Kate is British, married to a Frenchman and they currently live in France. She is a Facilitator, Certified Coach and Mentor. Her husband has been travelling Monday-Friday for about a year now. We talk about her family’s experience with this lifestyle, and what she has put in place.
In This Episode:
- How Kate came to end up in France and the kind of coaching work Kate does
- How learning to navigating change is a vital skill for all humans, especially expats
- What Kate and her family put in place to enable business travel for her husband and to make it work for the whole family
- The pros and cons of Monday-Friday business travel and Kate experience of navigating this model
- The importance of listening to yourself, to your body, to set limits and expectations, and then constantly adapting to what works for you.
Phone: +33 6 22 40 88 27
Rhoda Bangerter (00:03):
Welcome to Holding the Fort Abroad, the podcast for expats with travelling partners. My name is Rhoda Bangerter, I am a certified coach and the author of the book Holding the Fort Abroad. In this podcast, I interview men and women who live abroad and have travelling partners so that we can all benefit from their wisdom and experience, I also invite experts to apply their expertise to this topic. Today my guest is Kate Gondouin. Kate is British, married to a Frenchman and they currently live in France. She is a Facilitator, Certified Coach and Mentor. Her husband has been travelling Monday-Friday for about a year now. We talk about her family’s experience with this lifestyle, and what she has put in place.
Kate Gondouin (00:51):
Hi Rhoda. Thanks very much for having me. Really excited to be here.
Rhoda Bangerter (00:54):
Thank you so much. I'm looking forward to hearing your perspective from your personal experience, but also from a professional point of view as a coach. So, first, can you introduce yourself, your expat journey, say maybe a little bit about your professional development and life, and then we can, of course, delve into this lifestyle and talk a little bit about what you've been experiencing and what you've put in place.
Kate Gondouin (01:20):
Yeah, of course. So my background is I'm British, as you said. I always dreamt of traveling and I took a year off to go traveling, but that was as a backpacker on my own. And I used to work in the UK and then I met and fell in love with my French husband. And we ended up moving to France. So I moved to France when I was pregnant with my first child. We were both working for Airbus at the time. And I thought, well, it'd be easy. France is very close to the UK, so it's just across the channel. Not a problem that's just nip over. And then the reality was slightly different. So my background is HR. I've worked in loads of different areas of HR, recruitment, personal development, team development, communication, change, procurement, finance. I've done a lot, to be honest.
And that's one of the things that has given me a lot of different ideas and breadth, but also in a country where you start in one subject and you carry on, you become more and more specialist and more, you know, expert. That is obviously something that's been interesting to navigate. And the other thing just to add in, that's the real big, kinda like factor I guess, is that my husband was four months old when he left France. So he's French, but he's lived outside of France pretty much most of his life. So he was a lot more familiar and a lot more experienced in living in a different country than I was. And that kind of shaped a lot of our experience. So I'm now working as a, I'm an accredited coach and mentor, but also facilitator and a mother of two fantastic challenging children. And we live near Toulouse, in France.
Rhoda Bangerter (03:11):
Kate Gondouin (03:11):
So hopefully that gives a little bit of an idea.
Rhoda Bangerter (03:12):
So a coach and a mentor, is it for anyone in particular?
Kate Gondouin (03:19):
So, to be honest with you, when I started, yes. I said I was gonna work with expats. They were the people that I know, they're my sort of people. But what I've realized is that actually a lot of the things that the expats are experiencing is the same as other people in different situations, but it's just kind of, it's on speed effectively. It's a lot more intense. There's other things that do crop up, but fundamentally it's the same challenges that we're all facing. So yes, I do work with expats, but I don't work exclusively with expats.
Rhoda Bangerter (03:54):
So it's dealing with change, dealing with challenges. Unforeseen circumstances.
Kate Gondouin (04:03):
Yeah definitely, and I think one of the things is that because I've worked within large organizations and a lot of different organizations, change is something that is taught as a skill in organizations. And it's becoming even more evident now that it is really important for change to be established as a competence that people have. But actually the change that you experience in an organization, yes, there are, you know, departmental shifts. There's different product areas, there's merges, acquisitions, but that's minute compared to the changes that come in life in terms of going from an individual to be part of a couple, to be part of a family, to live in a different country, to deal with health issues and all the rest of it. So for me, the more I'm getting into this world, the more I'm realizing actually the separation and the delineation of a small group and the small situation is not necessarily helpful because it kind of cuts off the expertise that you can get from other areas. Does that make sense?
