Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Expat Getting Divorced, Has Kid, Seeks Resources










I’m an expat. And if you’ve read this post, you know I’m an expat getting a divorce. We have a child. My husband will be parenting our daughter long-distance. My daughter and I will repatriate. He will stay abroad.

You’d think there would be resources out there to help expats getting a divorce … especially if you’re an expat getting a divorce, with a kid, where one parent will live several thousand miles away on a completely different continent. Surely there are resources to help better parent that child and support them through yet another huge move and adjustment in their little life.

There aren’t. 

No. I’m not kidding. 

No, really. Seriously. I’m not kidding. 

OK. That’s a little bit of a lie. You can find loads of divorce attorneys representing international family firms. Some of those sites provide financial advice and tell you not to flee the country with your children. (Duh.) Most of those sites are aimed at British expats. 

That’s not the kind of support I’m talking about. 

Lack of Stats and Resources
I have not found a single academic or organizational statistic or resource aimed specifically at current expats getting a divorce with children … let alone expats getting divorced. 

There appears to be no children’s books for third culture kids suffering through their parents’ divorce. There seems a complete lack of how-to books for parents on long-distance parenting targeting expats and their special circumstances. 

Surely, I am not the only expat out in the world getting divorced. Our family won't be the only one that makes a go of long-distance parenting.

I know we’re not alone.  A 2012 article from The Telegraph says the divorce rate amongst expats in Dubai is on the rise. (Source: Dubai Statistics Center.) Perhaps Dubai’s the only city gathering divorce stats on expats?

Silence
There’s a lot of speculation about how common expat divorce is; this article from the Wall Street Journal states organizations and companies either don’t share or don’t collect data on this because it may cause couples to re-think their overseas post. It’d be kind of like “Hey! Come Work Abroad … And Ruin Your Marriage!”  Yeah … might not go down well. 

I’ve recently emailed a global relocation company to ask if they have statistics or provide resources to couples and families … especially kids. When I hear back, I’ll let you know. 

Expats seem silent about it, too. I’ve tried searching for expat bloggers talking about their divorce. Nada. There are a few expat divorced bloggers out there, but they’re writing about it as though they became expats after divorce. 

Expat Stigma?
Divorce, despite being sadly common, still has stigma around it. Many people are ashamed when their marriages don’t work out. In the expat community, it can be hard to talk to others about real issues going on because it’s such a small, strange world … especially if you work in development or teaching. I posted here that being an expat can be isolating. It can be hard to talk about the tough stuff for many reasons. 

Do expats feel an additional sense of shame and stigma attached to divorce? There’s a plethora of stats out there about how well-educated, well-paid, and privileged expats are. Smart people don’t get divorced, right? Well-paid people don’t get divorced. Living the dream overseas … what would ever make you get divorced? Right? Wrong.

The truth is being an expat isn’t always rosy. When you’re far from usual support networks, it can be difficult to process things. Life overseas often takes a toll on couples and families. Many people work through it, but it isn’t pots of gold and rainbows all the time.

Resources
There are resources – minimal ones – out there on long-distance parenting, but typically targeted to the US population and not always divorced families; many families separated for work in the bad economic times and there are military families who struggle with this issue, too. There are wonderful children’s books like When I Miss You to address the feelings kids get when they’re … well … missing someone. Zilch about missing your parent who lives 8,000 miles away and how to deal with that

Fantastic divorce books exist for parents and children. At some point I’ll post a tab on the blog listing them. Many of those messages are transferable … until you get to the part where the kid is packing-up to spend the weekend at dad’s house. My daughter will be lucky to see her dad four times a year. She may or may not go to his house. Or if she does, it might only be once a year. Where’s the book about that?

What about books for young kids repatriating? It’s not an easy ride as this post shows. I worry about my daughter fitting in a small, conservative town with little ethnic diversity where the school will be bigger, and the teacher-to-student ratio completely different. To make her stick out a bit more, she's lived in a different country and her dad will still live overseas. Her parents will be going through a divorce. Oh, and she’s bi-cultural. And, she has traveled a lot and has a passport … unlike most Americans, let alone American children. Where the hell is that f’ing book?

Friends?
I'll only mention this briefly today, but - uh - what if you want to continue a friendly relationship with your ex-spouse? Can I just tell you how nearly impossible it is to find articles or books about that? Like the idea itself is impossible to fathom? I've found this article and this one. Most sources say you can't be friends - if it's even possible - for at least a few years. 

Really? I say bullshit. 

There are lots of books about positive co-parenting. When I found the book Taking the High Road, I thought it would discuss how to go through a divorce positively ...not just how to parent positively during a divorce. Turns out, the person who wrote the book hated her husband throughout their divorce (like lots of people, I guess) and gives advice on how to find out if you're being cheated on. This includes where to buy mini voice recorders and where to strategically hide them to 'catch' personal phone calls. That's the high road?

The Problem
We're expats, with a kid. We're getting divorced. One parent and one kid is going home. Long-distance parenting is involved. And we're going through the divorce - RIGHT NOW - amicably (though incredibly painfully). And there is NOTHING out there that talks about this!

