Expat in the US - 6 months in...(42 Posts)
Gosh! I hardly know where to start, my head is a whir. The thing is, I'd really like the opinion of other Expat mum's specifically. I'm sorry this is a long post, I have alot on my mind.
For the sake of context, last summer our family was relocated to Philadelphia. It was a choice, and it was cooked up between my husband and his boss when they foresaw the gains to be made in the US. My husband is of Kiwi origin, I met him when I was in NZ on a work visa and now we've been married almost 16 years. I love globetrotting so although cautious, I was excited by the opportunity to experience another culture again. However, the caveat being, it needed to work for our children too. So my husband negotiated a deal where our children (almost 14, and 12) would have private education. Essentially, this was because I was terrified of launching our two socially confident children into huge American schools and them becoming overwhelmed and thus, losing confidence. The plan is for 3 years.
As for me, I am a registered nurse (in the UK), I was 5 months into a PhD but I was struggling with my supervisors. It wasn't a difficult decision for me to let it go. I hoped to make contact with tentative links I already had at PENN University. Registering as a nurse in the US was never going to be an option.
Our situation now; it's been much harder than we have ever imagined. As my 12 year old DS said to me last night, "At home I was usually a bit happy and a then little bit sad. Now I can be so happy, but then I'm really, really sad". We were so excited when we first got here. A summer in California, and vast enthusiasm, has carried us far into the coldest winter we could imagine - -19C on some days (the olive oil had frozen overnight in the kitchen). Both children are in excellent, academically challenging private schools and they are very much looked after by the caring, attentive staff. I mean, there is a 12 to 1 student teacher ratio! On the down-side, it's very mono-cultural. They are treated like rock stars with so much attention, amusing in the beginning but the novelty is fast wearing off. The children badly miss the diversity of backgrounds, personalities and humour of their friends in their comprehensive schools at home. Unsurprisingly, the constant pressure makes them very tired.
On the up-side we get to go skiing at weekends. The kids absolutely love this. I'm suprised at how good they are in such a short space of time. DD has just started with a drama group - she did this at home, which she loves and seemingly, they love her. DS is stupidly excited to be starting lacrosse this season.
In fact, I don't think any of the issues with the kids can't be overcome with time. They just need to find their space. However, something I never expected, my husband worries about me. He has been travelling alot, including 2 or 3 trips back to HQ at home. He's concerned that I am at home all the time without a job. He's afraid I'm getting bored, and while he's movin' and shakin' all over the world, I'm left on my own. To some extent he's right. I could start writing academically again, but I'm hopeless when I'm not surrounded by my peers and a team. However, and I don't want to say trapped, because it's a pejorative term, but I can't do much besides supporting the DC's. Also, a quiet truth in the back of my mind is - I'm not ready to leave them either. DH says the kids are doing okay, but then he's not around when one of them has a meltdown because "it's so hard" or they "want to go home". I've joined a run group, signed up to a number of running events including a 200 mile relay across Pennsylvania. We have met another expat family, Mum and the DC's have become fast friends - our DD's go to school together.
Last week DH was in between trips and he told me he wanted to talk. He had some reflections he wanted to share. He was home for 5 days.
So finally I get to the point of my post. Here's my issue. DH says he's concerned he has made a mistake coming out here, it's so much more expensive than he was expecting (we came from Oxford), and he's worried that I've given up my career to follow his career choices. He thinks I need to find myself a job, a part-time job. Something to keep me going - "keep me ticking over 'til we get back". He's also afraid that we'll grow apart. To some extent I see his point but I'm torn. If I'm honest, I'm terrified of putting myself out there and making a commitment to a job when I still need to be around for DC's after school. Americans work very hard, they're up early and they work all hours. I mean, I get e-mails from the school at 10pm at night! The kids have to work very hard at school and they need TLC when they out from school. I think deep down I think that I'd be 'biting off more than I can chew' and over-commiting myself when the situation still feels so unstable. And now I'm worried about how I need to handle DH. He's been away for a week, he's not back for another 2. We were rock solid when we left home but 'm concerned about his perspective right now because I don't think I'm sharing it.