Rhoda Bangerter (05:06):
So what you're saying is not to just say, okay, it's gonna be relevant to this group of people, but saying it's relevant across the board because we're human. Let's look at how different groups are coping with it. Yeah, that's a very interesting perspective.
Kate Gondouin (05:20):
And I think one of the things for me is that, you know, historically people have attached a label to themselves. So I'm British, my husband is French. They're very two distinctive badges. My children are half English and half French. Okay? But they're still a person. They're still the individual. So the label in some ways restricts the opportunity for people to learn from each other because actually underneath it all, we're all the same.
Rhoda Bangerter (05:46):
Yeah. Yeah. And let's circle back to change, because change is something that in our lifestyle with partners who travel or who are away for work is a huge biggie, right. It happens all the time because we constantly…maybe it's even more dominant, or present. So that would be interesting to hear about that. Okay, great.
So when you moved to France, you transitioned into motherhood as well. But you were together, right? He wasn't traveling so much at that point. And then it's only in the last year that he started traveling because of a new position. Did you know there was gonna be this much travel, like a Monday to Thursday, right?
Kate Gondouin (06:35):
Yeah. Yeah. Well, he comes back after midnight on Thursday, so kinda like officially Thursday, but <laugh> yeah, exactly. Did we know before? To be honest, when he was looking for positions and this opportunity came up, it was clear that he was gonna have to travel. And we sat down as a family and decided, okay, what were we gonna do and how long were we were gonna do it for? And that was something that was really important. But I think it's a bit like when I moved over to France in the first place, until you're actually doing it, you don't really understand the implications of what's it gonna be like day-to-day. And so yes, in theory we were prepared and we were ready and it was all sorted. But until you're actually doing it, it's a bit of a theoretical exercise.
Rhoda Bangerter (07:25):
Yeah. So that's very true. Well, this is also where you can draw from other people's experience, right. And maybe get a few things even, you know, just to minimize. But coming back to what you said about talking as a family, what did you do in practice? Did you and your husband talk about it first and then talk about it with your children? Did you ask questions? What would you emphasize? I'm curious.
Kate Gondouin (07:51):
Okay. So when it came up originally he actually had the first interview for this position when we were on holiday visiting some friends in Geneva. So the children were there and the children were aware that there was an interview going on, but they weren't really fully aware of what the possible implications were. But obviously at that stage it was very, very early on in the process. So we didn't really go into the detail when it then became clearer that yes he had been offered this position and it was a great opportunity for him. It was then for him and I to sit down and to talk about, okay, what does that actually mean for us as a couple and as a family, and how are we gonna navigate it? And once we'd sat down and agreed between the two of us as to what we were gonna do, that was the time before he'd accepted the job that we were then sitting down with the children and we had a discussion in terms of, okay, this is the situation. These this is the opportunity, this is what it'll mean in practical terms. This is how long we're going to do it for. How do you feel? What are your questions? Think about it. Come back to us with other questions or ideas or concerns, and we keep revisiting.
Rhoda Bangerter (09:04):
That is brilliant. Wow. And so they came to, you don't need to share what they said necessarily, but they came forward with stuff? And did they feel like they were being hurt? And what if they said something that you can't change? Or was there nothing really that was major in terms of changes?
Kate Gondouin (09:25):
So, I mean, the thing is, yes, there was a huge change cuz effectively my husband had been living at home and was here pretty much 24/7 for the year prior to him starting his job. And the start of the job coincided effectively with the start of the school holidays, which is here in France, it's like eight, nine weeks. So it's a long time, for then somebody to suddenly not be there. So we had the conversation with them and we were very clear about, okay, this is practically what it's going to mean. And then, okay, what do we need to think about? How do we put things in place? So it's things like, you know, how are we gonna make sure that we are keeping having the conversation? How do we build, keep the relationship going when they're at a distance?
