The (Mom) Mind Trap

When you become a stay at home mom after working, life changes dramatically. You go from receiving feedback, reporting to a boss or customers, completing daily/weekly/monthly tasks, having accountability and receiving acknowledgments to a much slower paced life. You are now responsible for taking care of a small baby who will not be able to thank you for a while, and you now have to see your home as a workplace instead of where you can relax. It is such a challenging time for many moms! There comes a point for some where they get to decide if they will go back into the working world in some form or fashion. It is not always an easy decision and it comes along with new thoughts and emotions that pre-child you probably would not have faced.

Am I really ready to go back to work?
One of the first questions that we ask ourselves is if we are “ready”. This question is supported by fear, anxiety, and sometimes embarrassment. We begin to question if we still “have it”. Will we be sharp enough? Can we focus on our job versus how our child is, what needs to get done still at home, and what will we have for dinner? We go from a “job” of taking care of a home and child, which sometimes involves limited time for feeling like an adult, to being in the workplace where most haven’t had time away and continued to keep themselves on top of what is going on in their work world. It can feel like it’s just easier to stay at home than put ourselves back out there. But why? Haven’t we been managing a home? Keeping a whole family system organized and functioning? What we may lack in updated knowledge in our field, we make up for in practical knowledge and experience that keeps us working hard and accomplishing tasks efficiently (because you just don’t know how long that nap is going to last!).

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But I am not who I used to be…
I, Katie, used to cry to my husband that I didn’t go to school to learn how to take care of a home or raise a child. I felt so angry that all my education that I paid so much for wasn’t being used in the day to day. Some time after my first daughter was born, I noticed a change in me. My priorities were different. My brain was different. I had matured, but at first I saw it as a regression. I thought because I wasn’t sharp in my field any more that I was SO far behind others who had not taken time off. It wasn’t until I started my second company (another kid later) that I realized I was even better at my job than before I had my first child. I still needed to sharpen my brain in the field of psychology and counseling, but it was like riding a bike. The best part was I now had a perspective on life that helped me balance much better than I did before.

Will my family still function if I go back to work?
Recently I, Abigail, went back to work for the second time. After my son was born I got to choose when, how, and what I would be doing. I initially chose to work from home full-time while simultaneously caring for the kids and managing our home. Working from home gave the illusion that I could meet more of our family needs than was realistic, and I knew that a few things needed to change. First, reducing my work hours to an amount that fit my family’s rhythm was the key to balancing the needs of myself, my husband and both the kids. Second, I needed to ask for help. My husband offered to cover some chores and we hired a house cleaner to help with big tasks. Third, I took notice of my son’s growing activity level and curiosity – it was a perfect time to introduce him to the mini-kindi. It has been wonderful to see how our family rhythm has developed and even our little man is thriving with this new schedule!

Tell yourself the truth
As women, we are our harshest critics, and we tend to tell ourselves lies that we are not good enough and we can’t make it work. It’s time to start challenging this negative self-talk and be more realistic. If you are ready to go back into the workplace, sit down and write out what type of position you would like to do with the hours you actually can work. Be realistic about what you and a company can agree upon. The key is write it down first. Yes, it will probably change, but instead of being abstract thoughts in your head, putting pen to paper helps you face what you want and what you can accomplish.
Begin reading books, journals, news, articles, etc in your field. Ideally, you can be doing this during your time as a stay at home mom, but now it is even more important as you embark on the adventure of returning to work.

Applying for jobs is the next daunting task. You already have your realistic goals of what type of job you would like to have; now set out with the same level of determination you have to get your child to sleep through the night to look for a job. You may not find the perfect match, but knowing your priorities will help you decide what is worth compromising on. Be creative when searching. It is so easy to search for exactly the job we were doing before, but maybe there are areas of your field where you would like to develop your skills and have enough qualifications to apply for. In Germany, you have protection over keeping a job at a company, but that doesn’t always mean you and the company will agree on the type of job and hours you will be working when you return. Don’t be afraid to look elsewhere to see which companies are looking for someone like you.

With all of the ways that motherhood has allowed you to grow, it’s no wonder that it feels like a tall order to figure out if this whole “back” to work thing is for you.  You may not feel that all of the details are ironed out, or that you will fit back into the same job seamlessly, or that your new family rhythm will flow … yet you know that you are strong, determined, and supported.  The outcome may not be what you set out to find, but you may be beautifully surprised by the way that you, your partner, and your kid(s) work together and depend on each other.  This is your life.  And finding a balance of things that satisfy and invigorate you is all part of the journey!