If you're still reading, thank you. I'm sorry for the rant but I needed to share. I used to be on Mumsnet a long, long time ago from when I first fell pregant til the kids started school, then I went back to work full-time. It was an essential support system for me in those first years of motherhood and I will be eternally grateful. Now, once again in my life, my role as a mum standing front and centre within an entirely new set of circumstances and I'm feeling unbalanced.
Hmmm, a lot of what you describe sounds like a pretty normal reaction to adjusting to your new lives. It can be a huge culture shock moving from the UK and that can come as a surprise to many.
Just going by your OP, is there any chance your husband is projecting his own feelings onto you? That maybe his job isn’t quite what he was expecting, coupled with the greater expense and its easier for him to lay his worries on your head? It’s just it reads as if you’re pretty ok with your current role in family life for now.
Sorry if that reads wrong. I know what I mean! And go Eagles!
Thank you for saying what was on my mind
I deliberately didn't say that in the past two weeks his boss has left the company, for perfectly acceptable reasons. Now DH, who has made huge gains already, feels he's cut loose. Which, from what I can see, is really not the case. He really liked working with his boss, said he was the best he'd ever worked with. I mean the CEO phoned him to tell him about this before it was announced. She reassured him of his position, but now he has reports to someone he doesn't respect. Of course the CEO doesn't know that, noone would, my husband is very introverted (I'm the opposite) and there no way he would share that with anyone, he's even trying to deny it to himself. Hell, I don't want to rock the boat, I don't want to say it to him either.
I don't know what to do about it though. He's away at the moment and things aren't great between us, this is not good.
"And go Eagles!"
That seems to be the addendum to every convo I have with a Philly person these days
The place went wild. Schools closed so they could go to the parade... I kid you not.
It sounds like your husband is worried about you, but you're not worried about you? It sounds to me like you're actually doing really well.
I have a husband who travels a lot for work. I did hold down a full time job for about four years, while also trying to look after three children. It was really really hard, and in the end I went part time, then went freelance working from home.
Life is so much easier now. I'm here when the kids need me, DH goes travelling without worrying about how things are at home, and because I'm WFH part time I'm contributing social security payments and putting something towards the cost of supporting the family.
If I were you I really wouldn't rush into getting a job. Once you get to the 11-week school summer holiday you will be very glad to have the flexibility of not working. You can rethink in 6 months maybe.
I do agree with your husband that living in a nice part of the US is very expensive - would it help you to go through your finances together with him?
I also think that 6 months in is too early to really know how you feel about living somewhere.
Every winter is going to be cold but you should be warm at home. If your olive oil is freezing in your kitchen then you need to make sure your heating system is really working, and make sure you run it night and day - my olive oil hasn't frozen in 11 winters and I live in Maine. You're skiing, which is great. Also look at hockey, ice skating, cross country skiing, snowshoeing - all fun in winter.
But the spring/summer/fall is absolutely wonderful. In the summer you'll be able to plan around it almost never raining and always being sunny. Where you're based, you can visit so many places - I definitely recommend a road trip up the east coast ending up somewhere like Camden Maine.
Carry on chatting here - we've been there.
Also if you're going to be here long term you could think about eventually getting back into nursing. It can be a really great job here, well paid, very interesting. There are also opportunities like nurse practitioner where you effectively do a doctor's job, but without a lot of their stresses. Something to maybe think about longer term?
For now I really would just focus on settling in. It took me a good two years to get settled, get the children settled, and feel ready for another challenge.
May I suggest that this is more likely a DH work related issue than a family one? Perhaps he feels the gold that was to be his and yours is now unlikely to materialise given th change of boss? If the effort was wasted then is it worth a relationship and family life?
He sounds like he is a good man in this respect but doesn't want to worry you. Not quite fair to put it quite like this but I know what he means and how he feels.
The kids are getting a different life from anything they would have in U.K. And this horizon broadening, for all its monocultural issues it is a different monoculture from home, is great for longer term well being.
Have another discussion. Make a pros and cons list. There are many on both sides but if you made it this far you are doing well. Especially given the weather. My friends in Boston said this winter is a bad one and they lost their heating for a few days which made it even harder!
Op I loved your post, andyou soind lovely
I think, as a Pp suggested, your husband is projecting.
Why aren’t things good?
