Have you ever thought about relocating your family to another country? Maybe you are actually making the move and feeling a little overwhelmed by it all?
Eighteen months ago, Rosie Forrest, a friend of mine since school, relocated to the good old US of A with her hubby Colin and their two boys. Here she shares her story and reflects on how the experience has changed her attitude towards being a ‘stay-at-home-mum’ (or should I say ‘mom’!).
Please could you share a little background on why you relocated to the USA? Was moving away ever in your ‘plan’? I’ve always thought of you as quite a homebody!
We moved to Connecticut, USA for my hubby’s work. We left university (where we met), and he found a job as a Marketing Assistant in a large US company. He has worked his way up the ‘corporate ladder’ for the last 16 years.
The fact that he worked for an American company always meant we had casually wondered if he’d get a chance to go to the USA a lot, but I never considered the fact we would be asked to actually live there.
Like you say, I’ve always been a ‘homebody’. I’d spent most of my life in Hertfordshire and after university, I was more than happy to move back to the area I grew up in and get a local job, happily staying near friends and family. I went travelling with friends after university, and although it was amazing, I was very happy to come home.
How did you feel at first about making the move?
The news of the move came out of the blue for me. I think my husband was more aware there was a chance it would happen, but hadn’t talked about it for fear of the reaction. However, one evening he had a meeting over the phone with his boss. I had put the kids to bed, and decided to get out of the way, so I went to a ‘Clubbersize’ class.
I returned to find a very wide-eyed, serious husband who was sat very straight-backed on the sofa with the TV volume down low. He was obviously waiting for me, and seemingly worried! I immediately thought he’d lost his job, but in fact he’d been asked to relocate to America! And I did what I imagine any grown woman would do in my position. I began to weep like a child and whine questions like “When?” “What about the kids’ schools?” “What about my job?” “I need a Gin!…GET ME A GIN!!” He did!!
It’s safe to say my husband was keen to make the move, apart from the obvious benefits for his career. He’d been to Connecticut before and knew he liked it.
Even after my initial shock, it was never a question that I wouldn’t go. I knew it was an opportunity of a lifetime, to try out something new in a great place. I didn’t want to look back in years to come and say, “What if?” or question what it might have been like for us. I had to go and give it a try, and there was always the option to come home if it was a disaster.
Slowly I began to get my head around the situation. I Googled the area, looked at potential houses and did ‘virtual walks’ around streets and towns using Google Streetview. It slowly started to feel quite exciting. I also started watching Gilmore Girls from the beginning on Netflix and imagined my life would be exactly like Lorelei’s in Star’s Hollow!
How did you tell the boys?
Our sons at the time were three and seven years old. Our youngest wasn’t aware of what was going on, and there wasn’t really any way of trying to explain it to him other than we were going to a fun new place for a while.
However, I did worry about our eldest son. He had great friends and an awesome school and he was doing really well. We decided to approach it slowly and fed him snippets of info over a few weeks. We asked him questions like, “What do you know about America?” When he said that he didn’t know much, we started looking at maps, and Googled pictures and information about Connecticut and New York.
We told him all about American food, their fun holiday weekends and various celebrations, and the different weather. We explained that “Daddy’s work was in America” and having a new found interest in the country he was keen to go. This led on to us saying, “Well, perhaps we can see if we can go there for a while?”
By this point he was pretty excited and asked us if we could make it happen. When we told him it could happen, he was over the moon. I look back now I’m writing this and realise we were very lucky that he was so happy about it all. Both boys found it an exciting adventure.
How much preparation was there to do before relocating?
We were really lucky that the company had a relocation agency that were able to handle everything for us like packing and shipping. After we got our visas, they arranged a visit to Connecticut for us to house-hunt too.
The hardest part of moving, by far, was having to tell everyone. Sitting down with all our friends and family on both sides and telling them the news. It became quite a hard and emotional task. Some people were really excited for us, but many were very upset and so we found ourselves navigating a few emotional highs and lows.
We then basically embarked on six weeks of ‘leaving drinks’ which was great, but pretty chaotic. There just weren’t enough evenings and weekends to see everyone enough. In hindsight, we should definitely have had one giant party and invited everyone to it, but I imagine there still would have been people who couldn’t make it and we’d have felt obligated to meet them separately. By the time we actually got to Heathrow to fly away, there was almost a moment of, “aaaannd breaaaathe!”
We got there early and had lunch with the kids. Colin and I decided to hit the Champagne, and we were able to enjoy the moment of realisation that we were about to start an exciting new phase for us and the boys. It was a special little moment.
How was the move, and how have you all settled in?
