English Speaking Therapists in Barcelona

Expat Women Identity: Becoming Me (Again)

Expat Women Identity: Becoming Me (Again)

The following is a brief informative article written by Leigh Matthews, Australian Psychologist and Founder of Therapy in Barcelona,  in response to the story “Identity: Becoming Me (Again)” by Jane Mitchell in the wonderful and enlightening collection of expat women stories “#Living The Dream: Expat Life Stripped Bare” 


“Losing a sense of certainty and control gives you a feeling of vulnerability but also gives you the freedom to be who you want to be.” Jane references her first expat stint in Cairo thus, but she could equally be writing about living the other themes woven throughout her expat story including Motherhood, divorce, sisterhood and identity.

Jane’s story lays bare the full significance of being a (heterosexual CIS) woman on the expat journey. Trends may change, gender roles may shift, and not every expat woman chooses to have children, but, the assumption of the role of Mother and Wife, and the laying aside of career aspirations and ourselves, is a frequent song of the expat woman. It is the common herstory of the expat wife that she will have had an identity formed in a full life prior to marriage – one of career, aspirations, passions and networks. Bold, carefree, and self-determined, the enviable Independent Women of Destiny’s Child: “All the ladies who truly feel me throw your hands up at me!” who forsook that path for variations on the blog title: “What it’s really like to give up everything and become an expat wife.”

Gender roles structure the opportunities and constraints that accumulate in any woman’s life, but, the expat life itself implores someone to fill the vacuum where a village may have been to raise our children had we stayed in our passport lands. If one is an accompanying spouse, the laying down of oneself as the bridge between public and private for one’s partner comes as an imperative as he flies from place to place, often leaving the expat woman not only village-less but also in the role of single parent each time he is away. Selflessness is not just socialised, it is also demanded by circumstances, and expat family life is a perfect storm in which to birth the Mother who sacrifices for her family. Jane, however, like many Mothers, carries her role with a grace, humility, and gladness radiating from the understanding that there is no greater responsibility than that of Mothering humans, and raising Third Culture Kids, our global citizens, no less. The anchoring power of the Mother in the provision of consistency, ritual, and love in a life full of cultural clashes and unknowns is critical. Yes, “The frequency of the mother is the frequency of the world” (@thermotherspirit). 

Bafflingly,  most societies do not respect the role of the Mother, expat or not. Less so does society respect the power of the ageing woman. Gustav Klimt’s “Three Ages of Women,” of 1905, still speaks to the myth of women in society throughout the life cycle. The child and maiden are represented as fresh, in the vital spring of life, while the older woman is a desiccated castaway, holding her face in her hands as if for shame.  @themotherspirit speaks to the slanted view of women in our latter life cycles:

As maturing women we’ve been cultured ..to shrivel and be brittle, break and disappear. It’s as if aging women are told to fade into invisibility but nature teaches us to mature is to become our most visible, beautiful and alive – it is to ripen and radiate.

We strain under the dislocation from our Mothers as we ourselves become Mothers. There is an innate yearning for the transmission of wisdom, and consolation, if your Mum is “that kind” of Mum. The notion of the village recedes and, in its place, we may find a network of sisters. “Find your Tribe” is a resonant chant of the veteran expat woman and it can be that the coming together of sisters in friendships constitute vigorous and vibrant threads stitched through an expat woman’s journey. As Sark writes: “The circles of women around us weave invisible nets of love that carry us when we are weak and sing with us when we are strong.” 

When we look at, and to, our resilient expat sisters, when we read the stories in this book, we redeem forgotten dimensions of ourselves. We meet again, the emboldened woman, embracing yet transcending the selves built from the constraints and opportunities of gendered roles in our expat lives. As a maturing expat woman, Jane speaks inspiringly of reclaiming the grey, but moreover, of resurrecting herself beyond the identities of Mother and Expat Wife. Casting off the cultural script of the valueless middle-aged woman, and venturing forth beyond the borders of the marital relationship; she is in an act of redemption, becoming herself (again). In the uncertainty and loss of control she is indeed simultaneously vulnerable and free, revealing as @themotherspirit declares:

“By midlife, women are not invisible. They have become invincible. This is your arrival.”

By Leigh Matthews

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