Children · Family · Moving · Patience

REPOST: Helping Children Put Down New Roots

                                                                                                  written by Michelle – a former graduate wife

In the summer heat, my boys are restless and roaming the house looking for their next adventure.  Hoping to provide some direction for their boundless energy, my sister asks if we would help her transplant some potted plants.

“Yeah! Digging and dirt!” shouts one.

“I want to hold the hose!” chimes in the other as he sprints out to the back patio.

She brings a basket of plants outside that have grown too big for their original pots.  Browning and overcrowded, they clearly need more dirt, fresh nutrients . . . something to bring new life back into withering leaves.

My boys hover over pots and sacks of Miracle-Gro.   Soon, clay pots are filled with new soil and small shovels loosen plants from old containers, their roots twisted and tangled together.  The perfectly pot-sized clumps of roots are placed in spacious pots and new dirt secures them in place.  My younger boy comes by with a miniature watering can to finish the job.

This small bit of gardening took all of ten minutes, but now as I sit in the evening quiet, my thoughts come back to this transplanting idea.  I am thinking about how many times my family has been transplanted during the course of my husband’s studies.   I am remembering what it was like to tell our kids we were moving again and how we attempted to guide them through the transitions.

Even my rowdy 3 and 7 year old boys can transfer a strong, established plant to a new pot with a little bit of focus, but it can be difficult to move a seedling successfully.  Moving children is a lot like attempting to transplant seedlings.  Their roots are tiny, fragile white threads and they never seem to balance properly in the new pot.  We moved five different times during our graduate journey and each time friends and family were keen to reassure us:  “Oh, don’t worry – kids are so resilient!  Especially at such young ages!”  or “Kids pick up new languages almost instantly.  They soak it up like a sponge. ” And yet, each time we moved, my children did struggle.  And learning a new language and going to school in that language was hard work for my older son.  After a few moves, I began to be of the opposite mind as my well-intentioned advice givers.  I came to realize that my children actually do hear and understand and feel a lot more than I sometimes realize.  Especially because they are fragile and not fully formed (much like seedlings), my boys need to be given opportunities to process what is happening if they are going to transition without problems.    So, in this piece I would like to explore ways we can help our children during a move or major transition.  Some ideas come from what we have tried in our own family and I have also added some ideas from the moving chapter of the book Third Culture Kids.

1)     Introducing the Idea of Moving

a)     Before our most recent move, my husband set up a series of bedtime chats with our sons (then 5 and 1) in which he told them about “God’s special plan” for our family.   We told the boys that we felt that God was directing us to move in order to follow His special plan.  We also had a night in which we talked about the fact that God has a special plan for each of their lives and God may be using some of our travels to prepare them for their futures.  These chats were given in bite-sized pieces they could understand, usually with a map nearby and time for their questions.

b)     We marked on a map where we lived (Germany) and where we were moving (England).  In order to create some excitement, we tried to make lists of things the children might like about our new city.  If possible, it is great to find pictures of the school the children will attend or pictures of the house/apartment that you will live in and its surrounding neighborhood.

c)     Read books about moving and talk about how the different characters might feel.  Try to find one with clear pictures of what happens during the packing up of an old house, the unpacking at new house, saying goodbye to old friends, making new friends, etc.

d)     For very small children, it can be helpful to play “moving games” in order to just introduce them to what a move is.  We did this some with our youngest in our last move a couple of weeks before we left.  I gave him a couple of empty boxes and we would pack up toys and move them to the next room and unpack them, explaining that this is what we were going to do later with all of our stuff.  Also, during all the events that precede a move and happen during a move, it is good for the parents to “frame” what is happening:  “Look, Daddy and his friend are putting the boxes in the van.  They will bring all of your toys safely to your new room.  Just like our game!”  or “We are waving goodbye to our old house.  We will have a picture of it in our photo album, but now we are going to live in our new house.”   When things get busy, it is easy to forget to include our young children in what is happening by framing it in words they can understand.