The move went really smoothly. We are so lucky to have moved to an incredible area of Connecticut, where we have so many things on our doorstep. We live just 15 minutes away from the beach, 30 minutes away from mountains, lots of ski resorts are only a few hours away and New York City just 60 minutes away on a direct train. The schools and preschools around us are also amazing, and I’ve been blown away by how well the boys have settled in.
I’d say that the schools (which are especially good in this particular area) have made the move such a success for us. Class sizes are 18-20 students in Elementary School. They have great resources available to them (from the high taxes in this state) such as science labs, art rooms, music rooms and huge sports facilities and equipment.
There is a free school bus service available to everyone, which collects children from their homes and then brings them back after school. They also stagger the start times for the different schools so that High School starts early, Middle School starts an hour later and then Elementary starts at 9am. They can then use all the same buses and rush hour traffic is much less of an issue. It all just seems a little more focused and practical and from what I’ve experienced so far, it runs like a well-oiled machine!
There is no choice of which state school your kids go to here. If you live in the catchment of a certain school, you have to go to that one…and they have to take you. It means that everyone on our street goes to the same school and all the kids get on the same bus together, which has been lovely. It really helps build a sense of community with your neighbours and the school is very central to the community.
What about your social life?
For me, personally, making friends and settling in was a slow process and it took a lot longer than I’d have imagined. I was perhaps naïve because I’d always lived in familiar surroundings with a big network of friends and family.
I felt like it took me a long time to meet people on a similar wavelength, but over time I’ve met a nice crew. It’s amazing how settled you can suddenly feel in any area once you find a few people to go for a glass of wine with!
You’ve always worked and were worried that you would really miss your job. Do you still miss it?
Other than maternity leave, I have always worked. I’m someone who definitely needs a structure and routine in my life. I’d worked at my last company for six years…and I loved it! It was also close to home, and I genuinely loved the people I worked with. So yup, being lucky enough to have a local job which worked around two kids was a hard thing to give up. I knew it was a rare opportunity for many mothers.
I would have to apply for a working permit to get any kind of job here. Although it’s a fairly straightforward process, we decided that it may not be the best option for us at first. Childcare here is so expensive and I wasn’t sure I’d cover the costs of that with a job I found. We are also now away from all our support network of friends and family who could help out if we needed any back-up, for example if a child couldn’t go to school or daycare because they were sick.
So due to that, I decided to truly embrace the ‘stay-at-home’ mother/housewife role. I don’t know why they call it ‘stay-at-home’ though, as I feel like I’m in and out of the house like a yo-yo.
Have you found a different purpose now?
I was surprised to find I didn’t miss working! I miss the people I worked with and also having adult chats about non-child-related topics. On the whole, I have been happy to totally adopt what would be deemed as a traditional housewife role.
I’m surprised to find that although it’s exhausting and demanding, I gain a great deal of satisfaction from it. I used to think I loved going out to work because it was ‘my thing’ away from the family and I could ‘own it’. In fact, being a stay-at-home-mum is just as much ‘my thing’ as my job was. I take a great deal of pride in managing its responsibilities and tasks.
I still feel ‘I own’ what I do. In many ways, I have found this more of a challenge than anything I’ve ever done before, but yet with greater rewards.
We talk a lot on the blog about going back to work after kids. It’s interesting to hear about how it works the other way around, and going back to a more traditional family dynamic. How do you feel this has affected you and your family?
One of my previous fears about not working was that I would somehow feel ‘useless’. Or that I had wasted my education or abilities by not using them in an office environment. It sounds a bit crazy now, and I don’t feel that way at all.
I feel very privileged to have had this opportunity to completely focus on being the backbone of support to my family. I don’t feel in any way beholden to them or suppressed (which was also something I worried I’d perhaps become).
They can all rely on me to have everything at home covered, in order to go out and concentrate on school, going to work, sports or hobbies. Often I compare myself to being a PA to three people.
We were doing fine when I worked too. We kept on top of most things but with assistance from family (and a cleaner). Yes, we managed, but we were in constant chaos.
My husband and I were both always exhausted. We were flailing about between places and tasks and there was little time or energy for things we enjoyed doing together or as a family.
Has relocating and a change in lifestyle benefited your relationship?
The pressure and fatigue possibly caused us to bicker a lot more. I felt like we were often just negotiating our positions and fighting over who was more tired. Every week we had an argument about who deserved more freedom at the weekend. Who had ‘earned’ a pass to go out with friends, or NOT do a certain household task.
Don’t get me wrong, we still bicker now. But our roles are clearly defined these days. Because I have the household tasks covered, there’s more time to enjoy things together.
