Single parenting for expats in the Netherlands
For expats in the Netherlands out there who also happen to be single parents, you most likely find yourself in somewhat of a unique experience.
Being a single expat parent
As we know, being an expat is hard enough on its own. Being a parent is also hard, let alone a single parent, which brings additional difficulties to the table. Add the combination of being a single expat parent and you are bound to feel, from time-to-time (or even all the time), frustrated, overwhelmed or simply strung out.
As a single expat parent in the Netherlands you may be experiencing a constant juggle between raising your children to their highest potential, scheduling time for your job and finding time to develop your social network. You may also find yourself experiencing an array of emotions about the responsibilities that you face.
Expat kids raised by one parent
Coincidentally, expat kids who are being raised primarily by one parent also face a unique and sometimes difficult situation. While it is entirely possible for children to be happy and healthy in a single parent home, this situation often presents some special challenges to keep in mind.
For example, some kids may feel less supported in comparison to their peers who live with both parents while other children may have mixed emotions about their other - perhaps absent - parent. If your child's other parent is living in another city or country, this can be difficult for them. They may want to have their father / mother in their daily lives, but proximity makes it impossible.
Tips for single expat parents in the Netherlands
If you are a single expat parent in the Netherlands, how can you make the most out of your situation so that you and your kids feel happy, supported and open to taking on your expatriate lifestyle?
› Take care of yourself
First and foremost, it is important that you make time for yourself without feeling guilty. Your own social life and emotional well-being should be important priorities. Children model the ways that their parents behave and even feel. Your child will not be happy if you yourself are not.
Having friends to rely on and to have fun with will help prevent you from feeling alone and isolated as an expat. You are entitled to take the time needed to make friends and even date (if you want to)! It is all too easy to put your children first while forgetting about yourself. Do your kids a favour and take care of your needs, too!
› Be prepared
Developing a stable support network is especially important as a single expat parent. Having a plan in place for times when you are not able to be there for your child (e.g. because of work) can be a lifesaver. Whether you choose family, friends, or neighbours as your backup.
It is important to be ready for unforeseen circumstances. Changes in your lifestyle (moving, dating etc.) will likely bring up some unplanned scenarios. By being prepared, you will ensure that your child's safety is accounted for and that their emotional health is supported, while giving you peace of mind.
› As always, talk to your children
Listen to what they are saying about difficulties they may be encountering or any frustration they are experiencing. Be there for your children through acknowledging and validating their struggle. Watch out for any sudden behavioural changes that may be the result of an unexpected or sudden life transition.
Through listening and communicating, both verbally and non verbally (a hug in their time of need can go a long way), you will let your kids know that they are supported and understood and that you are there for them first and foremost.
Being a single expat parent does not have to define your life or who you are as a parent. Whether you are a single parent because you divorced, have been widowed, or you have never been married, there are resources out there to help you. Remember, you are not alone and there are others in your community who are in a similar situation.
Interview with a single expat mom
To help our readers gain further perspective about the trials and tribulations that single expat parents go through, I interviewed Sue who faces daily challenges while raising her two children as a single mom, in a non native country.
How many children do you have, and what are their ages?
I have two daughters, ages four, and five and a half.
What are the most difficult aspects you face being a single expat parent?
Working four days a week, living in a small Dutch village, not speaking the language very well and not having any family in the Netherlands.
I do not have someone to talk to about what I have done on a daily basis and someone who will understand and appreciate how much I run around like a madwomen every day! I feel like I am being stretched emotionally everyday - it is a rollercoaster ride from the minute that I wake to the minute that I go to sleep. I have to make lists every minute so I do not forget anything (i.e. what activities the girls have, remember to sort out your life insurance, buy toilet paper, what issue at work that I have to deal with that day, replace water in the car windscreen wipers, buy mascara etc.).
Making friends is also very hard. If you try to make friends with women who already have children they are 99,9% likely to be in a couple. I have realised that you are more likely to make friends in these social circles if you already have a partner... I have even been to parties and made up stories that I have a partner at home!
If you try to make friends with women who do not have children they do not seem to realise that you can not easily ditch the children and go out on the town whenever the mood takes you. If you do go out, it is an extra hassle finding a babysitter, driving to meet everyone and not being able to stay over at their house. It is also difficult meeting men and trying not to mention the fact that you have children, just so that they will not run a mile in the first two minutes!
