A MOTHER’S JOB IS NEVER DONE

As ex­pat moms, we of­ten have no choice but to op­er­ate as a one-woman show

New Straits Times - - Opinion - fan­ny­bucheli@gmail.com The writer is a life-long ex­pa­tri­ate, a rest­less trav­eller, an ob­server of the hu­man con­di­tion, and un­apolo­get­i­cally in­sub­or­di­nate

“LIFE doesn’t come with a man­ual, it comes with a mother,” they say.

In the early days of moth­er­hood, I thought this proverb was about chang­ing di­a­pers, pre­par­ing milk for­mula and ad­just­ing the bath water tem­per­a­ture. Lit­tle did I know how much deeper the com­mit­ment was meant to reach. As the years past by I wrote my own vir­tual man­ual; I would come to call it “The One Mom Show. An Ex­pat Guide”.

There is also a say­ing by The Golden Girls — okay, I’ll ad­mit, maybe not the most qual­i­fied source on the mat­ter — “It’s not easy be­ing a mother. If it were easy, fa­thers would do it.” As I am about to lose my male read­er­ship right about now, let me ra­tio­nalise my point. While mod­ern fa­thers all over the world are step­ping up to the plate as far as their co-re­spon­si­bil­ity in child rear­ing is con­cerned, most ex­pat fam­i­lies do not have the lux­ury of par­tic­i­pat­ing in this new­found, job-shar­ing equal­ity. The ma­jor­ity of ex­pa­tri­ate moth­ers are so­called trail­ing spouses. This means that we are not gain­fully em­ployed and have put our ca­reers on hold for ei­ther the du­ra­tion of our hus­bands’ over­seas as­sign­ment, or for the bet­ter part of our chil­dren’s lives.

Hold­ing re­gional po­si­tions, many hus­band miss most of the re­ally ex­cit­ing morsels of par­ent­hood: the gi­ant spi­der in the bed­room, the snake in the sink, the con­cus­sion at the end of an ill­fated bike ride and the stiches on the fore­head. They also miss out on the flooded apart­ment, the water cuts, mul­ti­ple car break­downs, the tor­toise lost in the gar­den and the gold­fish in the party bag.

While they might se­cretly con­grat­u­late them­selves for their ex­cel­lent tim­ing, trav­el­ling also keeps them from wit­ness­ing many cher­ished mo­ments like mul­ti­ple theatre pro­duc­tions, hol­i­day sea­son con­certs, sports tour­na­ments and in-class pre­sen­ta­tions.

As ex­pat moms, we of­ten have no choice but to op­er­ate as a onewoman show. While the fa­thers’ pres­ence is sorely missed, we learn to ex­plain math and physics con­cepts, which we didn’t un­der­stand back in our own school days. We are com­pelled to grasp the con­cept of car re­pair, or, at the very least, we stand our ground when the me­chanic sug­gests that we might have run low on gas. We master the rules of games as com­plex as rugby and base­ball — from our van­tage point on the bleach­ers, that is. We be­come skilled pest ex­ter­mi­na­tors and pet ex­am­in­ers. We fix a bro­ken school project with the same ease as we mend a bro­ken heart. As Roseanne Barr, Amer­i­can ac­tress, co­me­dian, writer, and tele­vi­sion pro­ducer says, “I know how to do any­thing, I’m a mom.”

So tell me, when is my job as a mother done? When my chil­dren are old enough to pre­pare their own meals, or when they share their best-kept se­crets with their friends rather than with me? When they start to be em­bar­rassed by my com­pany, or when they cease to mind my pres­ence?

As an ex­pat-mom, I em­body the only con­stant in my chil­dren’s lives. Fa­thers are mostly at a loss when so-called third cul­ture kids speak about their never-end­ing list of new best friends. Grand­par­ents of­ten lose the plot when young­sters ex­plain why curry laksa is best en­joyed with chop­sticks, while nasi lemak re­quires fork and spoon. Cousins don’t un­der­stand why fly­ing across three con­ti­nents is less daunt­ing than tak­ing a bus ride down­town. If it is true that moth­ers hold their child’s hand for a mo­ment and their heart for a life­time, it is even more so for an ex­pat mother.

My chil­dren are grown up now, but my job as the “go-to-guy” is far from over. Like any young stu­dent would, they en­joy dis­cussing term pa­pers on sub­jects that far sur­pass my un­der­stand­ing. How­ever, as my kids have not only fled the nest but they have also left my time zone, th­ese dis­cus­sions of­ten take place dur­ing end­less Skype ses­sions in the wee hours of the morn­ing. So bear with me, if I’m out of sorts from lack of sleep. For as an ex­pat mom, some days I amaze my­self. Other days, I put the laun­dry in the oven.

While mod­ern fa­thers all over the world are step­ping up to the plate as far as their core­spon­si­bil­ity in child rear­ing is con­cerned, most ex­pat fam­i­lies do not have the lux­ury of par­tic­i­pat­ing in this new­found, job­shar­ing equal­ity.

FILE PIC

The ma­jor­ity of ex­pa­tri­ate moth­ers are so-called trail­ing spouses, where they are not gain­fully em­ployed and have put their ca­reers on hold for ei­ther the du­ra­tion of their hus­bands’ over­seas as­sign­ment, or for the bet­ter part of their chil­dren’s lives.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.