How do we maintain the commitments that we already have? So my kids, like every other child around is involved in loads of sports and activities and this, that, and the other. So it is, how are we gonna do that? And one of the big ones is my son and my husband both do rugby. And my husband is actually a trainer at the rugby school with my son. So obviously that had an impact on their relationship because suddenly my husband is not gonna be there for one of the sessions and that really affected my son. And so it was an opportunity, we spoke as a family, but then we spoke individually and we kept touching base in terms of, okay, how are you finding it? What's working, what's not?
And I'll be honest with you, it's not been calm sailing. It has been a rollercoaster, but I am incredibly impressed with how my kids are navigating it. And how my husband is coping with it as well because to start off with, it was very much like, okay, we are here, we are still living the same life. Then everything is different. So the focus was, how do we reestablish the equilibrium here? But at the same time, my husband is starting a new job in a new country for a new company. And he's actually working in two countries, so he's alternating between two countries every other week. So there's a lot of change that he's going through as well. So, you know, as time goes on, the focus is shifting in terms of how do we actually manage it.
Rhoda Bangerter (11:44):
Yeah, yeah. Which is necessary because as you said, you come across the different elements plus children change anyway in the way that they are growing. So different things are gonna take a front seat. So when you were considering the job, did you know it was a fixed term? Or did you set the fixed term?
Kate Gondouin (12:06):
So we set the fixed term. It is kind of like a non-ended contract job. But we said originally that we would stay here for 12 months. I would stay here with the children and he would travel. So that was our internal discussion.
Rhoda Bangerter (12:23):
So it was like a personal decision?
Kate Gondouin (12:24):
Yeah, but he then negotiated it with the company. Cause effectively it's a big imposition that he's not available on site as often if he's traveling. So he arrives late, leaves early on certain days. You know, so it had to be discussed and negotiated, but for us, that was a non-negotiable. There was too much change. And because it was such a big change and would involve us moving house, we weren't going to do that when the kids were the age that they are.
Rhoda Bangerter (12:59):
Kate Gondouin (13:00):
For a job that we weren't a hundred percent sure of at the time.
Rhoda Bangerter (13:03):
Yeah. Yeah. And I think it is wise to just set a time and say, let's review it. Let's not, you know, commit to something that's open-ended. We don't know what the repercussions are.
So one of the things that I haven't covered so much is this Monday to Friday situation. Because there's one of the partners leaving for a few months at a time or a couple of weeks every so often. But there's something very specific about leaving on Monday, coming back on Friday, you just have the weekend. And I covered it a little bit with Chatlein, because she lived this three different times, and one of those times was a Monday to Friday. So yeah, I'm interested to hear your perspective, what unexpected challenges, if you can share, and maybe some things that you've adapted to and maybe bringing the change element that you were talking about, and give some specific tools or tips that people can use that you found useful.
Kate Gondouin (14:14):
I'll be totally honest with you. A bit like when we moved to France, I underestimated what it would actually be like to go from having somebody here 24/7 – okay, except working - to being effectively a single parent for half of the week, and then for being a family and a couple for a few days, and always with this kinda expectation and this knowledge that, you know, the Sunday night, Monday morning is a hard time. So my husband is already into work mode. So it's kinda like it intensifies things. I think that's the way I would explain it. It feels a bit like I've got two different lifestyles. I've got one when it's just me and the kids, and then there's a different lifestyle and I'm a different person when we're together as a family. It intensifies things in terms of we've got a shorter space of time to get things sorted and done and to see friends and all the rest of it as a family and to try and cram things in.
And that takes some organizing. And if I'm honest, we're not there yet, but we're getting there. The Monday to Friday, the thing is, it coincided with my daughter starting a new school. So we went from both of the children being at the same school with the same timetable, same location, to my daughter moving to effectively like the second, you know, she's 11, so she's moved to the high school, the college. So she's moved from being in a very small school to being the smallest in a very big school. She's gone from a private school to a public school. So there's a lot of changes going on at the same time.
Rhoda Bangerter (16:06):
Isn't that funny? Isn't it? And I think that's what you were saying earlier, suddenly it's like there's not one change that happens maybe in 10 years. It's like suddenly you've got like five changes all in the same month.
