Expat parenting can bring its own unique challenges – and especially if you find yourself parenting abroad with a partner who works away from home a lot. Drawing from author and coach Rhoda Bangerter’s webinar on the topic at the FIGT (Families in Global Transition) 2021 conference, we offer a summary of the challenges that parents experience when holding the fort abroad as well as strategies to make things easier.
Over the years, it has become more common for one parent to travel for work, and the other to stay home “holding the fort” abroad – in other words, taking care of the home and the kids abroad while your partner is away for longer periods of time. This is often referred to as “solo parenting”.
Let’s talk about holding the fort abroad
Unfortunately, despite solo parenting being a challenging reality for many expat families, it is not often talked about.
Here’s how you can start the conversation:
- Acknowledge challenges. Rest assured: many expat families face similar experiences and these can be overcome. First though, it’s important to acknowledge the challenges exist.
- Don’t stop learning. Keep seeking out resources, whether books, articles or other expat parents in a similar context. This can help you understand your situation better and feel less alone.
- Adapting and re-adapting. Expat life is rich with transitions. Knowing this and building resilience to face change is an excellent first step.
Solo parenting versus single parenting
A crucial difference between a solo parent and a single parent is that, as a solo parent, you don’t need to do everything by yourself (even though it may feel that way at times!).
Here are some tips to keep your co-parent involved:
- Be creative. There are ways for the traveling parent to be involved without actually being present. For example, for younger kids, the traveling parent could take a stuffed toy and show kids pictures of it traveling around the world.
- Communicate. From informing the other about the changes that are occurring, to the routines you’re trying to implement in the family, communication is an essential factor to stay connected while the other partner is traveling.
- Be aware of parentification. Take a closer look at whether you’re putting too many responsibilities or expectations on your kids. Instead, work on creating your own support network.
Creating a joint life
Not having your partner close while you and your kids adapt to the new environment can lead to feelings of loneliness.
Here are some steps you can take to decrease the distance:
- Be intentional. Create a feeling of togetherness by holding two clocks on the wall: one with the time at home, and the other with the time where your partner is. And when you find yourself missing your partner, reaching for the invisible rope that connects you both, heart to heart (Expat Nest’s favourite tip from the webinar).
- See the distance as an opportunity. Spending time apart comes with some benefits and can be a great opportunity to build your relationship. For example, consider creating a love map to get to know each other better.
- Take care of yourself. Whether it’s one hour or five minutes a day, find time to do something you enjoy, to reconnect with yourself and have some “me” time.
By acknowledging the difficulties, understanding and adapting to the nature of solo parenting, and continuing to create a joint life despite being apart, you can turn the negatives into positives.
If you’d like to learn more, be sure to get a copy of Rhoda’s book, Holding the Fort Abroad: Beyond Surviving – Living and Parenting Abroad with a Partner Who Works Away from Home – and look out for the foreword written by Expat Nest founder Vivian Chiona.
With thanks to Mora Neustadt for her contribution to this article that was first published here.
What is your experience holding the fort abroad, and what are some of the lessons you’ve learned during this time? Share them in the comments.