 2)     Giving a Sense of Closure

a)     As it got closer to our moving date, we wanted the kids to have a chance to think about all the people in our current home who have been important to them (church leaders, teachers, friends, neighbors, family members, etc.) and also the places we have been that have been meaningful.

i)      People: Children can write notes of appreciation, draw pictures for special people,  or think about leaving a special momento with a close friend or family member

ii)     Places that hold important memories:  Visiting these places one last time, reminiscing, and getting a special photo or hiding a treasure or note to hopefully find again there someday. 

3)     Easing the Actual Transition

a)     Use of “sacred objects”:  For some of us who are making international moves, it is just not possible to take much with us.  How do you deal with this?  We met one family who had a policy we really liked.  Though they moved often, they made sure they always kept a few of their children’s most valued possessions:  some quilts their grandmother had made them and some special dishes made for them by a friend.  The quilts were unpacked first thing and spread over the beds and then their dishes were set out, helping to create a feeling of “home” for them.  Though the quilts were bulky and the family was sometimes very limited on space, these “sacred objects” were always a priority.  Having a set of “sacred objects” as they are called in Third Culture Kids helps to give the kids some stability.

b)     Keep as many family rituals in place as possible – Keep the days and weeks as normal as you can.

c)     Plan for a period of misbehavior and general adjustment.  You, as the parent, are going to need to give a lot emotionally and the kids are going to need you more than normal.  Their behavior is almost guaranteed to be crazy for a while. Give them grace – moving can be even harder for little ones who had no control in the decision that has resulted in their entire world changing.  Keep close tabs on how kids are doing emotionally – you will be very busy and overtired but keep your eye on signs that something might be off with them.  Help them to name feelings and provide acceptable outlets to express feelings.

d)     Make contact with some other families in the area or at the same school as soon as possible (in advance if you’re lucky enough to have the opportunity!)  Don’t expect your new community to initiate having a relationship with you – be prepared to go out and actively seek out community for your family.

e)     One way we have eased the transition for our family is by sending my husband ahead first.  When we moved to Germany, he drove our possessions to our new apartment with a friend a few days before we arrived.  It made a big difference for our five year old, because when he first saw his new room it was completely unpacked with all of his familiar toys out and favorite posters on the walls.  Instead of a weird feeling of not belonging in a small white-walled, empty room, he seemed to feel at peace and slept alone in that room on the first night.  It also helped lessen the stress for me because before our arrival my husband could purchase some preliminary groceries and a map and scout out the neighborhood.

f)      For those of you who are moving internationally, I strongly urge you to learn all you can about the language and culture ahead of time.  Of course, no matter how much you prepare, you will still be learning a lot as you go through life in your new country.  Your children can learn a lot by watching how you handle the experience.  Describe how you are feeling about learning all these new things.  Present it as an exciting new adventure, but acknowledge that it can be overwhelming at times and that’s normal and okay to feel that way.  Try to laugh at your mistakes and move forward so the children know that when they make mistakes, they can learn from them and move on without feeling ashamed.

Taking some time to put some of these ideas in place (and maybe add to them with some of your own!) can really make a difference in how your children react to a move.  We all hope that our kids, if they must be transplanted to a new place, will adjust to the soil and be able to drink deeply of the water and nutrients that a new experience can offer them.  With a little bit of planning and effort, you can help give them the best possible start.

In your graduate wife journey, how have you prepared your children to move to another country, city, or state? Did you do anything specifically?

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Expectations · Inspiration · Moving · Sacrifice

REPOST: What I wish I had known…{part I}

Written by Mandy & Julia

Today we are staring a three part series on “What I wish I had known” going into my graduate wife journey.  Mandy and Julia have almost 16 years combined experience of being graduate wives and they have moved almost 8 times to different institutions between the two of them.  Today’s post focuses on ‘intangible’ things they wish they known to expect, Thursday’s post will focus on more ‘tangible’ things they wish they had known to be aware of, and finally we will close next week with a post sharing a bit of both.  I have read through this and am incredibly encouraged and thankful for the advice.  I hope it speaks to you on the journey as well! – M.C.

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Uncertain Future: The world of academia is a chasm of uncertainty. Open posts are few and far between; our other halves constantly compete for posts against their friends, and inevitably watch their friends win; and most of the time, 250 applications (or more) will be filled out before one interview is granted. I can attest to the fact that most of time, our lives feel like one big question mark after another.

