You know you’re an expat mom when…

You know you're an expat mom when...

The best expat mom in the world: mine.

In honour of Mother’s Day, I humbly offer this ode to all those amazing women who organize international relocations, feather new nests in strange lands, guide their children through the choppy waters of integration, and generally hold their family together as they build new lives abroad.

You know you’re an expat mom when…

  • You can reel off the police/fire/ambulance emergency numbers for several countries.
  • You don’t leave the house without a supply of tissues in your bag, just in case the public bathroom doesn’t have toilet paper.
  • You no longer use the word “bathroom.”
  • Your children come home from school speaking another language. Or, bizarrely, their mother tongue with a foreign accent.
  • You have to repeatedly tell the maid not to clean your kids’ bedrooms. How else will they learn responsibility?
  • People stare. A lot. And you actually get used to it.
  • You worry your children will forget their roots, and keep reminding them what things are like “back home.”
  • You no longer keep an emergency stash of goldfish crackers in your bag. You carry mami noodles instead.
  • You rush your child to the Emergency Room and have to use sign language to explain what’s wrong. You discover you’re pretty good at charades.
  • You often hear things like, “Tilde’s mom cooks the best kåldolmar. How come you never make them?”
  • You find yourself wondering if you should embrace your inner Tiger Mom.
  • You go to the skating rink with your child’s class,  and everyone waits for you to execute a perfect triple axel. Because after all, you’re Canadian, aren’t you? You feel you’ve let your country down when you have to admit you can barely manage a single.
  • When you talk about home to your children, you have to stipulate which one.
  • Your kids could go through the pre-boarding routine blindfolded, and have very strong opinions about which airports have the best business lounges.
  • You worry that they’re spoiled.
  • You need a dictionary to read your child’s report card, and when you discover that pipelette means “chatterbox,” you’re so delighted to learn a new word that you forget to reprimand the chatty child in question.
  • You have to confirm that yes, you did send Santa a change-of-address card. Ditto the Easter Bunny.
  • You sit through an entire parent-teacher interview, and when it’s over, the only thing you’re absolutely sure of is that the teacher has great taste in shoes.
  • Your children speak “taxi driver” better than you do.
  • You inadvertently serve horsemeat for dinner, and your youngest child doesn’t speak to you for days. Your older child, however, thinks it’s delicious.
  • You answer to “Maman.”
  • You start a sentence with “If I had a nickel for every time…” and your kids ask “What’s a nickel?”
  • They have 400 Facebook friends, but only 10 of them live within a 5 kilometre radius.
  • They’d rather eat mutton satay than pepperoni pizza.
  • You pass a bunch of local kids at the mall, and it takes a moment to realize your child is one of them.
  • Your kids come home from their music lesson and ask,  “How do you say fa dièse in English?” You have no idea, because you haven’t the foggiest idea what fa dièse means. Also, you’ve never studied music.
  • You look forward to UN Week.
  • Once you’ve repatriated, your kids complain — constantly — about their French teacher’s poor pronunciation.
  • When you’re on Home Leave:
    • You keep packets of chili sauce in your purse.
    • You’re driving to yet another play date when your little one looks out the window and shouts “Hey look! They have Ikea here too!”
    • You leave Chinese restaurants loaded down with free fortune cookies because the waiters can’t get over the fact that your blonde, blue-eyed daughters speak Chinese.
    • You prattle on about the IB, PYP, and IGCSEs, earning even more blank stares than usual.
    • You have to explain to your disappointed children that there’s no such thing as a bakery on every corner here, and by the way, they won’t find any hawker centres, either.
  • You can’t decide if you’ve given your children the best experience of their lives, or if you’ve caused irreparable damage to their psyches.
  • You realize that, given the chance, you’d do it all again.

This list is based solely on my experience raising Canadian kids in Singapore and France. What can you add, based on your expat experiences?

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About Maria

I'm a Canadian repatriate, former expat spouse, mother to two TCKs (and one yellow Lab), mentor to new immigrants, writer, reader, world traveller (grounded for now). I write about expat/repat issues and am still trying to figure out my place in the world.
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19 Responses to You know you’re an expat mom when…

  1. msleetobe says:

    The correct spelling and order of your baby’s name is an integral part of your birth plan!

  2. Ana Gaby says:

    What a great read! I relate to so many of these! Happy Mother’s Day!

  3. wordgeyser says:

    Thanks for making me smile! Interesting that on a good day being an expat is the most wonderful gift in the world, on a bad day we wonder what the heck we’ve done to our kids. All we can do is be the best role model we can – rising to the challenges and coping with the setbacks – with humour and love! And loads of laughter.

  4. Expat Alien says:

    This is wonderful. Perfect! Happy Mothers Day!

  5. Judy says:

    On home leave at grandma’s house your child asks if it’s safe to drink the tap water. 🙂

  6. Keira says:

    You feel like a bad mother when you only have one language to teach your children

  7. Lyn says:

    These are very true 🙂 Here are a few more:
    -You prefer not to refer to the last child as the 4th because the number 4 is unlucky.
    -You accept getting on an airplane for serious medical issues (emergency appendectomy? Check flight schedules to Singapore.)
    – You know your kids can easily navigate a 12000 mile trip alone from age 13.
    – Your kid still learns their first curse word on the school bus – just not in English
    – The only foreign language they still remember years later are the curse words 🙂

  8. That was funny!
    I remember carrying catchup packets in my purse for the kids, because coming from the US I refused to pay for catchup at McDonalds in Holland!

  9. Sine says:

    Great post Maria! How about this one: You secretly hope that because you’re abroad you can skip baking a Turkey on Thanksgiving or get a break, just once, from trick-or-treating, but no such thing – no one ever forgets any of the holidays from any of the countries they’ve ever lived in.

  10. Love this post Maria, and all the additions in the comments. My input? You regularly remind your children that some day they will greatly appreciate the lessons and benefits of such a varied, international life until one day you overhear them saying the same thing. Without attribution to you, of course.

    In adding to Lyn’s about learning curse words on the school bus: On a school bus with children with fourteen nationalities, who knew the little Israelis would be so proficient in swearing in English?? (They’ve been gone two years and we STILL talk about them at the dinner table, lol)

  11. I like very much this post: Thank you so. I foind myself a lot in it.

  12. This is so fun! I may re-name my blog pipelette!

  13. Bit behind on my reading but loved this post. I’m sure I’ll think of more but the one that springs to mind is
    – you are bemused/slightly mortified when your five year old, while playing an elaborate game of “going on holiday” with her cousins, announces that her driver will pick them up at the airport when they land 🙂

  14. Thanks to @smartexpat for posting on FB – laughing out loud at these! I’ve been Mammy, Mama, Mom, Mum. My son thinks flying business is normal class and yes indeed does know the best airport lounges for his favourite snacks, games etc. And coming from the UK I’ve replace “the loo” with the bathroom! And as you say when the guilt about ruining / making their lives comes I’m still glad I gave him such a breadth of experience at such a young age that will make him a more rounded person!

  15. Maria says:

    Lots of great replies here… we could write a book!

  16. naomihattaway says:

    Oh I am so late to be reading, but this is awesome. I have nothing to add, because I’m braindead from packing but …. this? This, was awesome!

  17. Pingback: I believe the children are our future… « Where's my ruby slippers?

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