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TRAILING SPOUSE* - TRAILING WITH CHILDREN?
*the person who trails the primary income earner to a new career destination

What adjustments will your family have to make?

As a trailing spouse with children the entire regular move issue becomes much more complicated. It is not just a matter of managing my expectations, but it is also a matter of managing my children's expectations.

On our last expat posting, my husband was on a business trip when he got the news that we were going to relocate and, because he was expected to start work within the next two weeks, I had to get things going quickly.

First thing was to tell the children.

My mother in-law was with us at the time and together we sat down with the children and told them that Daddy had a new job and we would be leaving Hong Kong.

They all burst into tears. Immediately.

My mother-in-law rushed in trying to comfort the children and telling them how brave they were, and that it wouldn't be so bad at all, and that leaving friends doesn't always mean forever.

My response? I quickly bundled my mother-in-law into the kitchen and away from the children. To me, I felt her response, while sympathetic, was not as up-beat as I wanted. She was focussing too much on the negatives of the move and how terribly brave the children would have to be when with being confronted by such awful news. I needed a different and more positive angle.

So with my mother-in-law ensconced in the kitchen with a cup of tea, I sat down with the children. I told them that all I wanted them to do was to take a look at the computer. We could talk later. For now, let's just look at pictures.

Nothing else.

We sat down, my sniffley, tear stained children and I, and we googled our new location. We cruised the newspapers, the tourism sites, and the expat sites. We searched through images of the new place and the more that we looked the more excited the children became and the happier they were about the move.

And by the end of a couple of hours, all the children had calmed down and could rationalise things.

"We're only going to be there for three years.

"Daddy wants to go."

"We will meet new friends."

"It will be a good school."

"It will be cold there which will be fun."

"We can go skiing."

"Grandma can visit."

"We can have our own bedrooms!"

"We can buy a dog!"

They were able to visualise what we were talking about as well as seeing images of a new place rather than having to just imagine it.

For us the move was from a high density city to a low density rural area and, I guess in many ways this may not be as traumatic as going the other way, but it all depends on the ages of your children, your expectations and theirs.

For us, seeing lovely beaches, wide open spaces, greenery, pictures of cliff walks and mountains and clear streams made the move seem a positive one.

I printed up some pictures and we started to work on a book of all the things that we couldn't do where we currently lived and that we may be able to do when we relocated to the new place.

We also started a list of all the amazing things that we had done as a family that we would never have had the opportunity of doing if we hadn't have been receptive to change and hadn't had made our first initial move as expats.

We would never have ridden elephants, tasted scorpion, eaten rats, held snakes, climbed the Great Wall of China, gone rafting in Chang Mai, and bargained in Shenzhen. They wouldn't have seen Macau, eaten daan tahts, pickled lemon rind or seaweed. They would never have learnt Mandarin or jumped off junks. They would never have performed at the HK Sevens for the crowds, learnt acrobatics or seen Mongooses. They never would have celebrated Diwali, enjoyed Chinese New Year cakes or seen the marigolds on the hill during the grave cleaning ceremonies. They would never have worn N95 face masks to school and had their hands and feet disinfected each morning!

They would never have had to cope with change.

One of my children's friends is leaving to go to a different school. He is crushed at having to cope with the changes that this move will entail and his mother said he is crying himself to sleep each night. One of my children spoke to the mother and said that they would be happy to help talk it through with her son as they are used to change, and it isn't something to be feared.

Of all the things that the children do and say this one struck home and made me utterly proud of them - their optimism, their enthusiasm and their zest for life!

Dr Amanda O has been a trailing spouse for the last eight years.

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Posted 15Oct05