How do you make time for yourself?
I joined a Pilates and Yoga class to try and make friends and have time for myself. I do enjoy it, but find that it is more rushing around. I feel that taking time out for myself is an indulgence rather than a necessity, and something that it makes me feel guilty when I take it.
My brain forces me to do it (and I do feel a sense of relief when I have a couple of days away when I have to travel with work), but if my heart ruled my head I would be with my girls all of the time - nurturing them and showing them everything exciting about life!
I am fortunate enough to have had live-in au pairs, who help me a lot (they work four days a week while I go to work). I needed the help. The au pairs usually last about six months, after which they move onto their next adventure. My girls are now used to different au pairs coming in and out of their lives, but we stay in touch with some of them via facebook.
The difficulty is juggling how you swap from managing people at work to managing your au pair at home (since you do live with them!). Also the entire process of choosing them is complicated. Usually desperation and panic kick in, and I am forced to decide fast - so far I have been lucky.
How you prioritise your roles and responsibilities as a single expat parent?
My main priority is to keep a roof over my girls’ head and ensure that they are OK - everything else is secondary.
Since the girls are getting older now and are becoming more independent, I realise that I can start looking at other areas of my life. I am actively thinking how to do this and have recently had a session with a life coach to kick start this process!
As an expat, how do you stay connected with your home, family and friends?
I have been an expat for 10 years now, so I am used to not being around my family and friends. I stay in touch by calling everyone and I go back to visit two or three times a year. My mum also comes here to visit us twice per year.
I love to see my friends on the rare occasions that I can - it is great to chat properly without feeling that they will judge you, since they have known you for many years now and know you for the person that you used to be (and not the situation that you currently find yourself in). I hope to establish these kinds of friendships over here with some new friends in the future.
How do you raise your children bi-culturally, incorporating their native culture with their life in the Netherlands?
Since the girls were born in Holland and have always been in the Dutch childcare system (from three months old), they are Dutch. We attend Dutch events and take Dutch lessons.
I also try to expose the girls to other nationalities as much as possible by attending events at the American School of Den Haag or other expat events where they can learn about children from other parts of the globe. Having worked and lived in international environments for over 10 years now I realise that it is crucial to be able to mix with people from other nationalities and there is so much to learn from other cultures.
What are some fun activities that you do with your kids, and on your own as an expat?
We dance to YouTube videos every Saturday morning, have breakfast together and chat about our dreams. Reading bedtime stories and going to the beach are my favourite activities to do with the girls.
I also love to take the girls to expat school events (i.e. plays, musical and sporting events etc.) - where I can also relate to the parents around me - but mainly I find that these events are not publicised very well and are often hard to find out about.
What are the most rewarding aspects of being a single expat parent?
I can do what I want when I want with the girls, and can explore a new life for us all with no restraints.
Do you know of any resources out there for single expat parents like you?
None what-so-ever, which is such a shame. When the girls’ father left, I went to see a child psychologist (to give me support and see how affected the girls were with their father's sudden departure). I understood from her that she had a quite a few clients who were single expat mums, and that this trend was unfortunately on the rise. At the time I asked her to have a coffee morning to try and connect us all so that we could create a support network - but this never took off.
Right now I am friend with two single expat dads, and two other single expat moms. We get together sometimes to talk about each of our experiences and how they have been different and challenging along the way. Talking with one another has helped us come to understand ourselves better and see the kind of parents that we are as individuals, all constantly striving to give our children the best given the fact that our relationship with their other parent did not work out. It is really helpful to be able to talk to these friends.
Finally, what advice do you have for others in similar situations?
Be strong! Remember that your children will adapt to anything. Focus on the positive things that happens every day and take things slowly. Do not make unrealistic goals or expectations for yourself. At the end of the day do something that you really enjoy - no matter how crazy it is. Reach out and talk to people who will understand - do not bottle everything up!
Final comments on single parenting in the Netherlands
Sue provides some insightful advice. If you yourself are having a difficult time being a single expat parent and feel that you need some extra support, it could be helpful to seek professional guidance or even to think about starting your own informal gathering for parents like you!
Also, if you feel that your kids are having a hard time and you do not know what to do or how to fix it, you may gain a lot from seeking outside support. Remember that at the end of the day it is you and your childrens' happiness that ultimately matters.
Thank you Sue, for your insights.