Kate Gondouin (16:18):
Yeah. And I think that's why I say in terms of this whole thing around the skills that you get from change management in terms of making sure people are clear on what's actually changing and what's staying the same, that for me is the important thing. So yes, daddy is not here. Oh, this is how I talk to the children. ‘Daddy's not here, but we're still a family. And even if he's not physically here, he's still part of this family. So it's how do we build the relationships?’ And it was likewise with my daughter going to a new school. She's not at the same school, but there's still a lot of her old friends who are also at this new school. She's still the same person and is going on to the next stage. So it's this evolution the whole time of okay, what's the same, what's different?
And how do you feel about those sames and those differences? And then move from there in terms of, okay, if there is something that doesn't feel right, what can we do about it? How do we adapt? How do we evolve? How do you… you know, you don't make a change and go ‘right, okay, yeah. That's it. Not gonna change ever again. I've done my bit. That's it.’ It's very much the evolution. It's learning, it's talking, it's finding out together. And at the end of the day, you know, the thing that we do try to emphasize is this idea that we are a team. We have to help each other because I can't do everything on my own. My husband can't do everything on his own. The kids can't do everything on their own. So it's how do we help and adapt?
And that for me has been the biggest lesson and the biggest learning. But yeah, there's a lot of changes happening all at the same time. And I think it's not unique. And I think that's the bit that is the transition for a lot of people, in terms of it's not this one point, you switch the switch, everything's different, everything's changed, and then we can forget it. That's changed. And then that's gonna change, and then that's gonna change. And it's that ability to be comfortable with not knowing what's gonna happen, with not knowing how you're gonna manage everything. And finding solutions. And that's basically what we've ended up doing.
That's very interesting. I love how you apply the change management to this. But how do you gain perspective? How do you not get exhausted? Because I think if you are tired, it's very hard to apply this, don't you think?
Kate Gondouin (18:59):
Yeah. Totally. I mean, yes, it is. And again, for me, it's kinda like things come together at the same time. So I moved to France when I was pregnant. My husband just started working just as school holiday starts. And it's also coinciding with me going into kinda like pre-menopausal stage. So everything is like, let's throw everything into the mix. But for me, that's life. That's what's happening. So I'm navigating the whole kind of like, you know, challenges of sleeping, which I'd kicked after having children that didn't sleep, I'd relearnt how to sleep and now my body is going well, no, you're gonna learn again that there's different things to do.
But I think the lessons that I learned from when I burnt out is that it's listening to your body and understanding and giving yourself slack in terms of, okay, what is acceptable? What's not, what can you do, what can't you do? And beating yourself up over things that can't work is just not gonna happen. So it is being connected with what the important things are for you and listening to your body, being aware, my kids know that when mommy is tired, you've gotta give mommy some space. Because I will not necessarily turn up and show up as the mom that they want or that they need, or that I want to be. And because I'm trying to juggle everything, it's gonna take time. So everyone is adapting.
The advantage is that the kids are getting older so they're more independent. So in some ways they need me less, but in other ways they need me more. So it's much more about looking at, okay, where do I expend my energy? What is the important things for me to really invest my time and energy in? And prioritizing those.
So one of the big things, a lot of work that I do is with people overseas. So the time zones are such that, you know, it's all over the place. It doesn't fit into a nice working day. And so I'm not often available all the time for the children, but obviously because my husband is away, it's how to adapt it. And one of the big things is bedtime, you know, having time with each of them individually and going through what's happened during the day, what they're grateful for, what they've learned, what action they've taken, and what's their dreams and desires. And we do that every night. And it becomes a routine and it becomes the ritual and it helps them to see things differently. And it's snatching the time and the energy when we've got it and when it's available, rather than stressing over, right, okay, we've all gotta sit down, we've gotta have dinner, we've gotta do this. So it's learning. I've learned a lot by burning out, by trying to do everything. I'm definitely not perfect, far from it, but I am learning, and learning to ask for help and to walk away when things are not right.
