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Trailing spouse – the graveyard of ambition?

March 10, 2014

I have yet to read a better description of the infamous ‘trailing spouse’ dilemma.

six degrees north

visa copy School pick-up at an International school looks much like school pick up anywhere in the developed world. Apart from looking like a Benetton ad or maybe morning tea at the United Nations. And sure, there are a disproportionate number of drivers and nannies, say compared to a regular public school in Australia or the US, but the majority of people hanging out in the school yard before the bell goes, are mums.

Mums just like me, and maybe just like you. Women who were brought up and educated to believe that we could do whatever we set my minds to. Highly educated, well travelled, sophisticated, urbane, and overall a broadly privileged set.

We women who came of age in the 80s and 90s, we reaped the rewards of the feminist movement of the 60s and 70s. We are old enough to remember the cat calls, but young enough to remember…

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 10, 2014 10:14 am

    Thanks so much for all your lovely sharing Irene, and for your very kind words. I really appreciate it. I think cross-cultural training is such a brilliant idea, and desperately wish it had been part of our transition to Ghana. While nothing replaces on-the-ground experience, some training beforehand would have really softened the landing. All the best, Chrissie

    • ireneohler permalink*
      March 10, 2014 10:48 am

      Thank You for this great blog! I agree, preparation, i.e. cross-cultural training definitely helps prepare spouses.
      In my experience, however, the biggest shock for many is not the famous Culture Shock, but what I call the ‘Spouse Shock’ – finding oneself being reduced to the ‘wife/husband of ..’, while being envied for perceived privileges.
      It takes effort and often outside support to maintain or re-build a healthy self-image.
      All the best to you, too, Irene.

  2. Clarinette permalink
    March 18, 2014 2:32 pm

    I myself grow up in an international community, moved countries around and loved the whole atmosphere of an international school. No doubt, I am convinced of the enrichment of such a life.
    However, it is a fact that many spouses that we are, have high qualifications, giving up carriers to the benefit of the family. Being educated mothers, we accompany our kids, supporting them in each of their new environment. Sometimes it goes very smoothly, sometimes the adaptation is tougher, especially when it involves language acquisition. Of course, it’s generally easier when you speak English. As for the spouse carrier, if you are lucky to be creative or a writer, it’s all great. things become tougher if you are lawyer or doctor. It all demands more sacrifice and adaptation. it is still enriching. We need to take account of what is best for the children as they have not chosen to live a nomad life we impose to them. I don’t think I would be very wrong by saying in many of our cases, the relationship that we bound with our children is stronger than on average families. Why? because in many cases the expat worker tends to be very busy with a job with big responsibilities that might involve regular trips abroad. As a compensation, we live a somehow artificially inflated level of life. All is fair.
    Fair until … things like Jory’s case above happen. I know of too many cases of separation where suddenly, the ‘trailing spouse’ is traded for a new spouse or partner when for various reasons, the couple split. This is where suddenly, the devoted wife and mother is left with not much but a nasty legal fight that don’t always recognise the value of the ‘trailing spouse’.
    One day, suddenly the spouse becomes only ‘ex’ with no job and a ‘whole’ on her CV. for the ones who are European, there is the Sword of Damocles that is the Brussels 2 Convention and the competition for the most favorable jurisdiction.
    I’d be interested to know how many expat spouses have envisaged the case. Do you think it only happens to the others? Should anything be done to prevent this? Did you know that Europeans have now the option of fixing by common agreement the place of their eventual divorce? This is the point I raise on my blog. I’d love to know your opinions.

    • ireneohler permalink*
      March 19, 2014 7:34 am

      Thanks Clarinette for drawing attention to this issue. Separations are generally very difficult, and become even more complex when different jurisdictions are involved.
      It’s very helpful to get a lawyer’s perspective and input on this.
      Thanks again for raising this point. All the best, Irene.

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