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  • Writer's pictureHenriette Johnsen

Expat mum! Super hero!

Being a mum is one of the most challenging and rewarding roles in life – I imagine being a dad is the other one!

Before motherhood, if you are like most, you might have pictured a delicate, beautiful looking and lovely smelling baby sleeping in your arms. The sleepless nights, the worrying if your children are alright, the not knowing how best to raise them, the dealing with fussy eaters, helping them make friends and fulfill their potential in educational settings … well, there’s little preparing for that as well as all the other stuff!

Expat mums!

And then, comes expat life! You may have had your children abroad or you may have brought them with you. Either way, raising children in a country different to your own not only comes with uncertainty on how to balance your home culture with your host culture, figuring out how to support your children in learning and maintaining their mother tongue if this is different from the language of your host country, as well as maintaining relationships with grandparents and any friends your children might have had at home prior to leaving – it also comes with figuring out how to create a meaningful life for yourself; in particular if you are not working.

Many mums give up good careers to follow and support their spouse around the world to enhance their career development through an exciting opportunity to work abroad. It's not uncommon for expat mums to worry about their own career prospects if they take a few years out; they worry that their sense of self and identity will take a hit, and if they can find fulfilment in “just” being a mum. Adding to these concerns is a sense that society somehow idealises motherhood to be all women ever needed – this may be so for you; it may also not be.

Personally, I felt that motherhood was the first role in my life I felt truly comfortable with; but long term, I craved intellectual stimulation, adult company, as well as earning my own money. However much I enjoyed the privilege of having so much time with my kids and was mindful that time was precious and well spent, I longed for having a life outside the family as well. If you are interested, you are welcome to read about my experience with loneliness in expat life here.


We all have various identities reflecting our values and integrity. Identity guides our choices in life and is constantly evolving. You can read more about how identity can be affected in expat life in this blogpost.

When the dust of moving has settled, many expat mums feel a loss of identity if/when they don’t have the routine of work to fulfill them. Initially, lots of time and energy goes into settling the children, dealing with setting up a home, taking care of everyone’s emotional and social wellbeing, as well as an incredible long list of red tape tasks to complete.

Essentially, a modern expat mum takes on many roles such as counsellor, diplomat, teacher, host, administrator, event planner, nurse, and negotiator ... just to name a few. She often becomes the go-to-person for everything and everyone - and quickly has to become an expert in many fields. Adding to that, she does it all on her own and is relient on no one - whilst feeling like a fish out of water. Impressive!

But what about yourself?

Today, many of us identify strongly with our work, and to lose that part of ourselves can leave us feeling lost at sea. Not only does not having your own money to spent play havoc with your sense of worth and make you more dependent on your spouse; but not having colleagues, not belonging to a work culture, and not contributing towards a higher goal associated with a monetary value, a charitable cause or personal, academic or career development can seriously mess with your sense of purpose and general fulfilment.

There's an increased risk of depression and anxiety as well as a significantly higher divorce rate in expats; and it's not uncommon to prematurely end foreign assignment contracts due to spouse unhappiness.

So how do you make expat life a satisfying and meaningful experience for yourself?

  • Allow yourself to grieve for what might no longer be in your life, e.g., your career and friends.

  • Be empathic with losing your self-confidence and agenda in life - remember, it's transitional!

  • Remind yourself that this is a time for personal growth.

  • Acknowledge that you will have to pick up the pieces - be proactive in creating a good expat life for yourself.

  • Look at the transition as an adventure - dream big!

  • Try to develop the mindset of it being a unique opportunity to

    • Get to know yourself better

    • Fulfill an old, perhaps even lost, dream

    • Open your world to something completely new and unexpected

    • Spend precious time with your children

  • Try to imagine what you would like to look back onto once back home again.

  • Ask yourself what positives can be taken from not working if that’s the case.

  • Accept that you are more than just your work-identity; perhaps, this is a splendid time to further enhance some of the other parts of your identity.

  • Find like-minded mums in similar situations - sharing experiences can be helpful.

  • Pick up your hobby or sport.

  • Arrange daytrips for yourself and your kids - ask others to join you.

For inspiration, read this blogpost for personal stories on how expat spouses have made the most of their time abroad.

If you feel stuck, depressed, stressed, anxious or in other ways are struggling with life as an expat mum, reach out on e-mail or tel 0045 5188 6187. I can help you make sense of your situation and move forward. You can read more about me and my work here.

Picture of a mother and daughter


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