Self Care: Setting Boundaries
So I haven’t written the blog for quite some time now and decided that today was the day to start getting back into the rhythm of it again. The past several weeks have been hectic as we have bought a house (yippee after renting for 10+ years!) and had quite a lot of stuff to sort out before we started renovations. It is quite an achievement for me to hold off on not continuing to write this each week during this busy time. In the past I would have been up all hours writing this, doing social media, etc and getting stressed, snappy with the kids and probably resenting it. Instead I have just focused on what I have needed to and come back to it when I feel that I have got a bit more time and my priorities sorted.
It is hard to commit to something when you are an expat or ‘Stay at Home’ mum as invariably when something comes up whether it is with the family or another life event – you pick up the slack. It would no doubt be different if I had a job too, but I don’t, so my agenda gets shifted. In some ways it is great to have the luxury to be able to do that so my husband and I are not both stressing about work and then trying to sort out our new home. However, sometimes it can lead to a niggling sense of resentment as it can easily mean all of my projects get shoved on the back burner. And this is an issue that I frequently hear from other expat mums who are the ‘trailing spouse’ (still dislike the term as we jointly made the decision to move and that we are in this together as a partnership, but anyway). Trying to commit to any pursuit whether it is a course, part-time or full-time job, voluntary work, an exercise routine, a business – our time is always seen as the most flexible (which it often is) and therefore we pick up the slack and the extra, or sorting the kids when they are sick, drop-off and pick-up, on holidays, the housework, the dog or if there is only online schooling, whatever. And this is often the case for working mums too, I know, many women find themselves frustrated for having to put their career second in some respects to care for sick children and/or having to organise what happens with the kids in the holidays, rather than the other half doing it.
There are a lot of inequalities still with regards to the sexes and caring for kids in particular. But as an expat mum (and a husband with a decent job) it feels a bit different as I do have the luxury of choosing how to spend my time and prioritise accordingly. It is just always in my mind how much time (and energy!) do I really have? Can I really put my all into this like I did with my job before kids? Will I be available to commit to this or put my heart into this? And what happens if we do choose to move again or our situation changes? I will then have to be adaptable enough to do what comes next. It is a great lesson in being flexible and resilient and resource-building, but it is hard to feel that you are not a bit flaky in committing to stuff or what you do with your time sometimes.
I recently started volunteering with an NGO here in Spain, working from home and doing something a bit different to what I’ve done in the past. In hindsight it was not the right time to start volunteering, as a couple of weeks later we ended up starting to buy a house and so it got hectic. I definitely wouldn’t have committed to the work before had I known. But, hey ho, that is how life goes sometimes, and at least I am a volunteer and not a paid member of staff! But I have noticed that, and again I think this is a trait that a lot of women have, I prioritise that work over the things I need to work on or want to do. For some reason, especially for me, I put everyone else’s needs before my own. Again this can lead to overwhelm and resentment. Thankfully I realised it this time (but not without a bit of stress and anxiety beforehand!) and decided to set some boundaries for myself and my work. By focussing only a certain number of days of my week on the volunteer work, it then meant I could start to regain some balance again. If I had carried on as I was I am fairly sure I would have ended up working very long hours (mainly for the charity), being extremely stressed and then quitting, which I would have regretted. I think it is a combination of age, self-awareness and therapy which has made me a lot more aware of my patterns and therefore I can start to adapt how I react. It is most certainly a work in progress, but it is feeling more manageable now having thought and talked through, and committed to working in the new regime.
Boundaries are something that can be hard to put in place, particularly as a woman as we are (usually) the care-givers and seen as the ‘softer’, gentler, nurturing sex. The word boundary can sound harsh and off-putting for some and it has taken me a while to realise that they are so important for my own self discipline, self esteem, self-respect and for others to respect me too. But they are not something that we are taught about or are even talked that much about, I am not aware of that many role models in my life either. I am having to learn how to put them in place and see that it is not a snub to anyone or anything else, but a loving choice for me. And that can sound and feel selfish (it certainly would have sounded like that for me a few years ago), but it is not.
An act of self-love is not an act against the rest of humanity.
It does not mean I ignore or hurt anyone else. It does not mean I blindly get on with my own stuff to others detriment. It just means I recognise what I want and need and deal with that accordingly. It might mean shifting other priorities or dealing with others differently or setting new expectations with my husband, the kids, a boss, a friend or whoever. It might feel uncomfortable or unfamiliar doing this, but I know having done it these last couple of weeks and being pretty open about it, it feels like it might come more naturally in the future.
It doesn’t mean I am ready to commit to a full-time or even part-time job (I still can’t see how I could ever do that and still be the parent that I want to be, PLUS unemployment is very high here currently), but I feel I can start to consider again different projects, maybe returning to study or starting a business (once the school holidays are over that is!). And then it starts the next dilemma in my mind, what to commit to next as a nearly 50 year old woman, living in Spain. But that is for another post.
How do you deal with being an expat mum, stay at home mum or balancing career with life? I would love to hear how others navigate the challenge of priorities and also prioritise their own self-care and boundaries. Please do let us know below.
Thanks for reading.