How do they view work-life balance in the USA?
I can only speak from personal experience, but the difference our move has made to my husband’s working life has been huge.
In the UK, he would be up and out before I woke up most days and racing home to see the boys before they went to bed. He’d have nearly two hours of ridiculous, crawling rush-hour traffic to cover a simple 20 mile journey. In the evenings, once we’d eaten, he’d then switch on his laptop. He would take calls with the US office who, due to the time difference, were still working until 10.30pm UK time.
After the move, it changed overnight. Colin suddenly had a 15-minute commute to work (roads are better here thanks to staggered school hours and school buses). He still gets up early and starts work early, but at 5.30pm, the office clears out. He says that everyone generally goes home to be with their family. Often he’s home by 6pm to have dinner as a family. There’s still then time before the kids go to bed to read or play with them.
What about self-care? Do mums feel guilty (like they do here) about looking after themselves?
There definitely doesn’t seem to be a guilt for looking after yourself and feeling good. This makes sense, as a happy, healthy person is always going to be better company and more use to their family, than someone who is struggling, and feeing low or exhausted.
A lot of the women I’ve met who are from this area are confident, self-assured, and unapologetically opinionated. It doesn’t seem to matter whether they are career women or stay-at-home-mums. There are many more stay-at-home-mums here than at home. We live in an area where people can easily commute to good jobs in big companies. They’re better able to afford for one person to not work.
This is definitely an area of America where people are keen to live a healthy lifestyle. They take time to eat well and work out. You see it all around you. There’s a lot of emphasis on getting active and being outdoors, possibly because of all the things available on our doorstep.
Now I’m not working, I find time to work out every day and I love it. I go to the gym, go for a run, do a HIIT at home, or go to Bikram Yoga. It’s been a game-changer! I feel better about myself physically and mentally. I’m just in a ‘good place’ a lot more of the time and feel more confident.
I have more energy and strength for the other things I need to do in the house and with the kids. It’s also a great way to get out and meet people after moving to a new area. It also encourages me to eat better so I make sure I leave time to create healthier meals.
What would you say to a fellow mum who is thinking about relocating?
If they were asking me personally, I’d say just do it! Whether it’s to the USA, Australia, Dubai…anywhere. Wherever it may be, why not go for it? It doesn’t have to be forever, but maybe you’ll want it to be? Seize the amazing opportunity to try something new and experience a different type of lifestyle somewhere.
If this move had never come up in our lives, I would have been perfectly happy where I was. I liked my life and I had no complaints and I wouldn’t have questioned it. We were lucky enough to have this offer and it’s opened my eyes.
You will always miss friends and family and there’s no getting around that. Moving away from those who you are closest to is obviously huge and it never gets any easier.
I probably spend more quality time with my friends and family now than I did before, when they come to visit. When we go home, most of my friends haven’t met more than once or twice since I left because they’ve all been so busy. I don’t feel like I’m missing out too much.
I suppose I have become aware that we really do only have one chance at life…and the world is such a huge place, with so many nice places to see and experience. Why restrict yourself to staying in one small patch of it forever?
Would you like to share any last words of wisdom?
There are a million articles, debates and blogs about the pressure women are under now, to ‘do it all’. Have a career, have kids, run a home and manage a personal social network. I think if you love your career and you also want children, then great, go for it.
We should be able to do both without judgement or comment. And there are so many means and ways for us to do that and make it work.
If you need to go to work for financial reasons, you should be able to go ahead and do what you need to do without any feelings of guilt. Everyone just wants to do the best for their family and themselves. Everyone has their own reasons and motivations for the type of motherhood they choose.
What I have noticed in this move, is how little credit a ‘stay-at-home-mum’ (or dad! I’ve met a few stay-at-home-dads too!) gets for her choices to not go out to work and instead ‘run a home’.
I’m actually guilty of previously judging too. Even after I had kids, I used to wonder what a ‘stay-at-home’ mother actually did with her days. I’d sometimes wonder if they were bored. I’d say things like, “I couldn’t do it…I’d go mad. I need to be busy and I need something for me!”
Yet that’s ridiculous. There aren’t enough hours with the tasks a mother has to complete in a single day. Especially if she does it unaided.
When I worked, I didn’t ‘do it all’ myself. I did my office job and while I was there, I had childcare, a cleaner for our house and amazing parents that helped us out all the time and made it possible.
There’s no shame in any of it. It worked for us then and things work for us now too. Running a home and supporting a family (and taking pride in doing it well) is no less of an achievement.
I have found that I’ve developed a great sense of independence and personal strength in the process.