Robert has many different skills, he’s been in the military, he’s been a teacher, he is trained as an engineer and he is the dad of two wonderful girls. He gives us his perspective as a Holding the Fort Dad and gives some fantastic tips on parenting too !
In This Episode:
- Robert’s life before becoming a Holding the Fort Dad
- Being the only dad in Mother & Toddler groups
- Stagging on & Staffing off: the importance of getting rest.
- The value of retraining
- Top tips on having a female au pair when mum is the one travelling
- Batch cooking
- Taking care of an elderly parent as well
- Advice to dads whose partner is about to be away a lot for work
- The importance of having other adult contact
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 relationship experts to apply their expertise to this topic. Today my guest is Robert. Robert has many different skills, he’s been in the military, he’s been a teacher, he is trained as an engineer, and he is the dad of two wonderful girls.
Robert, I’m looking forward to hearing your perspective as a holding the fort dad. Welcome to the show!
Thank you, Rhoda. Where would let me to start, I suppose, from the beginning of my meeting my future wife.
Absolutely. Tell us a bit about your life before you met her, maybe. And then how you started life together and she started traveling.
Okay. Well, to understand where my psyche is based, you have to look at my past. I grew up in a working-class family. My father worked away on the oil rigs so I didn't see very much of him. Separation was that thing of our family life. M ran the home. She dealt with the schools, all the other issues as a partner would do, as the spouse would do. So she was both mother and father to us. My mom was a good cook and she made sure that all of us were capable of looking after ourselves when she wasn't there. Cause she worked also.
How often would your dad come back?
The turns they did on the rigs was six weeks on, two weeks off. So, he would be there for a substantial amount of time. My mom didn't drive. Everything she did was via public transport or walking, walking. That was my formative years. That's where the basis of my history is grounded. At the age of 17, I joined the army as a young soldier, not as an adult soldier, but a young soldier, I served with lots of adults coming from different backgrounds, universities, colleges, wealthy families, poor families, all sorts of things. I was fortunate. I already had skills such as doing ironing, my own laundry, which a lot of other people didn't. So I had that basis was taught to me which I am infusing in my children today, the ability to do these things. I joined the army at 17. My first posting was abroad to Germany as a young boy. The first time I j umped on a plane and went to Germany to this strange place where people speak foreign languages, a language, I didn't understand.
Yeah. So that was your first experience in another country?
Yeah. the way the British military then did things is, the British army was all over Germany then, you generally arrived in one airport and there wasn't a bus per se to take you to where you needed to go. Quite often you'd have to make your own way on public transport to where you were going,
At 17, not speaking the language and not knowing where I needed to go, the town I needed to go. It was that thing of going and having a look and looking for the name that was familiar to me that I needed to get to. I did it, I made my way to the base then I started my career as a serviceman.
You moved then, right? You moved quite often.
Yeah, in my military life, I remained single until I met my current wife coming towards the latter part of my career. Because I was a single soldier and, as I progressed up through the ranks and went through the army education system, I developed skills, I went to university for a while to study law. Usually my tour in an area lasted way between 14 and 18 months, and then something come up and they said, “okay, we need your particular skillset here. We are not going to move a family because it'll take two months to move a family where we can just tell you Monday, you're moving in two weeks’ time, pack up and go”. And that was generally my life: living out of suitcases. And just in time for my heavy baggage to arrive where I was in the world, I needed to pack it up again and move on to the next. So it was literally living out the suitcases and, making sure that I planned and learned quite quickly generally what I would need in each location. And that would be my suitcases. That would be my flight baggage to go with me. So at least I knew I could survive a few months, with the equipment, so this was all experiences I gained about traveling. It was these are things you've got to do. You've got to be prepared that things aren't always going to be there as you expect them to be. You're not leaving your home in the morning, going to work, coming back and all your things are there. You are going away, not on holiday, to work. And when you get there, your things aren't there and they might not be there for a very, very long time.
That's true. That's true.
Basic things like television, entertainment systems, we're fortunate that we live in a world where we have quite advanced technology and we don't need to worry so much about television. You've got iPads and tablets and all sorts of devices now. So you can pretty much take that media with you now. So you've got those sorts of tools to make the journey much easier. So as I get a posting to Georgia, the South Caucuses, there I met my wife. I was single, I hadn't been married at the time because I just didn't see the life I was leading being compatible with a family. Being deployed very rapidly, and so many times, I didn’t want to be away from my family.
