Yesterday, was Tuesday, January 31, 2017. Which means that we have been back in Germany for exactly six months. It’s not only this very specific mile marker of our repatriation journey (repatriation generally refers to the process of returning back to your country of origin) that made me reflect on the past six months. It’s also this statement that I heard from an expat wife and mom who just moved back to Germany at the beginning of 2017:
“All I’m doing right now is survive.”
This sounded so familiar… You just moved back to Germany and now you are stuck in a temporary apartment, living out of suitcases. Or you are surrounded by ceiling-high piles of moving boxes in a new house that does not feel like home. The kids are with you 24/7 because they don’t go to school yet. They cling to you – you are the only stability in their life that has been turned upside down. Your husband is absent, expected to sit in his office, tackling new, maybe even exciting challenges at work. Every day you put a smile on your little ones’ faces. You keep them happy, you keep them busy. Because this is what moms do. You take care of as many things at home as you can so that your husband can focus on his job. Because this is what you did as an expat wife, too. Right?
But what about you? Your life has turned upside down, too! And now it’s back to square one. If you want to or not. What about you? Your dreams? What’s going to happen to your plans and your future? When will it be your turn again?
10 Tipps for Your Repatration
Here are my personal tips that hopefully make your first weeks and months of repatriation a little bit easier:
- First and foremost and again and again – be patient. It. takes. time.
- Schedule little breaks and some me-time and leave your moving mess behind. Unpacked boxes, the dirty dishes – they can wait. Try to remember what made you feel better in your old life. Was is the weekly escape to your favorite coffee shop to read a book? Then go out and explore the cafe scene in your new home town until you find the perfect spot for you. Were you a passionate runner? Put on your running gear, go outside, and just breathe. Maybe you run. Maybe you walk. Just do it. Did you enjoy listening to podcasts or music on your commute to school drop-off and pick up, but now the walk to school only takes 5 minutes? Establish a new habit and listen to podcasts or music anyway. While you are prepping the vegetables for dinner, for example, while you are folding laundry or picking up toys. And if the kids are with you all day, make them listen to a radio play in the meantime.
- Allow yourself to be sad. Put on your favorite song that reminds you of better days and let the tears run freely. You need to get the pain out of your system. Don’t feel guilty if this happens when your kids are around. It’s good for them to see (from time to time!) that Mom is having a hard time, too. And don’t be surprised if there are no tears (yet). They will come eventually.
- Surround yourself with people who know what you are going through. If you don’t have them close by, send them a text or voice message, talk to them on the phone and seek them out on the internet (here for example). To them you don’t need to explain what you are feeling right now. Because they know. With them you can lose yourself in memories of the past. And maybe get some helpful advice.
- Though this sounds actually contradictory to what I just said above, it’s equally important: focus on the here and now. Be present. Make an effort to meet and talk to new people even if you feel like the weird person who tries to do small talk with people who don’t know that small talk exists. Eventually, they will open up. They might just need more time to get to know you.
- Cut any unnecessary ties to your old life. Leave Facebook or WhatsApp-groups that might have been essential before, but don’t play any role now. Instead of being connected to everybody and informed about everything, focus on staying connected to those few people who you really care about.
- Focus on the positive aspects of the move. Write them down on paper and look at them again and again. It also helps to write down all the things that you love about being back in Germany.
- Be curious and ask questions. Ask people about their favorite restaurant, cafe, beer garden playground, activity for their kids, hair stylist, places to go swimming, skiing, ice skating. Insider tips are always the most valuable. They are also great conversation starters.
- Volunteer in school, day-care, after school activities, local organizations. You most likely do not only meet like-minded people, but also get a better understanding of how things are done here.
- Consider working with a coach. The perspective of a complete outsider can work wonders.
As I said at the beginning, it’s been six months that my life was turned upside down. During and a long time after our move I felt like I lost myself along the way. I put my kids and us as a family first and did everything to build a new home, get the kids settled in day-care and school, establish a new daily routine. I smiled, I laughed, I explained, I comforted, I supported. All while ignoring the question “What about me? What about me?” Deep inside I knew my time would come.
I just needed to be patient.
I’m curious – what made repatriation or a fresh start in a new place easier for you? I would love to read your experiences in the comments below!