Family in Transit

Family in Transit

A recent post on Instagram had me chuckling and sighing at the same time. Someone had shared about the expatriate experience and said it was a cycle of unpacking, attempting to settle in, and packing up again. Then repeat. This resonated powerfully with me because it hits the bulls-eye when it comes to describing expatriate life accurately.

Once again, I’m at the beginning of this cycle. I’m currently sitting in my new dining room in Brunei, contemplating how we’ve been affected by our latest move from Singapore two months ago. I’m trying to think of some deeper insight to share. But I’m mostly wondering about the location of our container of belongings and crossing my fingers that it has arrived at port after weeks of being held up.

Physical Transitions From the Move

Delays in shipment should come as no surprise to me. After all, this is our third overseas posting in 14 years and our sixth international move. It’s discernible that the difficulty of transitioning increases with each move. It is in some part superficially related to the physical belongings that we have amassed over time, with furniture and keepsakes from different countries.

It is just physically tedious. But it has also gotten more challenging as our family has grown and our daughter has gotten older. (She is currently eight and already behaving like a pre-teen.) And this time around, there are many more added considerations and issues from moving during a pandemic. Besides the actual physical move, the mental and emotional upheaval can take a long time to accept and deal with.

Brunei Restrictions

There are several restrictions to entering Brunei. Firstly, it is currently not open to tourists and visitors, and one can only enter for essential travel. As with many other countries, there is also a quarantine period at a hotel facility along with several PCR tests at different points. Upon arriving in December, we quickly adapted to the local rules and restrictions. The first time we were invited out to dinner, we were excited to make new acquaintances.

I was having a lovely conversation with an Australian lady who had also just arrived, and we were happily exchanging notes when someone suddenly exclaimed, “It’s 9.15 pm!” and a bustle ensued to thank our hosts, make an elegant but hasty exit, and drive home quickly. You see, there was a nightly curfew set between 10 pm and 4 am, and no one in the country is allowed out of their homes during this period. Since then, the curfew has been relaxed to a later time of midnight, but like Cinderella, one has to always watch the clock on evenings out.

Pandemic Life

The author’s daughter on her way to Brunei to begin their
family’s next expat adventure.

While my husband jumped straight into the job after our isolation period was over, my daughter and I have been at home for most of these two months. The junior kids at her school are currently waiting for their vaccinations. Until then, they are required to have online lessons from home. We’re five weeks into home-based learning (more than we had ever done in Singapore!), and we do not know when the supplies will arrive and the kids can get their jabs.

So, we are being patient and will get that done as soon as the vaccination drive begins. In the meantime, she’s getting to know her teacher and classmates over Google Meet. And also attempting to fall in sync with her different subjects and pace of lessons. The reality of this is that it has been tough, particularly in the past week. I sit next to her and try to guide her, and she generally gets on easily.

Emotional Transitions

But there are days when it is all too much; we get on each other’s nerves and we need a time-out from work and each other. While we try to do fun things like play badminton together, the lack of daily interaction with children her own age is hard. There is probably a lot of physical and emotional energy being built up. We are still in the process of finding a balance and coping with being with each other 24/7.

But there are days when it is all too much; we get on each other’s nerves and we need a time-out from work and each other.

I’ll be honest and tell you that I know my patience needs a lot of work. Often, I drive her with the demands of a teacher rather than encourage her as a supportive parent. I need to know when to take a step back and acknowledge how overwhelming it can be for an 8-year-old. I just let her know that it’s alright. With online schooling possibly lasting for another few months, I foresee that there will be some days when I will be telling her teacher that she will not be completing the work. She needs a break for her physical and mental well-being (or for mine!). And we all need to be ok with it.

Transitioning Roles

In these two months, I have realised that I am at an important stage of transitioning in my own roles. Since the pandemic began, I met its challenges by dealing with work and adjusted to a blended mode of teaching my students in school. After years of being a stay-at-home mum, I had gradually re-established my role and identity outside of my family and home. Presently, however, my full-on and most immediate roles have circled back to focusing solely on my daughter and husband. The term trailing spouse is often used in expatriate life, though I prefer seeing myself as the supportive spouse.