For you graduate wives just beginning your journey, the ‘end’ is the light at the end of the tunnel; it’s the present that’s difficult as you try to make it through with a husband, fiancée, or boyfriend who spends way too many nights in the library with his new mistress, the dissertation.

For you graduate wives ending your journey, you’ve proudly watched your other half step across a platform to be granted a degree, your heart nearly bursting with pride. Now, you’re watching him slog through application after application, and you have no idea where you’re going to be living in six months.

 How in the world do you navigate that?

I wish I had an easy answer. This was only supposed to be a three-year gig when we began our journey (sometime I’ll tell you that whole story). Instead, we sit here eight years later, with no idea of what’s around the corner for us. The best reminder that I’ve received from an older graduate wife is this is just a season of life. And it is. Sometimes, when I am incredibly weary, I get tired of hearing it, and I worry that my husband will never find a post, and that none of my dreams will ever be actualized. But, you know what? Something WILL inevitably work out. It will more than likely look completely opposite than what we had in mind, but it will be right for us. And, it will be right for you.

Remember this as your graduate wife story is being penned: This is only a season of your life.

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Familial Alienation: For me, it initially felt easier to leave the stories of our European adventures in Europe when visiting family back home. My rationale went like this: “If I tell them about all the beauty we’ve taken in, I come off as bragging and just plain old obnoxious. Worse, if I tell them about the weekly ritual of scrubbing mold from our furniture, clothing and walls, won’t they just think I am simply ungrateful?”

This way of thinking may have worked for the first year or so, especially when I had one foot in Target and the other just teetering on the edge of Tesco’s (a big grocery chain in the UK) doorstep. But then my marriage, my children, my career – my life – rooted and blossomed here. What then?

I had to get over my insecurities about sharing our world with our families so that our families knew us. It’s hard enough to leave your loved ones behind physically – don’t fall into the trap of leaving them emotionally as well.

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Community: If you read this blog, you know we harp on building community. We do that because MC and I have seen the benefits of what happens when you’re willing to share your life and story with other people traveling the same journey. We’ve previously focused on how you cultivate community, but haven’t really touched on the emotional why parts of it.

The first part of our graduate journey was spent rehashing that lesson again and again and again; I refused to put down roots in our new city, and in the first year of school, I (we) went back to see our friends in Atlanta six or seven times. I had one foot firmly planted where my heart was, and the other foot planted because it’s where I had to be. It wasn’t healthy.

After many discussions (I use that term loosely ha ha) with my husband, we agreed it wasn’t emotionally healthy or balanced to try to maintain a life in Atlanta when we did not live there.  It seems like a fairly simple concept now, but at the time I truly felt like, once again, my world was being ripped from my hands. We made the decision together that we would not return to Atlanta for one year.

By investing in the city or community you live in, you are choosing to live in the present. If you spend all your time wishing you were somewhere else, then you may miss an important part or piece of your life’s growth process. That’s not an easy thing to do when you’d rather be somewhere else.  When I began the process of actually getting to know the Orlando community, I discovered it wasn’t such a bad place to live. When I started investing in relationships, I realized there were some amazing people that were worth getting to know. I look back now, and often wonder what life would be like today, if we hadn’t made the decision to cultivate community and plant our feet firmly where we lived. When we moved from there in 2007, we left some wonderful friends that I was genuinely sad to leave.

I do think it has been one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned along this path: Live in the present and invest in those around you.

Expectations

What Do You Do When the Writing Stops?

-written by ML, a current graduate wife

I came home from work to find that my graduate student husband had spent the day playing video games again, instead of writing his dissertation. It would be so easy to yell, so easy to tell him off. Why? I’m at a job I dislike, we’re living in a town we dislike, so he can follow his dream…and he isn’t working on it. It would be so easy to lose my temper, so easy to run away, so easy to give up on this grad student wife life.

But I STOP. I stop before I yell. I stop before I even speak. I stop and think about, “WHY?”

Why isn’t he working on his dissertation? It isn’t because he’s lazy; it isn’t because he’s being mean; it isn’t even because he doesn’t want to. It’s because he’s hit a rough spot.