Heck! people you've made me cry. Such a blinkin' relief to share this.
Exiguous - Thank you - You make so much sense. I feel you must be right, 6 months is a very short time but so much has happened it feels like forever.
I worry about my registration - nursing is a tough one these days, really really tough. But, right down to my soul, it's what I am. And Philadelphia is such a hot place to be professionally. I've already made contact with some lovely eminent academics here...but I'm just not feeling it. Which I guess, is why he's worried. I always came across as so ambitious.
You describe a situation similar to myself at home - I worked full-time while the kids were tiny and rushing to get the children out of nursery or school on time, a situation I really don't want to get back to. That and the guilty feeling that you're copping out on your colleagues in your rush to get out. Part-time work was better once they started school, and being an academic, much much better. As you are experiencing, I love the freedom of being around when a school calls me because one of the DC's has forgotten their PE kit, or one of them isn't 'feeling right' and I need to pick them up early - when actually all they needed was a break. I'm available when the school sends out notices - CLOSED DUE TO INCLEMENT WEATHER. There have been a lot of those this winter. Then of course there are all the inset type days, parent conferences etc, etc.
You sound like you have it sorted, I would like to believe that we can get to a place like that.
WiseDad - I like you. You make sense and you sound like DH. Thank you for your perspective. We will have a discussion, it's inevitable. I have to be careful though since it's usually himself who is the rational, logical one, and it's always me who has the drama and comes out with the all emotional stuff. I never seen him 'upset' like this - if that's a way to describe someone who always 'appears' slightly emotionally detached, if you see what I mean.
Yes, this winter took us by surprise, and we were unprepared, but it was also unusually cold. Climate change being culpable for putting the jet stream under pressure and the Alaskan cold coming too far south. One of the heating units in the basement froze over night in the unusually cold temps. It took a day for us to notice the house never seemed to warm up. We discovered this on a Saturday evening, and all credit to the heating engineer (who had been inundated) he was on the case at 9am Sunday morning. It had dropped to -19C that night, hence the frozen oil.
I agree with what others have said - you and the kids seem to be coping well but it sounds like something's not sitting right with him and his work situation and he's projecting on to you when you seem to be fine albeit with some bumps along the way. He's perhaps now second guessing the decision to move now that circumstances have changed at his work, perhaps even privately considering a move back home but is scared to bring it up with you, worrying about what your reaction might be if he proposed going home after just 6 months.
Could he be using your career [or lack thereof now] to try and change the course of things? "You must be so bored here and look at what you've given up, why don't we just head back home and you can pick up your career again." In his mind that would be a win-win for everyone but it's been framed very much as for your benefit rather than his.
It sounds like you need a completely open and honest discussion, cards on the table, what's going on in his mind and is he committed to sticking it out in which case make as good a life as you can while you're there, or is it in fact time to cut your losses and start talking about a return back home.
It’s up to YOU whether or not you WoH or study. Is your H actually implying HE wants you to do these things, and fears his feelings for you might change if you SAH, but dressing it up as concern? Or as PPs say is he projecting his own issues?
Moving continents is a huge deal: understandable to want to focus on settling in and your DC.
Another perspective - we've been here 10 years now and I'm working, but really only because there's no/little social net here. No family nearby, we can get fired with zero notice and things are very expensive. We also went with private education, but at $100k for the kids it's not something we can easily afford...so the stress levels are high. I just couldn't bear to send the kids to the local schools, which are supposedly great but turn out uneducated children who go on to mediocre colleges then can't afford to live in the place they grew up. Oh dear that sounds a bit bad doesn't it...what I'm saying is that it's really not that amazing here unless you're financially stable, which generally means very highly qualified and your face has to fit at work...so your husband may actually be onto something if he's reporting to someone who doesn't have his back. I'd suggest getting qualified while you can, or taking on part-time/contract work...it does exist, and if you set up your own company then financially you can claim a ton of expenses in your tax returns so may have better cash flow just from that. (e.g. a % of home expenses if you have a home office, any work-related expenses including prospecting for work, all startup costs, even before you make any sales).
PS by here, I mean the US but not in the same state as you...and the social net and employment laws do vary by state.