If I’m wrong, I hope some of you will guide me to the light and show me the error of my ways. Share the resources with me. 

If I’m right – I’m frightened I am – something needs to be done. Expats need to speak out. Organizations need to say something. Data needs to be shared. Resources need to be created. It’s completely wrong not to talk about this. 

Even if it makes people uncomfortable, I'm going to talk about this. Someone has to.

Are you an expat? Have you been impacted by divorce? Do you know someone that has? Let’s talk.


22 comments:

  1. 3 words for you, my friend...Write the books!

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    1. Hmmmm...interesting idea! Maybe I will! :)

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  2. I agree with the above statement. You've identified the gap, now fill it. :-)

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  3. Oh goodness Becky, I haven't been on your blog in a very long time I confess (sometimes I'm annoyed with how lost I get in my own grief right now!)... but i just wanted to reach out and say that I'm sorry you and your family are having to go through all this. I cannot imagine the added complications of being an expat and figuring out the long-distance parenting. It IS surprising there is no information! ANd i know frustrating for you. But I agree with the two comments above, it sounds like you will be gaining the knowledge as well as having the desire to make it heard... and that will help many others. And hopefully by voicing it you'll find others going through it too.

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    1. Oh, do not worry your pretty head, Sarah. I understand what you're saying: recently my activity on others' blogs have stalled. Do not worry. <3

      Thank you for your kind thoughts. :)

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  4. I TOTALLY agree with Lisa!!! It took Jash and I about 6 months to get through the hurt of being divorced, but since then, I consider him one of my closest, dearest friends and wouldn't have it any other way! It is completely possible to have a friendship with your ex-husband - and of course it is always better for the kids if you do. You are brilliant Becky - "write the books" as Lisa said! :)

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    1. Thank you. :) It was refreshing to read about you + Josh. Thank you for sharing that with me. Perhaps one day I will pick your brain about that. Maybe you can even contribute to a new book about how to get on with your ex! ;)

      Thank you. <3

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  5. So sorry to read your story. I will keep my eye open and let you know if I find any book on this subject. I have not seen any book yet. When I read your post I was reminded of a story I read of an adult third culture kid who wrote about growing up with her parents divorced and living on different continents. It is on DenizenMag an online magazine for third culture kids. The article gives food for thought and it lets you know you're not the only one. Just knowing your not the only one can be comforting at times. http://www.denizenmag.com/2012/03/every-summer-and-every-other-christmas/
    Do write a book on this topic, sounds like a great idea. I just tweeted about your question. greetings Janneke

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    1. Thank you, Janneke. I'm touched that you tweeted my question. I'd love to hear what response you get back. I will also read the Denizen Mag article. Thank you for that!

      :)

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  6. Yes...write...write...write and reach out. You will find your way. Love you.

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    1. Thank you Laura. :) I love you, too. Yes. I will write. <3

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  7. Divorce is so tough. When I was younger, I was part of a group for divorced kids. It helped more than I would have thought. There's a program right now that is starting a curriculum for helping out divorced children which Halsey Minor helped get off the ground. It's called Kids Turn. I hope it goes well and can help kids trying to learn how to juggle both parents.

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    1. Hello Joan,
      Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. Thank you also for telling me about Kids' Turn. I've been looking on their website and it looks great. Thank you so much for that. :)

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  8. Becky, it looks like you're going to have to write that book. I'm sending you lots of love and hope for new beginnings. I wish I could be of more help, I'll keep my eyes open for any resources for you.

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    1. Thank you sweet Indigene. <3 Love you.

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  9. Hello,

    My husband mentioned this morning a job opening within his organization managing its Burmese office so, ever the new-place-researcher, I started the Great Myanmar Google Search. And I ended up here, reading about your divorce. Please accept my outstretched hand from the depths of cyberspace!

    I have been expatriated all of my adult life -- 26 years now (and I'm only 45). My first time was simply leaving school, moving to Italy to live with my Italian boyfriend -- and his parents, brother, and sisters, spending ten years in such living conditions, then realizing it was going to stay like that -- forever. Then I moved to France in pursuit of another man, settled down and had a baby. Two years later we packed a footlocker with heavy coats and a highchair and moved to Central Asia. That first year there was my very worst time as an expat, mama and wife. My husband had been working at home until then and now he was managing an office, gone from sight and fatherly duties for 18 hours a day -- overnight. It was bad.

    Since then (the baby is now 13 and her sister is 7) we have lived in four different countries, each bringing its own terrible challenges, each its own special memories. Honestly, I don't know what I would say to a young -- or not-so-young -- mother who asked for advice whether to expatriate or not. I tend to think I would say, "No way, no how! Do not do it!" I mean, it has been horrible for our marriage in so many ways. Yes, we all hold three to four passports now; we all speak at least three languages (some of us five); we've seen some of the most magnificent places ever and known some great people -- though mostly quite odd. I would trade it all in a second for a nice, easy life bringing the girls up in the PNW, spending our time sipping coffee and coloring on the floor of some neighborhood coffee joint. (I used to visit home and watch the mamas with their toddlers and their array of choices of how to spend their days and just rage inside about easy it was for them to be
    mamas).