He loves to teach, he loves doing field work, and as a professor he’ll get to do both. But in order to get there, he has to do research and write a dissertation.

While he was initially researching, we set up a system of deadlines and rewards. Finish X research by Monday, and we go out to eat. Finish Y research by July, and we go to a soccer game. It’s a system I recommend trying if you’re in a tough spot, but it comes with a warning: I too want to go out to eat and go to games and the few times deadlines were missed and we didn’t get to go, I felt like I was being punished too. I remedied this by doing other things, say going to museum he wouldn’t want to go to on a day I had off while he was teaching class. I made sure to do things he wasn’t interested in so as not to pour salt in the wound.

However, when the research was done and it was time to write, I quickly saw that no matter what the reward was, the deadline was missed. You see, my husband is a perfectionist. When it comes to writing, he feels like every line must be perfect before putting it on paper.  This led to basically zero writing getting done.

When you really think about it, it’s not easy to run or give up on this grad wife life. It would mean being without him, and that would be terrible! Since we live 2,000 miles from family there’s nowhere to run to. Thank goodness! Instead of hiding and continuing to be angry we are stuck in a tiny apartment together, forced to find a solution to get over our anger.

A quick search revealed there are actually books to help with dissertation writing, I chose, The Dissertation Journey: A Practical and Comprehensive Guide to Planning, Writing, and Defending Your Dissertation” by Carol M. Roberts. Knowing that he wouldn’t read it because he had a lot going on, was bordering on depression, and just wouldn’t – I took it upon myself to read it to him a bit every night. He went from skepticism to wishing he’d read it at the beginning of grad school. First it pointed out that he isn’t alone in how he feels (much like this blog did for me). Then it explained the graduate process. Then it had some extremely handy lists as to what each chapter should contain.

It would be easy to treat him like a child—take away his video games, force him to sit at the desk and put something on paper or no dinner; ultimately though, that would make the situation so much worse. He’s already going through a rough time; he doesn’t need his #1 fan belittling him.

We still go through the book together (it’s not one you simply read through, it’s one that is read in parts as the dissertation moves along). I help him check things off the lists. I encourage him to just get something on paper and we’ll smooth it out later. I make deals like I’ll wash the dishes for him if he’ll write while I do it. I’ve gone from a pretty pessimistic person to his own personal cheerleader.

All-in-all, my solution is to STOP before you say anything, think about the real cause of why he isn’t working, try to find a solution together, and be encouraging instead of belittling and angry.

As a graduate wife, how have you dealt with a spouse who seems to be putting off writing or researching their work?

Inspiration · Roles

“When You Come Back Down”

-written by Keeley, a current graduate wife


I’ll be the first to concede that the life of a Graduate Wife can sometimes feel…dramatic. Having found myself in one of those moments, I feel a bit of stress, quite a lot of gratitude, but most of all identification with a song which happened to pop up on my MP3 shuffle yesterday.
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First of all, I’ve never really loved this song. Whenever I heard it in college, I felt it seemed codependent, like the singer had no life of his own and was simply leeching off the apparent success of his partner, perhaps living vicariously through the adventures of her life. Listening to it yesterday, however, I realized just how much it parallels my current place in the Graduate Wife experience. Because my husband left just last night for a conference and research trip across the Atlantic Ocean, I couldn’t help but feel some new kinship with the singer in “When You Come Back Down” by Nickel Creek. Some of the lines that reflect my mood are below, but you can find the complete lyrics here.
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You got to leave me now, you got to go alone
You got to chase a dream, one that’s all your own
Before it slips away

When you’re soarin’ through the air
I’ll be your solid ground
Take every chance you dare
I’ll still be there
When you come back down

And I’ll be on the other end, To hear you when you call
Angel, you were born to fly, If you get too high
I’ll catch you when you fall

[Bridge:]
Your memory’s the sunshine every new day brings
I know the sky is calling
Angel, let me help you with your wings

As I said previously, I understand that the life of a Graduate Wife (at least this one) can be dramatic, and perhaps sometimes, melodramatic. But I can’t ignore the way this song resonates in our life together, through so many applications to PhD programs, grants, scholarships, fellowships, and teaching jobs. Through four (so far) trips overseas for conferences, archival research, and data gathering, totaling over four months, ten weeks of that time apart. Listening to this song again, I realize that this is part of what I committed to when we married six years ago—to support him as he ventures to places neither of us would have imagined (and to join him, when time and finances allow!). The lyrics of the song don’t connote codependence for me, because he supports me through adventures of my own; it just so happens that as I write, he is the one “soaring through the air.”


