A few weeks after moving to Thailand, I had a few days of feeling sad and a bit down. I’m guessing neither emotion is particularly uncommon to have in the midst of our current life circumstances. However, being the introspect I am
cursed blessed to be, I wondered where those feelings were coming from. Was I down because I was feeling a bit like a bird who had had its wings clipped due to my loss of independence? Was it because I missed my friends back home? Maybe it was because my husband had returned to work and I missed seeing him as regularly as we did the first few weeks here? Actually, it was probably a bit of all of those things plus others I was unaware of.
I was eventually able to put my finger on it. I was struggling because I had lost many of my tools.
We’re not talking about power saws, hammers, and screwdrivers here, but the tools each of us uses in order to navigate the roles we hold. I have a specific set of tools that helps me to be a somewhat “competent” (whatever that means) mother, manager of our home, and wife, to name my three biggest roles. If I don’t yet have some necessary tools, I (hopefully) am working on developing them. Let’s take my role of motherhood as the example for the remainder of this post. A few of my non-tangible “mothering tools” are the attitudes and philosophy I approach parenting with. Other tools are tangible – for example: the list (often mental) of activities I often do with my kids, the skills I want to be working on with each of them, the snacks and meals I feed them, and the groups of friends I often initiate playdates with, just to list a few. These tools help me to mother my kids individually in the ways Shun-Luoi and I feel are best for them as well as our whole family.
But what if I can’t easily get to the grocery store? What if the foods or snacks I am accustomed to feeding my kids are somewhat expensive here or I can’t even read the labels on the food in the stores? What if I don’t have a car in which to take my kids to try out different kid-friendly places I would normally have been to by now? And if I did have a car, what would I do when I don’t know how to drive in the right side of the car and on the left side of the street? What if my kids have no friends with whom to even initiate playdates?
Moving to Thailand has caused me to lose most of the tools I had acquired in America that helped me be the competent (again, used loosely) mother I knew how to be. Now what?
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the answer to that question. However, I spent a day or two of “chafing” under my new reality bemoaning the fact of not being able to do this or not having the resources to do that. After those few days, I realized that chafing was not going to be helpful for anyone. Is any kind of chafing ever a good thing? Not that I know of, although I’m sure I could find some instance where it is if I researched long enough. But, in relation to this discussion, chafing is a bad thing. I needed to move past the chafing stage and instead accept my new set of life circumstances along with the reality that I was going to need to develop some new tools. See? No rocket science needed to make that deduction.
Along the way, I’m learning some important principles about the new tools I will develop for my tool belt.
- Attempting to re-create similar tools that “worked” well for me in America while here will probably lead to frustration. I live in a very different culture with different resources available. I can’t try to transplant all that I did in America to here, and that’s ok.
- Ask expatriate mothers who have lived here longer to share specific ways they have learned to carry out their role as mothers while living here. Other women here are already doing it – I need to be humble enough to learn from them and be open to new things, even if I would never have previously considered using the tools they suggest.
- Watch how the Thai mothers mother their kids (and/or ask them if possible). For pete’s sake, if I won’t be open to learning from the Thai in their own country, then how arrogant am I? At the same time, I need to accept that not every tool will transfer across cultures and not try to force myself into mothering like a Thai woman when I am not Thai.
- Get comfortable with the fact that re-stocking my tool belt will take some time. Just as I gained some new tools when I first became a mother of one, then some different tools when I had my 2nd child, my new tools will also take time to acquire.
Enough time has been spent chafing. Now it’s time to learn, grow, and add some new tools to the old belt. It will surely be interesting to see what that belt holds 6 months from now!
Have you ever had a season in life that demanded you acquire some new tools for a role you hold? What did that process look like? Expat moms, do you have any advice to pass along?