I wanted to see my family grow up if I had a family, so I deliberately made that choice and I didn't get married until I was 36 years old, which is coming to the end of my career because in the British army, we, at that time, 40, 42 was retirement age because you're generally spent at that point, your body's been through a lot.
You've taken some hits.
So you meet your wife, you fall in love, you start dating and then you decide to get married.
Yes. Then we decide to get married. And my wife doesn't have a family. So we decided that the traditional church, when back in the UK would probably not be a good thing, So we had a frank discussion with each other and the discussion pretty much come along the lines of “who do you get married for?” You get married for each other, or you get married for your family. And that being the case, “where did we want to get married?” We looked around at where we could get married and we decided we were going to get married in India. We got all the necessary visas paperwork and everything that we needed. And we got married in India in December 2006.
Sorry, so at that point, did you have any discussions about, like, who was working, whether you were both going to carry on working or was travel any part of that discussion at that point?
My wife was on postings that were static in the country we were in, which is Georgia, whereas an assistant attaché. I had three countries, so I was traveling.
Okay. So you were the one traveling at the time.
My wife did travel on occasion to go to other countries to collect diplomatic mail and things. There was the understanding that we were taking a career to serve and we had to roll with the punches and make the best of what we had. And it was good. It gives us the opportunity to travel. We both like to travel, so that's a bonus. After our tours ended very close together, we returned back to the UK. Then my wife worked at the base in London and I came to London to work at a military base there. So we were still together. during that time, my wife would go away for part of her work. I mean, so she might be away for a week to Germany or to somewhere else. So we would spend a week apart but there’re no children at this point.
Rhoda Bangerter (10:07):
No children. So then the girls arrive?
We need to go back a bit then. We need to go back to when my career comes to an end.
Now my wife gets a wonderful post into the United States. We were looking to buy a business and we had to make the decision. Does my wife give up her work and we go in to this business together, or we take this wonderful opportunity to follow, continue my wife's career and move to the United States for the duration of a tour. Now, you can come back to the UK and start a business whenever you want. I mean, I was fortunate. I have a pension, I have an income. So money is not the be all and end all for me. And I thought, well, okay, if we start a business, it's going be lots of hours, lots of work. We wanted to start a family and the question was when was the time going to be for us to start a family.
So at that point, we made the decision that we would go to the United States where I would follow my wife. I would retire and follow my wife. And then we'd start a family in the United States. We first arrived in the United States, and for the initial year, I worked in the embassy with my wife, and then my wife felt pregnant. So when she was approaching the time of having our oldest child, I give up work to become, what the Americans call, the primary caregiver.
She was at home for about four months, I think it was. And then she returned to work and I stayed at home and I raised this little one.
Newborn practically, she was four months, but she's pretty young, right?
Yeah. Yeah. So at that point, I am drawing on the skills that my mom taught me. So I like to cook. I love to cook. I always have, that's how I relax: I cook. So I'm shopping, I'm taking the baby to mother and toddler groups.
As the dad. Well done.
It was quite unique in America at that time, you see a lot more now, but back then, you, you didn't see fathers with babies, with the backpacks and all, the little pouch with the nappies and all the rest of it in, and the bottles. And we'd have our routine, we'd go shopping to places. We'd go to the parks.
How did the mothers react in the mother's group? Were they welcoming, or how did they find it?
It was quite odd because, I mean, they don't really know how to approach you because it was an oddity at that time. It was me with this little one and I'm pretty sure they had lots of questions about who I was, what I was, why wasn’t there a woman here? Why was I the one bringing the child to the childcare? Where was the mother? Why wasn't she here doing her motherly duties? I'm sure all these were questions. I would say hi to them, have a coffee. We didn't really get involved much into what I was and why the mother wasn't there.
You would just talk about the children and play?
Exactly. There would be people I’d meet. There was a lovely woman in the supermarket, every time she'd see the baby, she'd have this biggest grin on her face and she'd sit and say to my eldest “you’re a beauty”. She'd be there helping with the shopping so that was a really great experience. We had a dog as well, so I had to take care of him and take him for walks.