    Our current post is our worst ever, though we never would have dreamed it to be so. We thought we were headed for that easy dreamlife. The other day I gave the ultimatum: Get us out of here or we're leaving and you can visit every six months. He's getting us out of here. My one goal in life right now? To spend the next 5 to 6 years in one place -- until my eldest finishes high school.

    All this to give you fodder for your new book...and to say that it is the hardest kind of marriage ever. Personally, I haven't met any couples who have struggled with it the way we have. Perhaps the men are drowning it in work, and the women are drowning it in lunch dates and shopping (because I've never seen women who can shop the way expats can; I've never had the funds to do it!).

    Good luck! I've dreamed so many times of doing what you're about to do. I've never been able to work it out in my head how to make it work out. I'm a big coward, really. I admire your strength!

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    1. Dear Anonymous -
      I hope that someday you will find my reply to you. I wish I had seen this comment months ago when you wrote it. I'm sorry that I'm only now just going through and replying to comments on my blog that have been left over the last several months (as I readjust to life back home - in the Pacific NW, mind you)!

      I'm guessing you're a PNW girl. If so, maybe that's part of our problem: There aren't many places as beautiful, as serene, as home-y as the NW. Regardless of the amazing places I've had the good fortune to live in - like you - I always, always, always, always just wanted to go home. Home is a concept that has been firmly rooted in me. It was not for my daughter's dad: he lived overseas most of his adult life and left home at 16. Roots are important to me. I also really need to travel and get out and do things, see things. Itchy feet are either inherent in me or results of moving so much. Many expats I have spoken with don't have that ... they don't have this need for "home." They truly feel that home is where they are with their husband/boyfriend/family/kids. And they feel the world is their home. I do not - at all - feel this way. And I think without that element, it's tough.

      I so, completely understand how difficult it can be on a marriage to move around. And yeah - I get what you're saying about expats. Yes. They work hard. And the wives sometimes fit in different categories - the ones who work, the ones who don't. It's hard to find people you click with and you certainly make friends with those you may not have normally been drawn to - which has its advantages. At the same time, you can feel - like I think you're say you do - that you don't quite fit the mold. You're different from many other expats and you'd be different if you went home, too - or had a place to call home for the next 5-6 years.

      All I can say is that for me, how I'm wired (and how my daughter is, too), I am glad to be home. I wouldn't trade my experiences - ever. But I am not cut-out for expat life. I am cut out to travel, to visit, to see places, to understand. Then go home. I need home. And home for me is the Pacific Northwest. Full stop. Yet - while home - I'm not the same, either. I don't fit the norm in my conservative community. Neither does my daughter. But that's OK. I can head over to Seattle for the day and go into an African shop, eat noodles for breakfast, have Ethiopian for lunch, have Thai for dinner. I can visit with people from the countries I've lived in, that I'm connected to. And I can suddenly feel like I'm a global citizen - which I do feel I am (but I still feel I belong at home). I hope that makes sense.

      Feel free to write anytime...thank you for your generous words...

      I am keeping you in my heart and wishing you the best.

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  10. Hang in there - it really does get better! I am an ex expat, divorced with ex living on the other side of the world. And there is little or no advice on how to handle this. My ex gets home rarely and the children wonder why. They love their Dad but their relationship will never be the same because he has missed so many moments - big and small - in their life. My advice - make sure they see each other OFTEN - and not just for great holidays but make sure he is involved, as much as he can be, in their everyday life. Make sure he knows what's going on at school, what parties they went to, how the play rehearsals are going.. encourage him to find this out. The kids won't say much and hate being asked questions but love it when they realise their dad has taken time to check the school calendar for example and knows there's something important coming up. Encourage your ex to head back for big school events or birthdays. It isn't easy, ..... good luck.

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    1. Thank you so, so much. I am very grateful for your words of advice. It is a very strange world navigating this. Sounds like we're in a very similar situation.

      Just yesterday I emailed him the teacher's weekly newsletter. I will encourage him to quiz her on her spelling words, etc. We try, but Skype crashes, time differences suck, and - as you said - it's not the same. It will never be the same. It's tough. You just have to do the best you can, I guess...

      THANK YOU. And thinking of you, too!

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  11. I am late to this post but wanted to share a resource with you and your readers. I agree that there is hardly anything out there for expats getting divorced with their children. It is so frustrating. In fact I was the search for additional resources that brought me to this blog post. That said, I can share with you the organization I started to help expat kids through transitions. Currently we are working with a teen with divorced parents in two different countries and so I think you might find this interesting. The org is called Sea Change Mentoring (www.seachangementoring.com) We match teens and emerging adults with professional mentors who grew up abroad themselves. They help kids through transitions like moving or going "home." If I can help in any way, please let me know. And I agree with others. write the book! :)

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