Still, there is no denying that my role as a spouse has brought me here right now, and it is where I start again as we rebuild our family life together. As a mother, I am a guide, encouraging cheer-leader, cajoler of spirits, and master-briber. I am one of my daughter’s constants as she finds her way in this place and time with new friends, interests, and future plans.

I don’t see this as losing a part of my identity just because I have to give more of myself right now as a mother or wife. Rather, I want to see this as a pursuit of establishing myself in other meaningful ways and thriving with my many different identities. It will take time and I may struggle with some parts of it, but I’d say I’m always up for a challenge!

This is an original post by World Mom Karen Williams in Brunei.

Karen Williams

Karen is a Singaporean with an 8 year-old daughter who’s a little fire-cracker version of herself. She’s spent the last 15 years in her various roles of supportive trailing spouse, mother, home-maker and educator. Having experienced six international moves alternating between overseas postings and her home country of Singapore, Karen considers herself a lover of diverse foods and culture, and reckons she qualifies as a semi-professional packer. She is deeply interested in intercultural and third-culture issues, and has grown immensely from her interactions with other World Mums. Karen is currently living in Brunei with her family.

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POLAND: Stay-At-Home Parent – When Kids Go to School

POLAND: Stay-At-Home Parent – When Kids Go to School

Indulging in ice cream on a hot day in Krakow's main market square

Indulging in ice cream on a hot day in Krakow’s main market square

Free time. Sometimes I feel like I would give an arm and a leg for a little bit of free time. To have lunch with friends.  To go to the gym.  To take a nap. To read. To go to the grocery store all by myself.  To do I knew when I signed up to be a stay-at-home parent that I would have little time to myself. I also knew that with my husband’s job, which has us moving to a different country every two or three years, that having a set of grandparents (or two) close by to provide some regular child-free relief was not going to happen. In our journey across the globe, we’ve been fortunate enough to find our place and develop our circles of friends.  The expat communities in Thailand and Poland have been good to us, and we know that if we have an emergency, we can call on the support of our friends to help us out with the kids if need be. That is the way it works when you are abroad. You help each other out.  And I am so grateful for these friends and their support.

But, still, when you are a stay-at-home parent, particularly not near close friends and family, you spend an extraordinary amount of time with your kids.  This is of course exhausting, but also wonderful.  You get to witness every little new thing they discover, the days their mood begins to change and they develop new facets of their personality, and watch the bond between siblings grow (yes, a time does come when they stop fighting constantly). Your life is so wrapped up in theirs that it is hard to imagine a time when it will no longer be that way. Their every little move is known to you, and yours to them.

Enjoying waffles while visiting the Easter markets in Krakow

Enjoying waffles while visiting the Easter markets in Krakow

But, one day they will go off to school – all of them (in my case, three) – and then, you will actually have free time. Think about that for a minute. You, without needing to feel guilty, will be able to do what you want to do – whether that is going back to work part-time or full-time, or taking on a new hobby or two, or just enjoying the peace and quiet for awhile.  This is your time. So what will you do?

I am not going to lie. I have about 18 things on my plate that I would like to do when the kids start school.  I’d like to start writing more often and for more publications, I would like to write another children’s book (and hope that it will be successfully published this time). I would like to train for and run a marathon.  I would like to learn to swim and bike correctly and try my hand at a triathlon.  I would like to become a good photographer.  I would like to get back to writing thank you notes, planning ahead of time, and reading. I would like to cook and not be rushed. I would like to explore the city – take tours, visit the non-kid friendly museums, mosey about Krakow’s beautiful old market square.

So yea, it’s safe to say I’ve thought about what I will do when the kids go to school. But sometimes I wonder if the thrill of free time will peter out quickly.  The reason I stopped working five years ago was to stay at home with the kids.

Will I be able to feel that my life is fulfilling when they are no longer at home, nor fully dependent on me? Will what I plan to do with my time be “enough?” Will it fill the void of not having them around?  Will my time be useful?  And if so, to whom will it be useful?