Rhoda Bangerter (22:04):
Mm. So you are focusing on the things that are the most important for you and for your kids and for your husband. And you're saying, okay, I'm not gonna worry about not being able to do this, not being able to do that. I'm gonna do this bit because this bit is really valuable, and the rest, it's just gonna be, it's fine. And then adapting and saying, ‘mm, this doesn't feel right. Let's see how we can adapt that.’ Okay. I think this is super useful for the life that we lead. Because, like we said, there's always a juxtaposition of challenges and maybe change and things happen to you at the same time. And also things change, right? So you are adapting, and then you can predict a couple of things, but then when you are in it, you have to keep that flexibility of saying, ‘mm, this isn't working, this needs to work, this needs to change.’
Kate Gondouin (23:04):
Yeah. And I think the big thing, this is what I say for me, is around using the skills that I learned when I was working in large organizations. You know, you have effectively, you've got a load of different moving parts with lots of different beliefs and values and stuff that's going on behind. And if you try and put everything into a nice, neat pile with a roof, and this is what we're gonna do, and it's gonna go like this, go like this, go like this. Some lorry or something is gonna come and hit you from the side and it's gonna throw everything outta the water. So actually yes, you can plan, yes, you can have ideas, but it's having that adaptability and that openness to say ‘I don't know’. You know, lot of the times with the kids, like all parents, they don't come with manuals. Why we don't get manuals with children.
Rhoda Bangerter (23:52):
No, I know, right. <Laugh>,
Kate Gondouin (23:54):
There are loads of self-help books, but actually sometimes the self-help books make it harder because then it's like, oh, well I need to do this and I should do that, and all the rest of it. And it's giving yourself the slack to take your foot off the brake and listen to yourself and go, okay, what is it that I need? Because when I know what I need, then I'm in a better place to be able to help other people.
I worked at Airbus and obviously it's planes. And the classic was always you have to put on your oxygen mask before you can help anybody else. And it's a really simple thing, but it is such a strong message for everybody who's within any situation that is stressful or unpredictable or unknown. If you are on, you know, your last tether, the smallest little thing will push you over the edge. If you reinforce yourself, then the smallest little thing, you'll just float with it. You'll go with it, but it won't knock you off. And that for me is the biggest thing, asking for help, learning, being open, and just, you know, be human. And enjoy the ride.
Rhoda Bangerter (25:00):
Enjoy the ride. Yeah. And I think that's a very important message because I don't think it's possible to live this life without it. No. I think if you're, if you're, if you are struggling it, it just kind of sinks you because it is very demanding in terms of emotional energy, physical energy the adaptability that you need to bring is demanding. And sort of to act for help and also lower expectations, drop things if they're not necessary. And also take care of yourself. Then I think, I'm still learning <laugh>.
Kate Gondouin (25:41):
I think everybody is. I think everybody is. And for me the other thing is that, you know, I remember reading something recently that was basically the number of marriages that fail in expat situations is far higher than anywhere else. The number of people who are suffering from depression and stuff like that is far higher than anywhere else. It's almost like, as I said, it's life, but it's life exacerbated and so is whatever the weaknesses are, anything that you have got a problem or a hangup about yourself is gonna get exacerbated. When you're in a situation, when you've got more time with yourself, you're questioning, your things are not easy. And when things are not easy, then it makes things more accentuated. So for me, it really is about being gentle with yourself.And also accepting that you can do it. We are all incredibly capable. But don't try and be the martyr and do it on your own, because honestly, that is just a recipe for disaster.
Rhoda Bangerter (26:48):
Yeah. You mentioned like you potentially feel like a single mom during the week and then back in being a couple during the weekend, and that's something that's very I'd say common in this lifestyle, to have these two realities. Do you like catch him up on the weekend? Or how does he keep up, how do you do it so he keeps track of what's going on or that he's aware, or you don't, I don't know… I'm asking, that’s it.
Kate Gondouin (27:23):
Yeah. So generally, I mean, my husband and I we are quite good at texting and calling at random hours. You know, when I drive my son to school in the morning, he always has a catch up with my son to find out what's going on. My daughter has messages with him directly. So, you know, we have ways of exchanging and if there's stuff that needs to be sorted, then we just pick up the phone and we just email. To be honest, it's exactly the same because before we were both working so we didn't see each other. And you know, it was, yes, you catch up in the evening, but you know what it's like in the evenings there's everything to do and no time to do anything. So it's the same thing. And then at the weekends, if there's other stuff that we need to be aware of or we need to sort out, then we will sit down and we'll sort things out. But for me it's kinda like I'm learning to not make it such a big deal that he's not here. Because the more of a big deal is that we make it, the harder it is for everybody to live with it, if that makes sense.