Co-written with Abigail Fobanjong
Originally written for: Über Moms

Moving for Love

Moving For Love – By Katie Rössler 

Some of us move to Munich for work, others to explore a new city, and there are those who move due to love. Whether you were already married or were in love and moving in together, it can be quite the challenge to leave everything you knew behind for the sake of your love. Our relationship can get us through a lot but unfortunately not through everything. It takes some determination and stepping outside your comfort zone to make your new living situation begin to feel like home.

When we first move to a new country, it can be romantic. You get to explore all the sites and sounds that will become your new normal. It almost feels like you are on a vacation until it really hits you that this is where you live now. When day to day life and routines start to take place and your partner is away at work for a majority of the day you begin to have to face the truth of your situation. It is you and you alone who has to make this new situation work.

The Stages of Adjustment 

Bitterness & Homesickness

First, you will more than likely feel homesick, bitter towards your partner, angry about your situation, and lonely. Expect to feel these things at some point so that when they come up you are not surprised. It is normal that when we feel a negative emotion we look at who to blame. This is where the bitterness and anger can come from.

Reminding yourself that you made the choice to move here, that you can choose how to think about your experience, and that you can challenge your frustrations and bitterness can help a lot.

When we tell ourselves the truth and allow ourselves to grieve what we left behind we begin to make progress towards the battle to adjust. By blaming your partner and putting a wall up to them, you push away your biggest companion in this new chapter of your life together. No wonder we feel even more lonely when we do this!

Expect to Argue

Second, you will argue more. Yep, sorry everyone. It’s normal and natural because there is so much new for you and your partner. Even if you move in with your partner to a new country, they have to adjust to sharing their world full time with you. You have to adjust to everything being new. If you both move to the new country together, then you both are adjusting to all of it. I have firsthand experience that moving to your partner’s home country after they have lived away from it for a few years does not mean that they will feel like home again when they move back. On the contrary, they will struggle and at times struggle more than you. So, expect to argue because you both are feeling vulnerable, uncomfortable, and frustrated almost on a daily basis.

Take Charge of the Situation as a Team

Lastly, take care of yourself and your relationship. Explore the new city together with the vision that this is OUR home. Go out on a mission to find your favorite restaurants. Make it a goal to find the best bakery and grocery store that has what you need and like. Register for language classes so that you have a regular appointment that keeps you on a schedule. There is nothing worse than just sitting around with nothing to do as you wait for life to happen.

Find groups of fellow expats that want to learn too. Only vent to the friends and family members who will support you and your relationship. It isn’t helpful to vent to someone who reinforces the negative view you have of your partner, rather than support you through your loneliness phase and encourages you to meet new people. Take time to talk with your partner about what these changes are like for both of you. Is it different than you expected? What is interesting about the new place you live in that you haven’t figured out yet? Explore the experience together hand in hand and more than likely you’ll come out of this challenging time the same way.

In Conclusion

We can be our own worst enemy. Change is hard no matter what kind it is, but it is how we look at the change and how we handle it that shapes us in the long term. When we tell ourselves over and over how awful our new experience is we will stay stuck. When we welcome the uncomfortable feelings because we know they will be short-lived, find healthy outlets, and begin to create a new village of friends, we and our relationships are more likely to thrive. So get out there and see what your new home has to offer while holding your partner’s hand. Better yet, give them a big hug because this is an amazing adventure and you picked each other to go on it.

Written for : City Starlings

When You Fall Off the Wagon

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Picture this: It’s the New Year. You sit down to set some goals and feel motivated to reach each one. First week, you rock it. You remember what your goals are and you are doing things to move forward. Second week, still pretty good. Maybe you have some friends working on the same goals too and checking in to see how you are doing, which helps. Third week…all it takes is that one day you get out of your new routine and it’s hard to get re-focused again. Then, you feel annoyed, which is really because of guilt, embarrassment, and frustration, when people ask how your new goals are going, and you end up giving lots of excuses. Deep down you are frustrated at yourself because this is more than likely not the first time you haven’t completed a goal you wanted to. If this sounds all too familiar, let’s talk about how to change this scenario.