Enjoying a morning of fun at the Engineering Museum in Krakow

Enjoying a morning of fun at the Engineering Museum in Krakow

I have talked to other mothers who have the same concern.  One friend in particular who just went through the process of sending her boys off to school for the first time (she home-schooled them previously) has struggled with feeling whether what she is doing in her free time “enough?”  When your role – for years – is to raise sweet little beings into strong, confident, and loving children, and then one day the time you have to do that is cut back significantly – what will that feel like?  Will it be a blow?  Will it be a relief? Will it be bittersweet?

At a minimum, it will be an adjustment.  And while I don’t have any answers, yet, it is just one more milestone on this path of parenthood.

Are you a stay-at-home parent? How have you adjusted, or how will you adjust, to your kids going to school?

p>This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Loren Braunohler of Poland.

Loren Braunohler

Loren Braunohler is a former U.S. diplomat turned stay-at-home mom and freelance writer. She is a world traveler who avoids the cold (don't ask why she is currently in Poland). Former assignments have included Mozambique, Venezuela, Australia, Sudan, Thailand and Washington, D.C. She enjoys running, although she probably enjoys sleeping even more. Loren blogs about her family's international adventures and parenting at

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LESOTHO: Thoughts (and Anxieties) as an Expat Parent

LESOTHO: Thoughts (and Anxieties) as an Expat Parent

Lesotho Two Worlds

My Parenting Anxieties as an Expat

Right now I have a lot of parenting anxieties. One is over our transient lifestyle moving from one country to another every few years with our young children. Another is over my absence from my children as a full-time working and studying mom – when I’m not home, I’m at work; when I’m home, I’m studying.

Can anyone else relate?

My twin children are in 1st grade and about to finish up their second (and final) term. A new teacher has come into the picture…(thankfully) with very structured daily homework assignments and weekly quizzes…Quizzes?!…and a very clear goal of getting the children to 2nd grade level reading and spelling by the end of the term. All of this is wonderful, makes a lot of sense, what a blessing, terrific….and time to PANIC!!!

How am I going to spend enough time with my kids to go through their homework? Will I have enough reserve of patience to be encouraging? How am I going to impose the strict rule about no tablet time until afterhomework when they are with the housekeeper? How am I to maneuver between two very different personalities, learning styles, and confidence levels when the kids are constantly comparing themselves to one another’s abilities (one can spell and is excited about school work/one can’t and doesn’t want to; one still needs to do math with fingers/ the other is a natural whiz?)

Anyone else have similar issues with parenting anxiety when raising twins or between siblings?

Walking in the Shoes of the Basotho

Meanwhile, throughout Lesotho, where we live, there is a large migrant adult population who must leave their families behind to go work for long stretches of time in the mines or textile factories in another area of Lesotho, or even as far away as South Africa or other countries in the region. Sometimes, they move around with their families and are transient depending on job availability. Sometimes they go away on their own and are absent for months and years from their loved ones.

For the Basotho, they mostly leave their families behind in the care of other family members, mostly with the paternal side of the family given their patrilineal culture. As I imagine what life would be like in the Basotho culture, as a wife and mother I would be living with my in-laws under the authority of my father-in-law for all family decisions. I imagine that parenting anxiety exists, albeit, very different. Here’s how…

My concerns for my children would be challenged not only by the quality of their education, but also by their access to adequate healthcare; the family’s limited income to pay for daily necessities (until the next time my husband comes home with more money); the home garden suffering from drought; and the decision to send my daughter to school, but not my son because we need him to be a herdboy and tend to our livestock until we can sell them. Time to PANIC?

If I take this exercise further, I begin to imagine how can I convince my father-in-law to agree for my child to see a medical doctor instead of a traditional healer. And even if he agreed, how will I get my sick child to a medical facility when it’s a day’s walk away and there is no public transportation even if I had the money to pay?

If there is no work for me, should I trade sex for money or goods to provide for my family? What will we eat if the garden is dead? Will it rain soon? What will happen to my son if he doesn’t get the education he needs to become more than a herder or a laborer in the future?

Can anyone else relate?

Parenting anxieties are indiscriminate across the planet. We all have them at one time or another and for many different reasons. With each location my family and I live as expats, I learn to walk in many different shoes (or bare feet) of the people whom we share our community. With each day, I gain a greater understanding of the challenges that parents face around the world. And, these varying experiences are often on my mind.