In the last piece I wrote, entitled “Plan F,” I joked about some of the expectations (or lack thereof) which graduate students and wives have for life after the PhD. The fact is, however, that there are and will continue to be disappointments in this journey. Our spouses pursue these studies because for many of them, it is a dream. Although it may not always be evident to us, or even to them, they do it because on some level, they love it. One of my jobs as a Graduate Wife is to remind him of this when he doesn’t get in, when he gets cut after the second round of interviews, when his advisor submits the online reference for a grant eighteen minutes too late. When he forgets his passport, when he gets a skin rash from a cheap London hotel, when he e-mails about the impossibility of navigating a taxi park in Uganda. I am there to celebrate with him when he passes each and every comprehensive exam, when he gets a paper accepted for a journal or gets asked to write a book chapter, and when he gets into a conference, so I find that sometimes my job is to store up these successes and remind him that his dreams are achievable, in one way or another. For me, this is simply part of loving him, something I made a commitment to do for better or worse. I love that he pursues his goals so passionately, and I believe that it has inspired me to live more boldly than I would have if we had not been on this journey together. Truly, life is so much richer having someone to “help us with our wings.”

Here’s the song if you haven’t heard it!

What do you do to remind your graduate that their dreams are achievable?

Expectations · Inspiration · Moving · Sacrifice

What I wish I had known…

Written by Mandy & Julia

Today we are staring a three part series on “What I wish I had known” going into my graduate wife journey.  Mandy and Julia have almost 16 years combined experience of being graduate wives and they have moved almost 8 times to different institutions between the two of them.  Today’s post focuses on ‘intangible’ things they wish they known to expect, Thursday’s post will focus on more ‘tangible’ things they wish they had known to be aware of, and finally we will close next week with a post sharing a bit of both.  I have read through this and am incredibly encouraged and thankful for the advice.  I hope it speaks to you on the journey as well! – M.C.

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Uncertain Future: The world of academia is a chasm of uncertainty. Open posts are few and far between; our other halves constantly compete for posts against their friends, and inevitably watch their friends win; and most of the time, 250 applications (or more) will be filled out before one interview is granted. I can attest to the fact that most of time, our lives feel like one big question mark after another.

For you graduate wives just beginning your journey, the ‘end’ is the light at the end of the tunnel; it’s the present that’s difficult as you try to make it through with a husband, fiancée, or boyfriend who spends way too many nights in the library with his new mistress, the dissertation.

For you graduate wives ending your journey, you’ve proudly watched your other half step across a platform to be granted a degree, your heart nearly bursting with pride. Now, you’re watching him slog through application after application, and you have no idea where you’re going to be living in six months.

 How in the world do you navigate that?

I wish I had an easy answer. This was only supposed to be a three-year gig when we began our journey (sometime I’ll tell you that whole story). Instead, we sit here eight years later, with no idea of what’s around the corner for us. The best reminder that I’ve received from an older graduate wife is this is just a season of life. And it is. Sometimes, when I am incredibly weary, I get tired of hearing it, and I worry that my husband will never find a post, and that none of my dreams will ever be actualized. But, you know what? Something WILL inevitably work out. It will more than likely look completely opposite than what we had in mind, but it will be right for us. And, it will be right for you.

Remember this as your graduate wife story is being penned: This is only a season of your life.

.

Familial Alienation: For me, it initially felt easier to leave the stories of our European adventures in Europe when visiting family back home. My rationale went like this: “If I tell them about all the beauty we’ve taken in, I come off as bragging and just plain old obnoxious. Worse, if I tell them about the weekly ritual of scrubbing mold from our furniture, clothing and walls, won’t they just think I am simply ungrateful?”

