/ stories

Expat in Montreal: Sara's story in Canada

I came to Montreal in May 2007 with my husband, a nine month old baby and a pink umbrella stroller. Since we had no family or a support here, we decided my husband would go to work and I would stay home taking care of the house and the baby until she no longer needed me full time.

Less than a year after, I got pregnant with my second daughther. We exchanged the single umbrella stroller for a double one, and added a new baby to the formula. Everything else remained the same.

Life was good. I would clean the house, cook the meals, walk my daughters around the neighbourhood, give them baths, put them in bed, and pray to God they would fall asleep sooner rather than later.

I would do all of that without anybody asking me to do it. I had no boss. I would do my work every day in a non-stop routine that left me almost dead every night, but I would recover some energy overnight and start again from scratch the next day.

It was not always easy, but I managed to reinvent myself and motherhood every day, went to bed with a feeling of accomplishment, and wake up motivated the next day. After all, I had the reward of my girls smiling at the hem of my skirt at all times.

When winter came, we would go to my hometown of Cartagena for a while (a month or so), and made sure we got enough sun to make it until the end of the winter back in Montreal. I also learned to booked my days with activities for the girls and playdates when my husband was away, so that the days go by fast and happy.

Everything changed when the two girls started school full time.

There were no more long trips to Cartagena during the winter. And at home, the girls were no longer pulling my skirt.

Returning home from the drop-off and staying in an empty house doing chores, day after day, was boring, and lonely. There were millions of things (from motherhood to matrimony and career) that I wanted (and needed) to share while making the beds and picking up the dirty clothes.

I needed to talk about the the amount of homework the girls were getting from school; I wanted to someone to share my career plans and my business dreams. I wanted someone to smell the lavender from my laundry and to see the way I had reorganized the cushions on my living room. I wanted someone to try my meat sauce before I served it to my family that evening. Instead, I took pictures and shared them online with friends.

I needed my mom, an aunt, a friend, a neighbour, a colleague (another mom cooking next door), someone, to share these things with.

At this point in our plan, I was supposed to be dusting off my resume and putting together the new me that I had become after seven years of motherhood. Instead, I was consumed by new concerns from being on time at school, to my daughter’s’ social interactions at school and homework, in the boredom and loneliness of the house.

I started talking to myself a bit too much. The feedback I would get from Facebook or Whataspp was not one of relief, on the contrary, it would make me feel more anxious. It was difficult to focus and get things done. I started to procrastinate, to feel I was not being productive.

Instead of getting easier, from the times that I had the girls at home 24/24, things seem to be getting worse. The mornings became a routine of rushing, crying and complaints that left me exhausted at the very beginning of the day. Afternoons were another battle. One about trying to complete homework and making it on time to bed.

I tried to make things work. I did what every girl educated by nuns would do, I tried to focus more and get things done at home, and I also asked God for help. None of it worked.

I started to feel overwhelmed by the new situation. One morning, running around trying to comb the hair of one of my daughters, I told my husband I could take it no more. I asked him not to leave for work but to stay to help me get the girls ready. Something I had always managed to do on my own before.

Feeling overwhelmed: how I overcame it

The story that followed included a visit to the doctor and a longer than planned trip to Cartagena, as part of my prescription. Only then, I realized that it was not possible to get things done just by the miracle of self discipline, as the nuns had taught me. I realized I was not a robot that I could program with a list of tasks to be done every morning, while the girls were at school, no matter what.

I realized in order to get everything done, I needed to feel motivated, connected, inspired, and happy.

  • External motivation. I needed a routine that was not just imposed by me, but one linked to the routines of others. Not only my husband’s and the girls’. I could not sustain working eight straight hours by myself at home (picking up dishes, cooking and folding clothes or working on my resume), as my husband and my daughters were at work and school.
  • I needed to create my own little enterprise, the way my husband had his office and my girls had their school. Because, those circumstances, with all its people and routines, gives us a sense of grounding, purpose and community that is fundamental to the human experience.

In order to guarantee to create those circumstances, I came up with these three rules:

  1. Start your day early– I start my day early every day; ideally, out of the house. I volunteer at a craft store in front of my house or at school, or I make plans to see a friend for coffee or take an early yoga class. The purpose of this rule is to force myself to go out and see people at the beginning of each day. The result is that I start the day motivated, with a feeling of purpose and connection.
  2. Never give yourself a complete day of work at home-Break your day up. I never spend all the eight hours the girls are at school at home. Instead, I arrange to have lunch with friends or go for tea or shopping. This way, I guarantee that I have just enough time to do what I have to do at home, without loosing focus. My focus is not only on what I’m doing, but also on what I am looking forward to. While at home, I know I have to be fast because there is someone waiting for me. I’m excited about getting ready, wearing a new shirt or make up.
  3. Put first all the activities related to engaging to your community- Create your sense of belonging. I could write a whole other article on this rule, but I will summarize it like this: as per Esther Perel, “we all share a fundamental need for security, which propels us to committed relationships.We look for safety in the familiar”. So I make sure I see the same people and go to the same places, on a regular basis.

My life revolves around my daughters’ school and the friends we have made in the park and from my husband’s work. I organize family and adult activities with them and invite them over frecuently. I am consistent with the activities I enroll for. If I join a book club, I stay in it for long enough to create strong bonds. I stick to the same stores to become friends with the sellers. Seeing the same faces and places every day creates that sense of familiarity, belonging and security we all need. That way, I don’t get lost when I’m doing chores at home. Because I know there is a place out of the door that I belong to.

You might like also these articles