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“I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. I don’t know how to help my son who is struggling in high school. I’m afraid he wants to quit. Maybe it was wrong we moved to different countries so many times. Maybe it was too much for him. Please tell me what to do.” – Mrs. Diana Tavara. Programme Director, U.N. [1]

The desperate words of one of my clients a few weeks ago. One of the strongest women I’ve ever met: a fighter, a doer, someone who went after her dreams. Diana works across the world in the humanitarian sector; sometimes with, sometimes without her family.

She climbed the ladder with hard work and dedication, while in the meanwhile getting married and having and raising her three children. They traveled the world together. Her children attending international schools and making friends everywhere. From the outside it all looked perfect and most people in their home country thought they were the example of a successful and lucky family: they had it all.

Feeling incompetent

But the inner world of Diana was playing out in a completely different reality. The higher she climbed the ladder of success, feelings of guilt, incompetence and disempowerment worked their way into her head and heart. Guilt about not being the mother she thought she should be. Feeling incompetent to meet the emotional needs of her children as they grew into Third Culture teenagers. Feeling disempowered to control the choices they were making, unable to shift their minds when trouble was waiting just around the corner. Alcohol. Peer pressure. Struggles with belonging. And as a mother, never having enough time or know-how to address it all.

Diana is not the only one. Women with a demanding international career are often facing similar feelings towards their families, and end up in an immense conflict between the mothers they believe they should be while work is swallowing the hours of the day, of the week, of the year. Because of that, many women end up in some sort of crisis-management towards their families: trying to put out fires before they grow into something bigger, trying to do everything right, showing up at school in between work meetings, and juggling with a huge sense of guilt and responsibility to keep everyone on the right track all the time. While doing so, many women feel they lack what it takes, feel stressed about where things are going and feel, deep inside their hearts, that they are just not good enough as a parent. For some women, this also comes with a partner who is not able to fill the gap at home, which makes feelings of incompetence even worse.

Crisis-management

Diana knows deep inside, like many others with her, that this modus operandi eventually works counterproductive, not in the least for herself, because crisis-management is not sustainable on the long run. Every single day her energy, focus and dedication are required to be able to sustain a demanding job, with a peaceful mind. Inside, Diana is just so tired.

“Where do you find refuge?” I asked her. She stayed quiet for a long time while staring at the wall behind me. “I really don’t know.” She said with a frown. “At night maybe, when everyone is asleep and I collapse on the couch with a glass of wine. Or the whole bottle. That’s really my moment of the day to unwind. I feel guilty about that too to be honest, but I really need it.”

A place where you don’t have to solve any problems

Refuge: a place of shelter and protection. A safe place where women like Diana do not have to perform. Do not have to care for someone. Do not have to solve any problems. A place where they do not feel guilty or incompetent. A place where they can just be tired and recharge. A place where they can just feel it will all be Ok.

During the past few weeks, and after many years of struggling, Diana is finally checking in with herself. She is touching base with the idea that it is Ok to ask for support; that it is Ok not to know what is best all the time. She is understanding what really happens when she is in crisis-mode and what it is she needs in those moments. A few days ago she laughed and said, “you know, it is really like in airplanes: you really do have to put on your own oxygen mask first, because if you don’t you can’t help anyone else. You just die. And I am not doing that.”

Be kind to yourself

If you are a woman who is balancing being a mother with an international career and struggling with similar feelings, please be kind to yourself. You are a wonderful human being and a loving mother. You work hard and you have every right to be tired and to not know. You too need to recharge your batteries. Listen to your gut, it knows more than you think. Guilt is just a distraction from what really matters. Love yourself, consciously, every day. You’ve got this.

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Looking for support? You can contact Minou Hexspoor – The Nomad Coach, for a free talk here

[1] The name of the person in question has been changed to protect her privacy

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