First of all, it is silly to think that we will start a new goal and be amazing at it immediately. A new goal typically involves a new habit. New habits involve a lot of work and focus to make them part of our normal routine. Acknowledge that your new goal will take time and effort and you will not be perfect at it. This does not give you permission to “fall off the wagon” on purpose. You are giving yourself the grace you need to actually be successful at your goal. You will have slip ups, just like everyone else, but because you already expected this you can refocus yourself after it happens. Try creating goals you can have a weekly, maybe even daily, plan for. Then, when you have a slip up you already have the plan to get yourself back on track. I find that coming up with a plan after I got off track is much harder because I can easily talk myself out of continuing the goal.

Let’s touch on “streaks,” when you want to complete a goal every day for a period of time. If you miss a day of your streak, you have two options, and you guessed right, neither of them are stop doing the streak! First option, you can restart the streak, but let’s be real, if you are on day 45 and trying to get to day 60 starting over is going to more than likely kill your drive. If you are on day 5 of a 30 day streak then definitely just restart it. Second option, skip that day in your counting and pick up the count on the next day. Back to the first example above, if you are on day 45 and miss day 46, continue the streak the next day and that is now day 46. It’s our nature to get upset at ourselves when we “fail” at something, but remember that grace we are giving ourselves now with our goals. You missed a day of your streak which just means you’ll add a day at the end. Move on. Focusing on the missed day distracts you from the end goal.

At the end of the day, we create goals to become stronger, healthier, smarter, and overall a better version of ourselves. We do not create a goal to beat ourselves up, remind ourselves of past failures, or to feel less capable. So, expect that you will have slip ups and conquer them with a plan. Show yourself grace when slip-ups happen and push forward to the next day. Remember your ultimate goal is a better you, not feeling worse about yourself. Your friends here at ÜberMoms will be there with you every step of the way and won’t make you feel bad if you have an “off” day. We will encourage you and show you grace so you feel motivated to get focused again. No need to feel embarrassed or give excuses. Just get back up and rock it, ladies! 2018 is your year!

 

Originally written for: Über Moms

Photo credit: Cathryn Lavery on Unsplash

A House Divided By Ketchup

In the first few years of our relationship, my husband and I were somewhat blind to the fact that our arguments were largely due to our cultural backgrounds. It wasn’t until a discussion about ketchup that we realized being in a bi-cultural couple wasn’t going to be as easy as we had thought…

Growing up American, ketchup was a common condiment for particular meals. However, for my German husband, it was not: he was appalled by me even setting it out on the table! And we fought about things like ketchup…constantly. Soon we realized the problem was not petty things like ketchup and that we needed to understand what was really causing us to argue. Finally, it hit us: some of the fighting was due to cultural differences and some of it was a consequence of family norms. We realized that during arguments like these we needed to stop and acknowledge whether our arguing was because of what we believed & expected to be true from our culture or was it related to a personal issue, such as: “Why can’t you just put your socks in the dirty clothes hamper???”.

Many of Little Munich Black Book’s members are familiar with bi-cultural relationships, and I wanted to take some time to learn more about the topic and how to help us see the positives after the sexy accent has lost its charm. I interviewed Dr. David Wilchfort, a couples’ therapist in Munich, who has over 40 years’ experience working with this kind of issue. He also has experienced his own reverse culture shock after moving back to Germany from Toronto, Canada where he earned his doctorate.

So, Dr. Wilchfort, how do you define bi-cultural relationships and what makes them so challenging?

“Everyone in a bi-cultural relationship is quite aware of the feeling that it is a challenge but sometimes find it harder to discover its opportunities. ‘Bi-cultural,’ as it is commonly called, refers to couples that have a well-defined different culture (e.g. German versus American, Catholic versus Protestant, etc.). I believe every couple is a mixture of two cultures, except if you are a Pharaoh that marries his sister!

We all have more or less different upbringings… The challenge in the relationship can either be the different ways Christmas is celebrated or if one visits a different place every summer or spends it always in the same location. Therefore if you marry ‘the boy next door’ (i.e. someone with a similar view of social norms), it will be easier to decide what your new family will consider normal. But for a bi-cultural couple, ‘business as usual’ is not an option. You have to learn new things.”

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Let’s break this down even further. If you have only used an iPhone since the first time you had a phone, it is going to be a challenge to own an Android or Windows phone. The turn on/off button, the volume, the app design & placement, how to take a picture… it will all be different. You won’t be able to do things out of habit, and you may find yourself often thinking ‘I don’t like how this new phone works. It makes no sense!’. But if you buy a new phone and say, ‘I’m going to learn how this phone works and not expect it to be like my previous phone’ you will be more open to the new challenge and actually learn faster. You won’t be creating negative messages which tell you something is ‘wrong’ or make you feel your iPhone is ‘superior’ to all other phones. I know…I know…if you are an iPhone user this may be hard to believe!

