What Women with Children Face when Accepting an International Assignment

What if your expat hire got pregnant while on assignment? In her memoir, “Women’s Work: A Reckoning With Work and Home,” former foreign correspondent Megan K. Stack recounts the challenges she faced as a pregnant assignee. Fortunately, her husband was also a foreign talent who did the work for both of them while she stayed at home. She couldn’t remain idle, though.

Stack initially thought she could have time to write a novel, not realizing what new mothers experience: a foggy brain and a sense of isolation. Motherhood, she realized, also require lots of her time, energy and stamina, like her work. She did a lot of breast-feeding and getting up in the middle of the night with the baby. It was an uphill battle to get her memoir written, but she was able to finish it and give mothers first-hand tips on how to balance a demanding job with raising children.

Work and motherhood seem to be impossible to do simultaneously, as evidenced by the fact that women with children seldom accept international assignments. Which is natural, because mothers need to weigh in a number of life-altering factors before they agree to accept a job role in an expatriate capacity. But Stack proved it can be done.

Global mobility managers should be able to see this as an opportunity to support working mothers, or if many are already doing it, to communicate the support available for working mothers. Yes, a woman would most likely be frowned upon if she accepts an expatriate job offer from her immediate family and friends, which is why she would need to assure people around her that everything will be fine. Or that global mobility managers would need to assure them as well. 

One good thing that would make her accept a job from afar is if their children will have the best possible schooling — and California Corporate Housing can help locate that for her and her family, including the environment they will live in.

Global mobility organizations have their work cut out for them when it comes to hiring families. They must know how to see it from these mothers’ point of view, even if the foreign hire is the man in the family. 

They must provide all the information mothers need regarding the totality of the expatriate experience, and communicate this effectively. In a Relocate Magazine interview, one relocated female assignee commented, “To what extent does being a mom change your view of expatriation? I say two things… proximity to the office and affordable childcare.”

It boils down to that, although it doesn’t stop there. Here are some tips from InterNations and from California Corporate Housing’s experience dealing with families not just in terms of providing them a home away from home but how they can adjust in the northern California. 

Establish a support network

Being away from home is hard as it is, being at home caring for a child alone can be a very lonely process. If the foreign assignee is new to the area and she knows only a few people while the husband is out to work most of the day, she will need to meet people.

If possible right away, meeting a network of fellow mothers in her position is one way of establishing a support system. It’s likely that a new mother may experience a postpartum period, but over time, once the baby starts growing, she should be able to build a new routine around her and her child.

Accept the reality of traveling

The world is full of people on the move. One needs to deal with the fact that a partner may be required to travel. Expats with children face a different set of challenges, but it doesn’t mean that they will need to forego traveling when life abroad could turn out to be an enriching experience for all, or an opportunity for their kids to be exposed to good things — good schooling, good environment, good life.

Yes, traveling with children can exact a heavy toll on everyone in the family. One simply needs to develop coping strategies for the kids and their future. Being a parent who spends a considerable amount of time as the sole caregiver and being able to make it work and feel normal can also give one an incredible sense of accomplishment and success. 

The ties that bind

Mothers are the glue that holds families together, but it doesn’t mean that they have to do all the work. The husband has to work with their wife to make sure their kids grow up without having to deal with relocation anxiety or culture shock. Depending on the age of the child, they can easily adapt to a new environment, sometimes even better than the adults in the family. 

Families with the support of global mobility managers can help assignees cope with all those negative feelings, and be the model for calmness and reassurance. 

Suddenly an expert and extrovert 

What’s interesting in being a foreign talent is that one sheds some innocence in the entire process of relocation. Even a fully responsible adult finds out how any form of struggle can help her or him see that the experience can be fulfilling. If one has not even approached a stranger before, for instance, the new environment may just give them the courage to make new friends. 

The knowledge one gains interacting with different types of people can go a long way. The exposure one gains from seeing the world can make one more open-minded to different kinds of mindsets, cultures and an expert at seeing the world in many unique ways. Imagine how a child that grows up seeing the world can make him or her learn different languages, for one and different cultures, second.

Moving feels like a clean slate

Yes, moving to a new country as a family or mother is challenging,  but it will also feel like one is making a fresh start — and that’s incredibly liberating. As an expat mom, all the judgment stemming from a traditional home culture or familiarity will be gone as people see with fresh, non-judgmental eyes in a different setting.