Do you or others in your community relate to these two experiences living side by side? What are your current parenting anxieties?

Dee Harlow (Laos)

One of Dee’s earliest memories was flying on a trans-Pacific flight from her birthplace in Bangkok, Thailand, to the United States when she was six years old. Ever since then, it has always felt natural for her to criss-cross the globe. So after growing up in the northeast of the US, her life, her work and her curiosity have taken her to over 32 countries. And it was in the 30th country while serving in the Peace Corps in Uzbekistan that she met her husband. Together they embarked on a career in international humanitarian aid working in refugee camps in Darfur, Sudan, and the tsunami torn coast of Aceh, Indonesia.

Dee is now a full-time mother of three-year old twins and continues to criss-cross the globe every two years with her husband who is in the US Foreign Service. They currently live in Vientiane, Laos, and are loving it! You can read about their adventures at Wanderlustress.

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PORTUGAL: Am I Really In Portugal?

PORTUGAL: Am I Really In Portugal?

PortugalI have loved Portugal for nearly my whole life. I first came here as a little girl for summer holidays with my parents. I can still remember the dry heat of the Portuguese summer, the ice-cream from the beach stalls that was never quite frozen, and the delicious pastries in the cafés. I’ve been coming back to the same city, the same coastline ever since.

The result is that, although I’ve only been actually living in Portugal for over a year, I sort of feel like a local. Take me anywhere in Portugal today and I’ll probably find the place imprinted somewhere in my memory, even though I thought I’d never been there before. I can go to the same ice-cream parlour I went to over 20 years ago and order the same flavour. There are family photos of little me sitting at the top of the farmer’s market steps just like my son does today. No wonder Portugal feels like home.

And then sometimes it is jarringly obvious that I’m not from around here. My Portuguese accent is from Brazil; sometimes I even still have problems understanding the local pronunciation. In the summer, most shop-owners think I’m an English tourist on a week’s holiday. I don’t vote, I’m not up-to-date with Portuguese politics and have no idea what’s on Portuguese TV.

But my most glaring lapse is that I don’t have any Portuguese friends.

It’s not by choice. The local expat community welcomed me with open arms and I simply haven’t had to look elsewhere. In Brazil, you could basically count all the foreigners in the city on one hand. Outside of the big cities, people would look at you funny if you spoke English. Waiters at restaurants would often confuse England with America, London with Miami.

Here, playgroup alone includes mums from Sweden, Germany, the UK and Holland. On Saturdays the organic market is full of French and German people. There are English, American and German schools up and down the coast and nobody blinks an eyelid when you say your child is bilingual.

On the one hand, it’s lovely to be part of such an eclectic international mix of people. In some ways I feel more at ease with other nomads like myself, who know what I’m talking about when I mention living out of boxes or moving every couple of years. But I worry that I’m missing out on the real Portugal. Did I really move here just to buy Waitrose tea at the supermarket and chat about the weather with other Brits?

Of course it’s lovely that I can buy peanut butter and proper English tea bags at the supermarket, but shouldn’t I be experimenting with local ingredients?

At the playground it sometimes feels that there is a bit of a “them and us” mentality between expat and local parents. Of course it’s difficult to mix when you’re not sure if the expats speak Portuguese (many of them don’t). Different attitudes to parenting don’t help: most Portuguese parents look aghast when I let my son splash through puddles without shoes or climb the slide – I in turn can’t believe they take their children to the park in such beautiful clothing (the washing! the ironing!). I wish it weren’t so. I don’t want my son growing up in Portugal but not a part of Portugal.

Since I’ve had no luck sidling up to Portuguese mums in the park, I’m trying to find other ways to connect with my community. A couple of weeks ago I bought a bus pass – what better way to get to know the neighbourhood than via the bus route? Plus, there’s always a friendly pensioner looking to chat about the weather.

Are you an expat or a local in your country? If you’re from abroad do you find it easy to mix with the locals?

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Julie of Portugal. Photo credit to the author.


Julie, her husband and baby boy are currently living in Portugal, having spent the previous three years in the southeast of Brazil.
She considers herself a bit of an obsessive reader, and even more so since discovering she was pregnant. All that information has to go somewhere, which is why Julie started her blog, happy mama = happy baby, where she documents all the quirky parenting ideas she has collected so far.