Rhoda Bangerter (28:33):
Yeah. And the kids will take the cue from us. So if we're beating ourselves up and blaming the situation and it's so awful, it's awful. They'll feel like, oh, whoa, there's something going on, something wrong. But if we take it as a family project, we're doing this, da da da, then ah. So it's interesting to hear you confirming that.
So I'm assuming you don't kind of just ignore the problems, obviously, because we've just had a 40 minute conversation about it, <laugh>, but the whole thing is viewed as a positive experience or something that we are going to use as a…is that right?
Kate Gondouin (29:12):
Yeah, I mean the most important thing for us is that it's a trial, it's an experiment. We haven't done it before. We don't know how it was gonna work. But we'll give it a go. And my husband has as of next week, week after, he's actually renegotiated and he's gonna be working from home one week in four. So it means that he will actually be here more, which will make things…again, it's a totally different dynamic because it means that when he then goes away, having been back for a week, is that then going to raise more of the emotions and all the rest of it. So that's what I'm saying in terms of it's always evolving, it's always changing, and it's being able to adapt to it. But yeah, you've gotta do what works for you.
And I think that's the important thing. Your relationship, your friendship, your families, your friendships, they're based on what works for you. And if it's not working, then you need to do something about it. But what works for me and my husbands and my family is not necessarily a copy paste into somebody else's. It's to really reflect on what do we need? Do we need to have conversations all the time? Do the kids need to speak to the person who's away or is actually gonna make it worse? You know? And it's very much around being open, honest with yourselves and with each other as to this is what we're gonna do and then this is not working. We need to do something different.
Rhoda Bangerter (30:39):
Yeah. And everybody being open to reviewing and bringing things forward.
Kate Gondouin (30:46):
Rhoda Bangerter (30:46):
Brilliant. Okay. Wow. I think that's a great place to stop, but do you have anything that you wanted to add or anything?
Kate Gondouin (30:57):
No, not really. I mean, the only thing is to say if anybody else is in this situation and they wanna reach out and talk to me, then not a problem at all. Please do. But also as I've said, just at the end, the important thing is to really be honest with yourselves. What is it that's working, what's not, and what do you need? And trust yourself, really trust yourself because you do know what is working and what's not. And listening to people getting ideas, that's brilliant. It can spark different things, but they're not you, they're not the ones who are living your life, your existence, your day-to-day. So really connect with who you are, what's important, and then you will find what works for you and enjoy the ride and enjoy the adaptation, the evolution that goes through and just keep communicating. I think that's the big thing. You've gotta keep communicating, keep talking out loud, not in your head, because if you talk in your head, there ain't nobody else that's gonna hear it.
Rhoda Bangerter (31:57):
Yes. Brilliant. Are you taking clients at the moment or?
Yeah, yeah. Private clients.
So people can contact you if they wanna be.
Kate Gondouin (32:07):
What I'm also trying to do is to work with some organizations as well, to try and help them to understand more of the kind of the global journey and how do you help people think before they accept an assignment? What's involved, how do you support people who are on the journey? And then all the way through, because having done a lot of research, the focus is very much around the actual move. So is the house, the schools, the contract, blah, blah, blah. But that's a pinpoint on a very long line. And for me, you know, if you look at the average cost of a failed assignment is 900,000 per one assignment, that's a heck of a lot of money for an organization to be disregarding because they haven't got some simple things in place. So if anybody wants to know more about what I do, then yes, please do reach out to me and get in touch. I'd be happy to speak to anybody.
Rhoda Bangerter (33:05):
Okay. Yep. Well, all your links will be in the show notes. So thank you so much, Kate, for talking to me and sharing your story and your experience. I'm really grateful.
Kate Gondouin (33:15):
You're very welcome. Thank you for the opportunity, Rhoda.
Rhoda Bangerter is a coach who has lived abroad with a travelling husband for over 16 years. She helps home based mums and dads live an intentional life and build family togetherness even when their partner is away a lot for work.