This way of thinking may have worked for the first year or so, especially when I had one foot in Target and the other just teetering on the edge of Tesco’s (a big grocery chain in the UK) doorstep. But then my marriage, my children, my career – my life – rooted and blossomed here. What then?

I had to get over my insecurities about sharing our world with our families so that our families knew us. It’s hard enough to leave your loved ones behind physically – don’t fall into the trap of leaving them emotionally as well.

.

Community: If you read this blog, you know we harp on building community. We do that because MC and I have seen the benefits of what happens when you’re willing to share your life and story with other people traveling the same journey. We’ve previously focused on how you cultivate community, but haven’t really touched on the emotional why parts of it.

The first part of our graduate journey was spent rehashing that lesson again and again and again; I refused to put down roots in our new city, and in the first year of school, I (we) went back to see our friends in Atlanta six or seven times. I had one foot firmly planted where my heart was, and the other foot planted because it’s where I had to be. It wasn’t healthy.

After many discussions (I use that term loosely ha ha) with my husband, we agreed it wasn’t emotionally healthy or balanced to try to maintain a life in Atlanta when we did not live there.  It seems like a fairly simple concept now, but at the time I truly felt like, once again, my world was being ripped from my hands. We made the decision together that we would not return to Atlanta for one year.

By investing in the city or community you live in, you are choosing to live in the present. If you spend all your time wishing you were somewhere else, then you may miss an important part or piece of your life’s growth process. That’s not an easy thing to do when you’d rather be somewhere else.  When I began the process of actually getting to know the Orlando community, I discovered it wasn’t such a bad place to live. When I started investing in relationships, I realized there were some amazing people that were worth getting to know. I look back now, and often wonder what life would be like today, if we hadn’t made the decision to cultivate community and plant our feet firmly where we lived. When we moved from there in 2007, we left some wonderful friends that I was genuinely sad to leave.

I do think it has been one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned along this path: Live in the present and invest in those around you.

Holidays

I’ll Be Home For Christmas, If Only in My Dreams……

                                                                                             -written by Deanna, a current graduate wife

My husband and I have been doing this grad-school thing for 5+ years now and we have at least 2 to go.  Possibly as many as 5.  We’re in the thick of it.  Although we are both from the US, we started our grad-school adventure in Canada – but only about 7 hours from our families.  We had a semi-dependable car so, of course, we drove home for Christmas.  Easy peasy.  As relative newlyweds and people with great families who grew up with well-loved Christmas traditions, we really enjoyed sharing the nostalgia of childhood Christmases with each other those first few years.

Our third Christmas in Canada our daughter was born.  I literally went into labour after breakfast on Christmas morning, went to the hospital that afternoon, and delivered her at some unholy hour the next morning.  Adoring grandparents and aunts quite literally dropped their forks on their Christmas dinner plates and braved icy roads in the midst of a massive snow storm to come to us that Christmas day arriving at the hospital in the middle of the night… just hours before our daughter was born.  It was an eventful Christmas but needless to say, we didn’t travel that year.

The next graduate degree took us much farther from our families.  Instead of being a few hundred miles away, we were nearly 5,000 miles away (including crossing a rather significant ocean.)  Money was tight… very tight.  A flight home simply wasn’t an option.  In fact this is our third Christmas overseas.  Is it hard being away from the family we love so dearly at such a special time of year?  Yes.  (It’s even worse with a child!)  Does it get easier?  That depends on you.  But here are a few survival tips from a graduate wife who has lived it a few years running. 

First things first, admit that it sucks.  If you’d rather be back home – just say so.  Don’t bottle it all up with a brave face until you crack and turn into a big weepy puddle on Christmas day.  Talk to your spouse.  Tell your spouse about the specific things you’ll miss.  Chances are that they have a list of things they’ll be missing as well.  Grieve it if you need to.  And don’t forget to tell your family and friends back home too! They’ll be thrilled to know you want to be with them – even if you can’t be there that year.  Be sure to plan a time to video chat with your family too!