Ineedachange - where in Philly are you? I ask because Philadelphia is an ethnically and culturally diverse area and the monoculture of certain areas can be balanced by activities or clubs on a more citywide basis.
In terms of your professional prospects, Philadelphia is fantastic for academic medical professionals with Drexel, Penn, Jefferson, and Temple all having teaching hospitals in the area. If you are reticent to start working, perhaps you might contact departments to do research in on a part-time basis during school hours, then taking it from there. Trust me - they are always eager for help, and there is really interesting research going on in all of those schools.
You really had back luck on this winter, but spring is just around the corner, and it is much easier to enjoy the city and surrounding areas when the weather is nicer.
First I would echo what others have said about your DH projecting and cuckoo is totally correct about the financial burden of living here.
I have to say that your accommodation doesn't sound right. I assume you are renting. I'd be moving somewhere else. Oil heat is a nightmare and the fact they haven't converted is a big red flag that it's a really old system. Here in the NYC area pretty much everyone in the urban areas has converted away from oil.
IME your dh’s fears are pretty valid. My dh got a new boss in the US and she moved her entire team with her to her new employer. Those relationships and loyalty are much more important than in the U.K. (don’t know about NZ though). If he’s on a local contract and employed “at will” it must be a stressful time.
Hope you don't mind, I took the liberty of checking whether Pennsylvania is an employment at will state, and indeed it is. Unfortunately that means that the employer can terminate employment "at will" i.e. with no notice. It would be prudent for your husband to very discreetly check his company's policy for layoffs, which may be different from the state's, especially if it's a multinational. Also, agree with previous posters about well-remunerated opportunities for medical professionals in pharmaceutical companies. If I were you, I'd target one of those companies, and know that usually work/contracts go to friends and fellow alumni, so join rotary or something similar if you don't already know people.
We have been out in the mid west US for six months and having done an overseas stint before we knew that I would have to spend the first six months settling the DC, getting the new routines up and running while DH threw everything into the new role. I have started part time volunteering in a related field to my previous work. I have looked at starting to transfer my qualifications over and get registered but am not really looking to work as work isn't family friendly here and I need to be there during holidays for DC. I am hoping to do more serious volunteering though. My previous experience is that it takes a year to get bedded in and the trailing spouse, i.e. me, will be the last one settled.
The cold is fearsome where we live also but Spring will come. Also it is very expensive to live here your DH isn't wrong. It sounds as though you are doing well as a family. Every now and again my DH gets a bit freaked out at being the only bread winner now even if I only earned a fraction of what he did in the UK. I think you are right talking is going to be the best way forward.
On the down-side, it's very mono-cultural. The children badly miss the diversity of backgrounds, personalities and humour of their friends in their comprehensive schools at home
OP I emigrated to the United States about 45 years ago and have lived in a western state for most of that time up although when I first moved here I lived in S.E. Washington DC. I see you are in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly love. I enjoyed the inner-city culture of DC all those years ago and would often play pick-up basketball games with the local kids on the street corners. (My brother-in-law who was in high school at the time and introduced me to the sport).
It’s a wonderful thing in the warm summer nights to see kids playing basketball at all hours. Maybe your children could get involved in these games. It would certainly break-up the mono-cultural they are bogged down in right now.
Sadly we live in the middle-of-nowhere here in the west with no opportunities for cultural diversity within many, many miles.
Thank you everyone for your input, your perspectives are really helpful to me.
I psoted the OP a week ago, hubby is still away and I'm still thinking. Loads to consider here. I'll try not to present this as an unintelligible stream of consciousness.
Mominatrix, we're on the Main Line, smack in the middle. I guess if you know Philly you know what that means. Although Want2bSupermum I think you misunderstood, we don't heat the house with oil. It's forced air. We're not paying anymore or any less than others I've spoken to locally, it's simply expensive for everyone.
I think its perhaps true that it's more tricky in the beginning because you can't budget properly until you know how much everything costs, and that is after a few months have gone by. So we worried. We've learned electricity is cheaper than it is at home, so is gas. Still the house is big and it's been very cold, so it was inevitable it was going to cost a bomb to heat. That said, filling the car is cheaper. Good food is not cheap, and we've been surprised at the cost of fruit and veg too. I love nuts, thought they be loads cheaper, they're not...except peanuts, and they're in e v e r y thing. But that might be a geographical thing too.