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Many of our readers have moved to Munich, Germany to live in their partner’s homeland. What suggestions do you have to help these individuals think more positively about this transition and to harbor less blame or resentment?

“If you go on a hike and come to a two-way crossing with no trail sign, you have not two but four options. Let’s say you take the left path and realize after a while that you took the longer route to the top. You then have the choice to either continue your way angry at your spouse or yourself because you took the ‘wrong path’, or you can enjoy the possibility to have more great photo opportunities than if you had taken the shortcut.

If you decide to take the other path which ended up being shorter but harder to hike, you could decide to swear at the ‘hardship’ of your spouse’s or your decision that forced that exertion upon you, or you could enjoy that you got to see the wonderful view from the summit earlier than expected.

It is obvious which of the four options make for a happier relationship. The more both partners try to discover & focus on the positive side of their new location, rather than what is missing, the more likely they will feel like they made the right decision.”

You’re currently working on research to help couples see the positive in their relationship again. Tell us more about it and how it could help people in bi-cultural relationships.

“Evolution has made our brain an excellent ‘danger discover’ machine. This was extremely useful when we had to identify the safest and fastest path to a new food source for survival. Now, we live in an age where not everything is a potential danger. In particular, the partner that we have chosen is not a dangerous snake, even if we have moments of anger and disappointment when we entertain such fears. Since our brain is biologically developed into a perfect radar to recognize all the wrong doings of our partner, it needs a lot of training to be able to concentrate on the loving moments within a relationship.

I have discovered there is an uncomplicated way to develop an additional radar for the good things related to your partner. It only takes one minute a day to consciously turn your inner thoughts to a new, positive direction by asking yourself this question: ‘What was a nice moment in our relationship in the last 24 hours?’. My experience as a couple’s therapist and what my recent research has shown, is that if diligent partners do this regularly (even just one of them) after a short while they discover that they can see their partner in a more positive light, instead of their brains natural desire to focus on the negative.”

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As you can see, there is no need for us to see our partner as a “dangerous snake” just because their cultural background is different from ours and vice versa! Look at ways you can embrace your differences to enjoy the new views and work on recognizing when your belief is because of what you are used to versus what is really important to you. Ketchup just isn’t worth fighting over!

Thank you, Dr. Wilchfort for helping us look at the challenges of a bi-cultural relationship in a different way! If you are interested in joining Dr. Wilchfort’s research and improving the way you see your partner, check https://stay4ever.love/ and sign up to start investing one minute a day in order to improve your relationship.

 

Originally Written for: Little Munich Black Book

Photo Credit: Alysa Bajenaru on Unsplash

The Unspoken Truth About Moving Back Home

When my husband and I decided to make the move to Munich, Germany both of our families were very concerned with how I would adjust. I was about 5 months pregnant, had an almost two year old, and was moving away from my home country after over 30 years of living there. Though my German husband and I had been together for seven years and we had been back and forth from the USA to Germany regularly, our families knew that this would be different for me. The one thing none of us expected was the transition and struggle my husband would go through returning to his home country after six years of living in the States.

“It’s just not the same”

When I said things like “We both are going through a stage of homesickness right now” I found that our German family and friends were sometimes in a bit of disbelief: “Really? He misses the States?”. Not realizing that my husband was struggling with the move made it harder for others to be sympathetic.

I wasn’t prepared for the identity crisis that my husband went through as he struggled to feel like he fit in to his own culture. Side by side, we have grieved the changes, shared what we miss, and laughed at the oddities of our new home country. As a counselor, I sought to better understand what was going on inside of him and figure out how I could help. I talked with German friends about their experiences with living in other countries and what their new normal was like returning home. Everyone knows the new expat needs support, but so does the individual returning to their country of origin. I asked the LMBB community for their experiences and was overwhelmed by thoughtful responses.

The return home

For those returning to their home country after a period of being away of 6 months or more, anxiety, depression, isolation, an identity crisis, and anger are common. It is quite the challenge when you feel excited to “go home” and see your family, friends, and visit your old hangouts but are later met with internal feelings of disconnect. For many, it takes time for these symptoms to go away and can leave one feeling quite restless.