But then you’ve got to move on.  Don’t wallow in self pity day in and day out.  It isn’t pretty.  Turn off the sad songs you’ve had on repeat.  (I may or may not be speaking from personal experience when I’m guessing your repeat list includes Michael Buble’s ‘I Want To Go Home’ and the Christmas classic ‘There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays’.)  Whether intentional or not, your wallowing will likely make your spouse feel like scum for dragging you away from your family at the holidays even though, in reality, you probably made the decision to move far away together.  Instead, try to be thankful that you don’t have to deal with the headaches of holiday traffic, airport crowds, and jet lag.  And then use some of the following tips to keep your Christmas spirits up and truly enjoy the season where you are!

1.    Make some of your favorite traditions from back home happen where you are.  It may take a little ingenuity, and it won’t be perfect – but it can be done!   Here are a few of my favorites:

• Bake a plate of Christmas cookies for your neighbors (or just for yourself!),

• Put up a tree.  Make it out of paper or felt and tape it to your wall if you must – but at our house we don’t go without a tree of some sort.  Then cover it with ornaments, homemade if you didn’t bring any of your own (we didn’t).  Cut out paper snowflakes, tie a bit of string to the top of pine cones (and add a little glitter?), shape some stars out of pipe cleaners, and string popcorn.  Is it going to look like Rockefeller Plaza?  No.  But it will still be festive!

•Bust out some nostalgic Christmas music.  Try Grooveshark to put together free playlists of all your old favorites.

•Make yourself an advent wreath and follow the true story of Christmas for the 4 weeks leading up to the big day.  It can really help your perspective!

•Curl up with your spouse and watch your favorite Christmas movie with a cup of cocoa.  (Stir it with a candy cane if at all possible.)

2.  Embrace where you are.  After all, you may never be here at this time of year again!

•Pick something to do with your spouse that you couldn’t do back home.  December is packed full of concerts, plays, Christmas fairs and festivals, tree lighting ceremonies, church services, Christmas carol sing-alongs, etc. pretty much wherever you are.  Find a unique setting like a cool playhouse, grotto or cathedral near you to experience some of these things in a new way!

•Take advantage of the weather.  If it’s cold where you are, go ice skating or build a snowman with your spouse and then take a picture of the two of you with your snowman and send it to family and friends.  If it’s warm where you are, hit the beach for the day to work on your tan and fire up the BBQ for Christmas dinner!

•Try some local Christmas food traditions.  Here that means fresh roasted chestnuts, mince pies, mulled wine, bacon-wrapped sausages, brussels sprouts, roast potatoes, stuffing rolled into balls, roast turkey, Christmas pudding (doused in brandy and lit on fire!), Christmas crackers and wearing a paper crown during dinner and/or dessert.

•Volunteer in your community.  Chances are, as poor as you might feel sometimes, there are people in your city who are much worse off than you.  Find a soup kitchen or homeless shelter to help out at.  Bless people less fortunate than you are and then go home feeling grateful for all that you have instead of feeling miserable about all the things you don’t.

•Find out who else is spending Christmas away from their families and plan something fun to do together:  attend a midnight carol service together, invite someone to Christmas dinner, host a Christmas cookie exchange, organize a white elephant gift exchange, bundle up for a walk together and then head back to one of your homes for a Christmas movie and some hot apple cider, etc.  The possibilities are endless – and all the friends who traveled home for the holidays will be sad to have missed such a fun time while they were away!

3. Create new traditions.  Old traditions are great.  But creating a tradition that is unique to you and your spouse (and kids!) is especially wonderful!  I’m not sure we would have discovered this truth if we had simply gone back to our parents’ house every year to take part in their traditions.  Let me encourage you to seize this opportunity!  Here are a few simple ideas:

•Build a gingerbread house together.  Can’t find gingerbread where you are and don’t want to make your own?  Browse the cracker, cookie, and candy aisles at your local shop and get creative with what’s available to you!

•Hang a stocking (or just a sock!) for each person in the house on Dec 1.  Then every day, write down one thing you appreciate about each of the other people in the house or perhaps something funny/memorable they did or said that day on a small bit of paper and put it in their stocking.  On Christmas day, each person will read dozens of affirming observations about themselves!  What a gift!

•Go for a Christmas day walk.