Dd's drama group is further out of the city and suburbs, I can already see this being a really good thing for her. Social diversity, or lack of, is not such an issue for DS because he's less of a social animal than DD. As I've said, I think for the kids will come around.
DH is actually in the same role he was in at home. It's a global role within a British company, and a very large portion of its business is in the US. Essentially, he's just doing what he does out of a different office. It's easier for him to be here while he's working on the American aspects. Thankfully, his contract is the same including British holiday entitlement. Although I think there's a point where that doesn't seem to matter anymore since he never takes all of his time off anyway .
The more I think about this, the more I think 6 months is not a lot of time to be making more big decisions. We've been going through a tough spell, and we do need to talk about it. I also believe that maybe DH is projecting to some extent. I'm sure it's largely unconscious, however because he's feeling 'off kilter' he maybe be using me as an excuse.
But thinking on it further, I'm sure I have moaned about feeling less productive. I mean, apart from maternity leave, I've always been working so this has been a pretty big shift for me. I wonder if I might be guilty of a little intellectual snobbery, enjoying not only the financial but also the professional credibility of being at work? When actually, I've not given up my career for my husband's choices, but instead chosen to come here for the opportunity to be part of another culture - be in America, see more of America, and enjoy it with the kids. Although, I do like Mominatrix idea of doing some work on an adhoc basis, even if I could come across as someone who wants to "have her cake and eat it", especially in the tricky American workforce. I thought Oxford could be hard, but here? I contacted a department at Jefferson asking for a pre-application visit, usually considered good practice at home, and I received a negative response. I was advised that since they receive atleast 100 applications per job a visit was simply unfeasible. So now I'm really nervous.
So I guess I shouldn't blame DH entirely... really... since I perhaps need to make more of an effort support him.
To be honest I'm struggling with the fact that I'm not making my own money. I feel bad spending money DH has earned on my haircut, or getting my legs waxed, another pair of running shoes or you know, stuff that is personal and I've always afforded myself. Although my new expat friend points out that I should think of us as a team, and that it's 'our' money.
It's true, I could make more of an effort to find a job locally given my professional background. However, it's still true that I don't know how the kids would get around, and I'm still not quite ready to leave them. Besides I want to be with them. I like them better now than I did when they were toddlers, I can have loads of fun with them now. I love talking to them about what they're learning at school, and DD is such a great story-teller. I would rather spend the summer with the kids than send them to camps while I work through the summer, it kind of defeats the purpose of our decision to come out here.
Charolais I love watching basketball too. I have noticed how handy the Americans are with the ball. Unfortunately, DS doesn't enjoy playing, he's not assertive enough to play against his taller, capable classmates. Although he loves soccer and he's picking up lacrosse this spring.
Thank you for reading, your thoughts deifinitely help.
We moved in the other direction US to U.K. when my oldest was 5 and it wasn't the first time I had not worked fulltime save my 4 month maternity leave. It took me a long time to realize how significant of an impact that had on me as I found my identity outside of working. I had a lot of mixed feelings as I worked through that process. It was great to be available for my ds as he settled in and to be able to travel during school holidays and whatnot, but it was very hard to lose that part of my identity and to forge something new. It was hard, but ultimately good. Now I'm eager to get back to work after my maternity leave with ds2, but that's another story.
Someone told me when we moved that it takes a year to get to know a place and I have to say I found that to be true. There is something about seeing every season. After about a year I had really found my feet and was starting to form meaningful connections, we were used to the little things and had a rhythm to life.
OP the oil heat is referring to the fact your fuel source is oil and not gas. In urban areas pretty much everyone is converted to gas. There are environmental issues with oil tanks leaking.
Forced air is a PITA. I will never have forced air ever again. Steam heat is the best. With forced air you have to keep it on all the time. The minute you switch it off the heat goes very quickly. In our 1200sqft home the 'heat' was gone in an hour.
@Exiguous I live in Camden. I can confirm it's ace.
And honestly, I've tried not to hang out with expats. My 'new' friends here are the most kind, giving and intelligent people I've met in my life. I think more of them than of a lot of my actual family if I'm honest.
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