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UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: Going Green (or trying to) in Abu Dhabi

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: Going Green (or trying to) in Abu Dhabi

Recycling in Abu Dhabi

I turned fifty last month.

See how calmly I said that? Just rolled right off my keyboard with nary a omigodhowdidigetsoold freakout.

Turning fifty in Abu Dhabi, where we’ve lived for the past three years, meant that my family couldn’t be with me to celebrate this milestone (millstone?).  On the other hand, celebrating here in a place that still feels quite “new,” reminds me that I’ve avoided one of the big pitfalls of late middle age: falling into a rut. As a wise friend here pointed out to me, when you’ve just upped stakes and settled in a new country, culture, city, you’ve pretty much blown the “rut” wide open.

I’ve gotten used to many new things over our years here–buying Pop-tarts in the “pork room,” Sunday as the start of the work-week, no door-to-door postal service–but there are other things that feel more difficult to resolve, particularly when I think about what my kids are (or aren’t) learning as a result of living here. As with all things, of course, we start to figure out what really matters to us, as parents and as people, when we’re confronted with the absence of that thing.

Here’s a thing that’s absent in Abu Dhabi: recycling. Think about that for a minute, especially those of you who live in the US: think about the fact that it’s become almost second nature to separate your garbage, to flatten the cardboard, take the empty bottles back to the store, to look for products in environmentally-conscious packaging (unless that triples the price in which case…hmm…).

Not here. Oh sure, there are some “recycle” bins in public places, and in the housing development where we live, we have two garbage bins: one for “wet” garbage and one for “dry,” but we’ve watched as both bins get dumped, day after day, into the maw of the same truck. Plastic water bottles are ubiquitous but there isn’t anywhere to recycle them (which will explain why there are about 75 of them under my sink right now–and I think they’re breeding); gas-guzzling SUVs are the norm; and while there is talk about developing solar power here (in the land of eternal sunshine and heat you’d think that would be a no-brainer), nothing as yet has happened.

I use many of these problems as “teaching moments,” trying to explain to my kids about the importance of being environmentally conscious, but it’s been difficult to put anything into action, unlike when we lived in New York, where we took our compost to the farmer’s market to be turned into worm food, separated our trash, and so on.

And then for my birthday, my husband surprised me with two boxes. One was very small and contained things that sparkled. That box was just for me. The other box, much bigger and bulkier, contained a big plastic tub. Much less romantic, perhaps, but a gift for the whole family to–if not enjoy, then at least participate in: Bokashi.

Bokashi is a Japanese word that means fermentation, and bokashi is a method of composting food waste by sprinkling the scraps with “bokashi bran,” which encourages the fermentation process.

All our food scraps (meat, cheese, bread, coffee grounds) go into the bokashi bucket and when the bucket is full, we bury the contents of the bucket in our backyard (although there are other options; see the website for details).

bokashi tub

Now my kids have an additional chore: they are the food scrap patrol. Uneaten contents of lunchboxes don’t get dumped at school; they go into the bokashi.  Dinner scraps, lunch bits, residue in cooking pots: bokashi, bokashi, bokashi.  Not only does composting in this fashion show my boys how much food we throw away and (I hope) make them more mindful about food waste, the process going on inside the bucket is like an ongoing science lesson: molds and other micro-organisms, all right there in the kitchen bucket.

Will this at-home recycling help Abu Dhabi resolve its recycling crisis? Of course not, but at least we are teaching our children (I hope) that everyone can do a small something — and that if enough people do a small something, a Big Something might result.  And that’s not a bad lesson –for kids or for fifty year olds.

Is recycling the norm in your country?  What do you do to go “green” in your country? 

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Deborah Quinn in the United Arab Emirates of “Mannahattamamma.” 

Mannahattamamma (UAE)

After twenty-plus years in Manhattan, Deborah Quinn and her family moved to Abu Dhabi (in the United Arab Emirates), where she spends a great deal of time driving her sons back and forth to soccer practice. She writes about travel, politics, feminism, education, and the absurdities of living in a place where temperatures regularly go above 110F.

Deborah can also be found on her blog, Mannahattamamma.

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