Finding a sense of belonging as an expat Mum
I didn’t plan to leave Australia 14 years ago and never move back. But life just kind of swept me up. While traveling I met an Englishman in London and we moved in, bought a house, got married, had two kids and lived a very lovely life in the Midlands. Then a couple of years ago we moved to France (temporarily) for his work and it's got me thinking about where I actually belong now!
Belonging has been on my mind lately because it's Australia Day which is pretty huge. Most people celebrate with a BBQ and there's always a fireworks display bigger than New Year's Eve. But I haven't celebrated my national day in a very long time. The truth is, I haven’t had a lot to do with Australians here in the last 10 years because most of my friends went back a long time ago (notably my best friend, the Notorious MUM, who’s to blame for enticing me to the UK in the first place). I’ve struggled to get what I’m even supposed to be celebrating.
But something happened the other week. I was sorting through a bag of Aussie souvenirs I’d been collecting for International Day at my children's school. My son, who’s five, pulled out a Boomerang and asked, Mummy what’s this?
And it got me. Right there. I was shocked he didn't know (but of course he didn't know, he's English and only little!). I always INTENDED to teach my kids about my home country but I never got around to it. Just like I never finished their baby books or got our wedding album done.
My kids have been to Australia for plenty of holidays but that’s only scratching the surface. Since my son's question about the boomerang I’ve been reading them books from my childhood. I’m teaching them Waltzing Matilda (although they don’t really get it, does anyone?). The next thing on my list is to sort out their Australian passports. We talk about Aboriginal people and why the ships came from England. And they are lapping it all up.
But still, when I asked them what clothes they wanted to wear to their International Day at school, both said English ones! My son specifically wanted to wear a Union Jack tshirt. I even tried to persuade him to wear a koala pin on his tshirt but he was having none of it. I was a bit disappointed but I understood. My kids need to be rooted somewhere and have a sense of belonging. And England is where they are from after all. But they were immensely proud to see me working on the Australia stand. I thought my daughter was going to burst when she saw me!
It’s really hard to connect yourself to a country when you don’t actually live there. So I’ve decided to teach my kids that being Australian isn’t just about physical things like beaches and deserts. It’s a culture and a set of values that I was brought up with. It's being: Genuine, Honest, Fair, Helpful, Hard working & Funny. And they should look out for each other, no matter what. If you have moved away from your extended family, I think this is a good way of coping with that sense of disconnection. You could maybe try to remember a set of values that you were raised with and teach them to your kids.
From my children's reactions, I've realised it's important that I DO recognise Australia Day this year because wherever you come from and wherever you live, a sense of belonging is really important. I've spent a third of my life in the UK and I've definitely become part English: I'm not as loud as I used to be, I'm more polite than I was and I say sorry a lot! But since moving to Paris I've found myself in no man's land. I'm not actually English and I'm definitely not French (although I dream of becoming a sophisticated Parisienne).
I’ve recently met some Aussie school mums who are expats like me. And group of us are going to a local Thai restaurant for Australia Day because that’s geographically the closest thing we're going to get in these parts! I can't wait to let my hair down and be a little bit loud, but not too loud because the French might get cross, and of course I'll remember to apologise 😉
Do you live away from family and friends? Or do you have loved ones abroad? Please comment below. I'd love to know how you keep your bond with them or do you feel it slipping away too?