Holding the Fort Abroad: One Reader’s Reflections

I was introduced to Holding the Fort Abroad by way of my monthly expat women’s writing group hosted by author, mentor and publisher Jo Parfitt. To get our juices pumping we always start off with a 10-minute speed write, and this time our journaling prompt was “holding the fort”.

This idea of holding the fort had never been worthy of my consideration. You see I was a strong, independent black woman who was raised by an even stronger black woman. Holding down the fort (as we say in America) was in my blood. It was my birth rite.

Then my husband lost his job shortly after our youngest turned one. Though he found a new job almost immediately, it meant he would be commuting between our home in the Netherlands and Helsinki, Finland. That he would be gone four days a week didn’t faze this strong independent black woman who immediately stepped up to hold down the fort. My mother had done it. Most, if not all the other black women I’d known had done it. I had no doubt in my mind that I could do it, too.

For two and a half years every day felt like I’d just gone fifteen rounds with Mohammed Ali, sucker punched by this school email or that temper tantrum. Child, I didn’t know if I was coming or going.

I beat myself up whenever I yelled at my kids, then two, six and ten or whenever I resented my husband his mobility. Where he could pack up and travel to another country without a moment’s hesitation, I couldn’t drive fifteen minutes to the movies without first arranging a babysitter, writing out instructions, going to the store, making a quick dinner for the kids, etc. etc. etc.

I felt the stress gnawing at my innards, but I didn’t have the luxury of breaking down. I had to keep going, and I did.

In retrospect the most painful part of holding the fort was that I never talked to anybody about it because I didn’t think anyone would understand. Mostly, I was ashamed that I couldn’t hack it. I just wasn’t prepared for the toll Vinz’s being away would take on him, the family and on my very identity.

Reading Holding the Fort Abroad has been like having that talk albeit five years later. Bangerter nails every aspect of the experience. From the moment I started reading it, I could just picture a group of moms sitting around the kitchen table comforting each other with our stories (and a glass or two of wine). One reading confirmed what took me a few years to discover on my own: I did a good job.

Holding the Fort Abroad focuses on various aspects of running the household when you’re abroad while your spouse is traveling elsewhere. Managing your own feelings, keeping your relationship alive, parenting, even dealing with the “normal” vicissitudes of life (illness, ageing parents, loss) are all presented in a real empathetic way.

Each chapter is chock full of Bangerter’s personal accounts, snippets from a survey she conducted with other women, statistics about living abroad, and best of all tips and tricks for dealing with the ups and downs of this lifestyle. When you’re in the thick of it all, you don’t have the mental, emotional, physical or creative energy to think of ways to lighten your load. For me, the most valuable aspect of Holding the Fort Abroad is that it shows me and others that there is a community out there that understands and is there to offer support. Just ask.

Thank you Rhoda Bangerter for planting a seed that helps so many others grow.

Carolyn van Es-Vines, author of black and (A)broad: traveling beyond the limitations of identity, aligns women at career crossroads with their core values so that they can make tough decisions and reclaim leadership in their lives.

American born and raised, she’s lived in the Netherlands with her Dutch husband and three kids for 20+ years. She is a Certified Professional Life Coach and international speaker.

Connect with Carolyn on LinkedIn, Twitter or www.writingforselfreflection.com

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