Great. Yeah. And you’re taking care of the home. Right?
Yeah. I'm taking care of the home. We didn't have a cleaner, so I have been doing the cleaning and all the other bits and bobs. We'd reach out to the community. We got recommendations from friends about good childcare and things. So we could still have dates, the important thing is to still have date nights and you still have to make time for yourself. Our oldest daughter was lactose intolerant from birth. So that was very difficult, we were not getting much sleep at the time. We worked out a routine. We’d basically do staggering on/staggering off. So you'd have a day on duty, looking after the baby or at night time, then you'd have the day off/the next night off. So you get sleep.
That is a perfect technique to teach a mom or a dad who’s got a young one and who has a traveling partner. A lot of people expect themselves to be on duty all the time and it's just not feasible. Right. The military would never dream of putting a soldier on duty 24/7/365. Right?
No, it never happened. You become mentally and physically exhausted and you can't have that. You've got to have somebody that has all of their senses about them. So when they've had their night's sleep and their six, eight hours or whatever they've had, then they accomplish the next day and they can look after the child and make sure they're not doing all the crazy stuff that children try to do to end themselves.
So what's the staggering, what's the name again?
Staggering on and off
Staggering on and staggering off. So what does it involve?
So basically in the morning, what you do is if you run guard duty for the night, you do two hours on/two hours off, two hours on/two hours off, or two hours/on four hours off. So you rest. So when you come up and stand on the gate or whatever part of the security you're doing, then at least you've had some sort of rest and your senses should still be about you. Okay. So all you do is just extend that to a difficult child who is waking up through the night and vomiting and stuff. And you've got to be there and feed them as well. I mean, the feeding is a big thing. So if you are having piecemeal sleep, you've got to be a really exceptional person. And there's not very many people that can do it to be able to sleep for two hours, be awake for an hour, sleep for an hour. And while still listening to see if that child's going to be vomiting and you've got to be there to make sure that they've not swallowed the vomit and breathing it in. So we quickly got into this routine.
One of you would stay up the night and then rest the next day?
We were fortunate. Now we were fortunate to have a house that had two bedrooms at the time. What I am always telling new parents is: “you can read as many books as you like, but they are only theories. Each child, each experience is different and it is different for the parent and different for the child.” Okay. Yeah. In reality, if you start saying to them, oh, but what if the kid's got this? What if your kid's intolerant and vomit? What if your kid has this problem. And then the books go out the window because it's a narrow perspective of the perfect child, there is no perfect child.
There is no perfect child. No, no.
Uh, and there's not a perfect experience. So as new parent, you've got to muddle your way through this, the best as you can. And it is muddling because you'll find things that that work and some don’t. So for instance, there's sitting in the rocker and rocking the child to sleep at night while feeding them, that was a great thing. But at two o'clock in the morning when the other one's trying to sleep, sitting on a rocker that creeks and goes up and down is probably not the best idea for a good relationship. Is it? So, it's your experience, it's your journey. And you've got to learn and adapt to these. So, , we were fortunate, I suppose the dog was our first practice child. He was a very young puppy and it was the whining and all the other stuff.
Then after that when your wife went back to work, did she travel at any point?
So at the point, no because her job was static, which was great.
So then as we learned what milks to use, our oldest didn't vomit in the night, which was great. That improved sleeping massively, and obviously as she started to not require feeding as often as regularly through the night, you got more and more sleep, as best as you could. I mean, you were never in a solid sleep, you'd be in a shallow sleep because you're there waiting. Approximately 15 months later, our second bundle of joy comes along and we decided to try something different, which we did was co-sleeping and that seemed to work really well for us. It enabled us to travel and to do the things that we wanted to do whilst we were in the states. So, that was pretty much our life.
I suppose one of the things I should mention is that as a stay-at-home dad, you've got to think not only about your family, you've got to think about yourself. You're not the super person that you think you are. For instance, we'd moved to a bigger house just outside DC when the younger one come along. There is a saying that says that if children are crying and screaming, that's fine. Cause you can hear them. They're fine. There's something wrong when they're quiet on the other hand and then you want to go to check. Yeah. We were living in an American house, which has the family room sort of sunken and the kitchen a step up and over it.
