I recently reposted an article on my FB page by Ada Calhoun, titled The New Midlife Crisis, why and how it’s Hitting Gen X Women. It’s an excellent article that you can read on my page, and it got me thinking about how expat women in particular, navigate midlife crises, and what they can do to successfully manage this new life stage.
In my psychotherapy and coaching practices with expat women, this is a frequent theme, although not usually couched in terms of a midlife crisis.
I’d like to discuss the 3 most common themes that expat women in midlife talk about in counseling, and give some suggestions for successfully managing them.
#1: The empty nest syndrome.
There’s been so much written about this that I don’t need to restate the obvious. For expat women, this is often way more complicated and anxiety producing as it calls into question many other issues, such as staying abroad or repatriating for one or both spouses, having one or more children halfway around the world, and sometimes even brings into question whether to stay married or to separate from your spouse.
Frequently there are younger children at home so it becomes a balancing act for the whole family with most of the responsibility on mom.
Many of my clients have dealt with this by accompanying their child to college and traveling there for vacations and significant events. This of course, assumes that funds are not an issue.
Many women express profound loss and grief at having their child or children so far away. Guilt comes up for most women in this scenario, which can call into question their lifestyle in general.
It’s important at these times to remember why you chose an expat lifestyle to begin with, and the positive effects this choice has had on your children. You can’t be in 2 places at once. It’s also important to look at what you can do in a more realistic light and let go of striving for perfection, which can be particularly challenging for many expat women. We humans, as a species, are by nature imperfect beings, so striving for perfection is useless at best.
#2: The sandwich effect.
Again, there’s been lots written about women in midlife being sandwiched between caring for ageing parents and children who are having increasingly prolonged adolescence.
When I work with expat women in this situation, it’s compounded of course by physical distance, and again brings up feelings of guilt and sadness for many women.
While for non-expat women, a key issue is physical exhaustion, for expat women, the psychological issues are more profound. Many feel torn between conflicting demands, all of which can’t possibly be met.
Flexibility is key. During a parent’s surgery or acute illness, it might make sense to be with them in your home country, while at other times, your physical presence might not be necessary but your emotional connection with them is what’s most needed.
If you are in this situation and living abroad it’s most crucial to be kind and compassionate with yourself. You are in all likelihood doing the very best you can in a difficult situation. Cut yourself some slack and remember to treat yourself well during these times
Reach out for support from friends and family members who have gone through a similar situation. It really helps to know you’re not alone.
#3: Reinventing yourself in midlife.
Again, this has a whole other meaning for expat women than it has for others. You may have been out of the work force while living abroad and raising your children; something that employers have difficulty understanding when you repatriate.
Or you may find you have little interest in an earlier career and want to explore new opportunities.
The good news is you can use this time to explore to your heart’s content, due to the fact that almost any kind of training you can imagine is available on the internet.
In my practice, I have helped women reinvent themselves in creative ways, sometimes in ways that related to a previous career and sometimes not.
One client had a career in HR, which she left to follow her spouse to the Far East and raise 2 little boys. When they were 5, she knew her family would be repatriating and successfully developed an online business working with young moms like herself who needed help getting back in the work force.
Another client, who had worked in HR, had no interest in returning to the corporate world and had a love for photography. She took some online photography courses and became the “family photographer” in her large expat community. When she repatriated, she had a huge portfolio with testimonials, and continued her business at home.
The upside of being an expat woman in midlife is that it’s the perfect opportunity for reinventing yourself.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject, other related issues you’ve encountered and what’s worked for you.