Tag Archives: Kindness

An Ode To Expat Mamas

Friends

This post is one of a particularly personal nature and also one that I am very excited to write. I think it is relevant to the general theme of this blog given that it relates to what it is like to be a mother abroad and the importance of social support for mental health. But mostly it is about friendship and its power to transform the experience of living far from home.

When I first moved to Switzerland, my son was just two months old. I had very little experience parenting in the United States much less parenting in a country where I could not speak the language, did not have a job and was far from the support of my friends and immediate family. I made an effort to reach out and luckily, there were a number of ways to meet other English-speaking parents in Lausanne. I now know that, during this initial phase of acclimation, there can be a tendency to open up to anyone with friend potential and very quickly become socially overextended. But, with lack of sleep whittling away patience, I moved into the phase of being more selective with potential social activities.

I was fortunate to meet and connect with some of the most creative, courageous and smart women from all over the world. Our countries of origin spanned most of the world: Taiwan, Ukraine, Austria, Poland, the Netherlands, Dagestan, Malaysia and the U.S. And despite our differences, we now share a chapter of our lives with one another that we all consider to be one of the most special and unique. We all had our first children around the same time and weathered some of the greatest ups and downs of this new experience together.

As it often happens in the highly mobile expat communities, that chapter is now coming to a close as these women and their families follow opportunities in other countries. Although we always knew the intensity of these relationships would change as our life circumstances did, it is still sad to go our separate ways.

I often tell clients that expat moms get the short end of the stick. In moving to Switzerland, they are usually the ones that experience the most dramatic changes to their living situations and, typically, are tasked with organizing life for the kids. They are immersed in the minutiae of daily life in a foreign country and often juggle a lot of balls. Whether they stay at home or work outside of the home or something in between, expat mamas have to be tough. They enter this life without many certainties about what the future may hold and develop a thick skin that allows them to weather the daily difficulties. They learn how to advocate for their children even if it goes against the grain and how to manage the childcare shortage. Many of these mamas are tireless entrepreneurs who put themselves “into the arena” in a big way. Expat mamas take things in stride, whether it’s the inconvenient laundry room schedule, the train stations without elevators or ramps, the two-hour lunch break from school, or the Sundays where nothing- I mean NOTHING- is open. In short, to be an expat mama, you have to be comfortable with discomfort.

One of the best things an expat mama can do is develop a strong network of genuine social support. Ideally, a playgroup for mother and child-where both moms and kids can enjoy the company of those who understand their experience. I believe that while it is not necessary to have a village to raise a child, it sure is nice to have one. And expat parents are uniquely in a position to enjoy the immense diversity of cultural perspectives while connecting with other parents who share the same fundamental motivation: being the best possible parents they can be.

I do not think I would be the happy and relaxed parent I am today without the influence of my mama friends. Even though moving abroad meant starting over and forging my own way in many respects, I somehow feel like the friendships started here have been there all along. And I am confident that these relationships have left a mark that will last into the future.

(Image courtesy of artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Mindfulness as an Antidote to World-Weariness

There is so much beauty to be noticed
There is so much beauty to be noticed

The first thing I saw when I read the paper this morning was an article detailing the killing and butchering of a young giraffe at a zoo in Denmark. There were gory pictures of the animal being chopped to pieces in front of on-looking children and then the carcass being fed to a lion. Throughout this morning, I saw the pictures again in my friends’ Facebook feeds and on various online news sites.

As consumers of media and livers of life, we are regularly bombarded with disturbing images, experiences and details from the world around us. At times, it can seem that there is so much pain and suffering in the world that we are powerless to stop it or to suggest that life can be beautiful and filled with wonder. It is true that if you look for it, you can find just about any atrocity you imagine. Likely, there is even a Twitter account, Facebook profile and blog that will keep you updated on this atrocity as it unfolds.

And that is where mindfulness comes in. Being mindful reminds us that we can choose where and how to focus our attention. We can intentionally bring our awareness to the goodness that happens with just as much consistency and intensity in this world as war, injustices, and brutality. We can focus on the small acts of kindness and subtle heroism that restore our sense of humanity. This does not mean that being mindful fosters denial or inaction. Mindfulness enables recognition that our compassion is best activated when we feel hopeful and empowered rather than raw and depleted.

Mindfulness helps us to recognize how we respond to any stimuli, including the entire array of emotional experiences our bodies and brains enable us to have. In a moment of world-weariness, we can check in with ourselves and notice that fear and sadness and anger are activated. And rather than pushing it aside with cynical numbing, we can open to and embrace our ability to feel empathy, to feel genuine connection to others who may be suffering. And then, we can decide how to respond effectively to these feelings.

When you catch this world-weariness in yourself, it can serve as a cue to reach out and connect with someone you care about, or make a thoughtful donation to a charity of your choice, or engage with your community. Or perhaps, it will cue you to simply replenish depleted stores of resiliency by taking some time away from the internet, making a cup of warm tea or going for a jog. There is goodness and gentleness in the world- maybe more of it than we recognize as it is not often celebrated or remarked upon. If we cultivate an ability to seek out goodness and contribute to it, this will help to counteract vulnerability to being overwhelmed by the real difficulties in our society.