology will certainly never replace a heart-to- heart hug or a hand on the shoulder. However it was nature that gave us the power to speak and write, and distance can be an opportunity to embrace these skills and reconnect with our own language: a language we tend to overlook when living abroad, in a mixed family, or when uprooted, far from home for too long.
Coaching: Defining a purpose-driven project to transform the absence
Human beings need projects with purpose. In many cases for women over the years, this has boiled down to dealing with domestic and social life as an accompanying spouse. Once the children are gone, it is essential to find an activity that is just as challenging and rewarding. Regardless of what it is: enrichment classes, volunteering or starting a business, the key thing is to find what drives us, and only us. Something that will make us want to get out of bed each day.
It isn’t always easy to define this project, and one may need support in the process of identifying one’s needs, values and desires. Some may be drawn to entrepreneurship, with its advantages of time and/or geographic flexibility. But already that inner voice may be saying, ‘Will others take me seriously? How can I be legitimate when I haven’t had much experience? Am I not too old to learn and start something from scratch?’
How to overcome these fears? Some tools to act … Trust yourself and act step by step
Break down a big objective into smaller achievable steps. Adopt a technique called ‘Kai-zen’. This is a Japanese concept (comes from the word ‘change-good’) which involves taking a small step each day, a bigger one each week, and taking time to celebrate successes each time a step is completed. People who are thus put into action play the game easily and quickly gainconfidence!
Goal, goal, goal!
“If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favourable”, said Seneca. And that is so true. Set a clear goal, make sure it is both ambitious and realistic, structure your project, and validate it is feasible; these are all key factors for success.
Do not hesitate to get help
Writing this new chapter of your life does not have to be a ‘one-woman’ show? Why not gather expert opinion, find a business partner or ‘buddy’, or get help from a mentor to boost motivation? Coaching is also a perfect way to get the required support and assistance. We work in tandem with the coachee on clarifying the project; on defining and developing his/her
skills and we enjoy sharing our network to link them up with like-minded people for better results. Coaching is a collaborative partnership, which proves efficient and gives visible long-lasting results!
Raphaëlle CHOËL & Fabienne HANSOUL