I wasn’t German anymore, and didn’t even know anymore how the system works with regards to getting registered etc. — Stephanie

Finding support along the way

Support is crucial and tends to best come from those who have experienced reverse culture shock or who are familiar with it. Many shared that they were met by surprise or disbelief when they shared their struggle being back in their home country. When some shared the issues they had with customs and belief systems in their home country they were met with defensiveness from friends and family. This tended to increase the feelings of isolation.

…in a lot of cases, I just kind of felt like I didn’t fit in anymore. If I talked about things that were normal in expat life – like shopping for Chinese antiques or flying to another country for the weekend – I seemed stuck up or bragging sometimes. — Anne

Where is home?

One LMBB member shared that she felt like someone had pulled her up and cut off her roots when she moved back to her home country: after living in the UK for nine years, moving back to her home country felt like starting all over again. Hilde compared it to learning to ride a bike again. “You know how to cycle but the traffic rules have changed and maybe even the roads, here and there.” Some pointed out that where they feel like they became adults feels the most like home.

Those years you spend learning to be an adult, to have a job and through dating disasters are years where you build irreplaceable friendships. — Anne

Home is a complex topic for multinational, multicultural families, and you may find that you don’t share a single sense of ‘home’ – or you may have several: here, where you live; where your parents live; where you grew up; where you always holiday…

How to help

If, like me, you are watching your partner go through the challenges reverse culture shock brings, you’ll need to be supportive even as you yourself need support. Be patient. Try to be understanding. Reverse culture shock can be really hard to understand and sympathize with if you haven’t experienced it.

The best advice I can give is to try and keep them busy. Try and get them to focus on the positive things about their home country. Simply be there for them. — Christine

Be patient and encouraging. Arrange meet ups with other couples that might be going through the same thing. — Stephanie

Tips for surviving reverse culture shock

Whether you’re currently dealing with your own reverse culture shock or preparing for a move back to your home country, it’s worth understanding as much as you can about the process. You may feel alone and isolated, but even those feelings are very normal.

  • Know that it will be hard for you as well as your family.
  • Educate yourself about reverse culture shock so you know what to expect.
  • Remember why you moved back and celebrate the things you do enjoy about your country.
  • Find support in others who are understanding. Lean on them during the challenges that come.
  • Be aware that some will not want to hear about your stories living overseas.
  • Keep busy with hobbies (new and old), social dates, and exploring your home country again.
  • Be willing to admit to yourself and your close support that you are struggling. Hiding it will only make it worse.
  • Patience is crucial during this time.
  • Remember you probably didn’t like everything in the previous country you lived in so it is to be expected that you will not like everything in your home country.
  • You have changed – don’t expect that others have stayed the same.
  • Go meet new people! You have invaluable experiences that others will want to hear about and more than likely you’ll find new people who have their own cool stories to share too!

Remind yourself why it was worth it

All the LMBB members I spoke to found their experience living abroad invaluable, and most people look back on their experiences abroad and find real, tangible benefits as well as emotional and cultural lessons learned. If you’re struggling, it may be worth making a list of why your time abroad was worthwhile – and why it’s so great to be home. Here are just a few of the benefits LMBB members shared:

I’d say living abroad for 11 years has made me more tolerant and appreciate other opinions / outlooks. You just understand a lot more where some people are coming from. — Stephanie

I am a better mother because of this journey. — Carolyn

I don’t take things for granted that my home country offers. — Victoria

It changes your perceptions a bit to live in another country where you are always seen as a foreigner and where you struggle with language and trying to get things done on a daily basis. It makes me more empathetic. — Anne

I no longer feel that Marmite, English sausages and Cadburys are crucial to my well-being. In fact, I cannot imagine a life without Breze for feeding to teething children in a pushchair, or any other of the myriad little things that our family life incorporates from our cultures (European, British, German, Bavarian, Italian…) on a daily basis. — Alison

As these women have learned, you can overcome reverse culture shock through finding support in groups like Little Munich Black Book, learning to enjoy your home country again with new eyes, and embracing what you have experienced in all of the places you have lived. I know now how to be a better support to my husband and to help others see that what he is going through is normal. If you are going through reverse culture shock, reach out to us! Join the LMBB Facebook group: we’re a group of international women who would love to hear your stories.

 

Written for: Little Munich Black Book

Photo Credit: Tim Gouw on Unsplash