•Plan a yummy Christmas breakfast together.  It doesn’t have to be complicated – just something you’ll do year after year.  We tend to go for homemade cinnamon rolls smothered in butter and frosting served with eggs, fruit, and bacon or sausage.

•If you have kids, pick a small Christmas object (a star, a candy cane with a ribbon tied round it, a particular Christmas ornament, a santa hat, a small stuffed snowman or elf, etc.) and hide it in a different place in the house every day.  Whoever finds it first wins a small prize like a piece of chocolate!

I hope you will try some of these tips and that you will find them to be as rewarding as we have over the past few years.  From my family to yours, we wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year wherever you may be!

Expectations

Grieving a Plan

 

I am a planner.

I like to put order and organization into my life. I am also creative and spontaneous, and if I start a project, I often find myself bored of it half way through, needing a distraction before finishing. (Thus, I am a fantastic multi-tasker. And, sadly, have a load of projects I’ve started and not finished to prove it).

But, back to the planning.

I think I can safely say that we all have ‘plans’ for our lives. Some plans have worked out, some have not; some have been painful, some joyous, and others just downright crazy. As a graduate wife, I’ve placed my plans on hold, given some of my plans up, and accomplished others with perfection. Each plan represented pieces of me, often lessons learned, and in almost every way made me who I am today. My father calls that character building.

I’ve written before about my ‘plan’ to be home with my son, and how that hasn’t worked out. Instead, that plan has handed me a career at an amazing company. I’ve watched other graduate wives forgo their own academic plans for the loves of their life. That plan handed them a supporting role, often without any structure or sense, causing a massive shift of identity that leaves more questions than answers.

Recently, while running with a friend, I lamented one of my life plans that hadn’t developed in the timely manner I wanted and expected it to. As she listened to me process it aloud, hearing and feeling my pain, she then said, “Maybe you need time and space to allow yourself to grieve your plan.”

The power of her words absolutely pierced me. I hadn’t thought of an unmet plan as something to be grieved; I mostly just thought of it as a disappointment to be discarded of before moving on to the next thing. The life of a graduate wife necessitates sacrifice, often forcing us to bypass our own emotional well being because we’re operating in survival mode: bills need to be paid, jobs worked, kids taken care of, lunches made, clothes laundered, the house cleaned, and last but not least, a husband/ fiancé/partner to be emotionally supported.

It doesn’t leave much time for our own emotional well being, so we move on.

After my run, I spent some time thinking about what it means to grieve a dream or a plan that doesn’t work out, and what that means for me. I allowed myself to feel the pain from the loss of that life plan, even though the crushing weight of sadness was immense.

But, what does that look like going forward? I’m finding it’s a daily process, and sometimes I take three steps forward, and then four backwards. But, in the process, I’m learning, growing, and taking care of my emotional self.

I’ve identified some of the ways I’m grieving, although admittedly, it looks different everyday.

Journaling. I am not what you would call a journaler.  But I do find writing to be therapeutic. By articulating on paper the inner turmoil or sadness I’m feeling, it helps me identify places I am healing, and places I’m still struggling.

Friendship.  I’ve identified two people in my life to walk me through this process. I use them as sounding boards, airing my frustrations when and if I need to. Other than that, I don’t talk about it with others.

Crying. It feels silly to write that, as I am not a particularly emotional person. But, I’ve found in the last few months that keeping that extra emotion bottled up doesn’t help me. It’s good to let it out once in awhile.

Prayer.  I know not everyone who reads this blog shares the same beliefs as I do. I’m okay with that. But I can honestly say that my faith has played an enormous part in my graduate wife journey. I cannot even pretend to separate the two. So, I find prayer to be soothing, and I don’t hesitate to ask God, “Why?” sometimes. It helps me to know He is listening, and it is often a reminder that there is something larger than myself working around me.

Spouse. Given that I’m an internal processor, it was awhile before I could bring myself to explain this process to my husband. When I did though, he was supportive, and affirming. He continues to be, often giving me the space I need to heal.

My heart is hopeful that I will see my plan actualized one day, but if it isn’t, I am glad that I will be able to look back and identify a time in my life where I learned to let it go.

As a graduate wife, what are you doing to grieve the unmet plans in your life?

-Mandy