And I couldn't hear them, I couldn't see them in the room. So I went down, I was looking and trying to see where they were at this step. They were both there poking the hallway vent because we had ants coming out. I didn't realize at the time, but we had ants coming out and I bent down to look at what they're doing. And I thought, they're fine. Didn't think about the roof above me. And I stood up and cracked my head. So I have these two young babies and I’ve got blood profusely coming from my head and then I call my wife to tell her I've got an injury.
So she comes home as quickly as possible, she applies pressure, kids are crying and screaming, there's all this confusion. They don’t know what's going on and there's lots of stress as you can imagine. So we go to the hospital, they have a look on my head and the Americans being the Americans, they're going to run every test that you can imagine, so they scan my head and everything. So, my wife is there with the two young children. I'm in emergency with a thing on my head. I have the screen facing me and the scan comes through of my head and there is a big black mass. It’s huge, oh boy, it is about 10 centimeters by seven centimeters.
This is where I suppose the organizational support from your organization is really, really important. The American hospital, uh, they were like: “fine. We know what we can do will drill a hole into your head.” My wife's organization, everything has to be cleared through them unless it's life or death. So at this point, my wife's on the phone to her employees, medical advisors.
So my wife's employer say: “he must come back to the UK, we'll have a look at it. The, the NHS doctors and the consultants, they will take a look at it and they will decide what to do.”
They got me back quite quick, got me an appointment, uh, to the hospital. My brain was scanned and everything. They measured it and did all the other things that you'd expect to do. They quickly came to the conclusion. I'd pretty much had that on my brain since I was a fetus. And the fact was that I'd been a soldier for getting on 24 years, if it hadn't affected me now, given the strenuousness of my job and the things that happened to me, then if it isn't broke, don't fix it, leave it be.
Was it a wakeup call?
Yeah. It was a wake up call. I suppose one of the things I ought to go back to is like, during that time, my mum passed away in 2012. That was quite a hard time. We had a young baby, uh, no the baby hadn't arrived yet. In fact, the eldest, she hadn't arrived this point. My father and my brother rung and they said: “we've got some bad news we need to tell him”, I wasn’t around at the time so they told my wife, and then when I came home from shopping, we had a friend staying as well. And then she had to break news to me that my mother had died. Yeah.
You can imagine it was distressing for me and for a heavily pregnant woman. She has this baby to deal with and the emotions she's already gone through, and I suppose then she must be looking at me and thinking: “I'm gonna be a mother to a child and here is a child who's just lost his mother.” Yeah. She tried, she comforted me as best as she could. And I was sent back for that. And then we both went back together for my mom's funeral. So we're having all of these experiences together that are gelling us more and more. We're going through this journey together and we are slowly understanding what it is to be parents.
And it's all part of the expat layers, it's losing family when you're in another country, it's having births in your family when you're living abroad, it's all these layers. And then the moving the decisions. And a new opportunity comes up. What do we do that takes us down one path and not the other? And so all of this is happening at the same time.
For instance, I couldn't attend my goddaughter's birth. Uh, her first child's birth and the first birthday parties, I couldn't attend all of the weddings because I got married later in life, my nephews and nieces are starting to get to the age where they're getting married now and having children. Right.
There has to be a reality check that you're still living. I get the fact, my family probably were like: ”Oh, well again, another wedding he is not attending”, but at the end of the day, that isn't my life. My life is abroad and doing things that my family want to do, I could spend the whole year not going on holiday, just going to people's weddings and birthdays and anniversaries, and God knows what, and then there'd be no holidays for us and you do need downtime.
So you need to, you make choices. Huh? That's a very interesting point. So then you are raising, you're both raising your daughters. You are taking care of the home.
Yeah. I'm the primary caregiver for them. And I have a learning difficulty. I'm not very good with math. I have dyscalculia. Right. And that weighs heavily on my mind, and I was adamant at this time that I was going to ensure that whatever my disabilities were, they were not going to impact on my children. So I read up on as much as I could about how young children learn and I basically taught my children as best I could. I use tools like the iPads and technology to help them with shapes, because the beginning of a child's life shapes their future. So if you can teach them the fundamentals from the beginning, uh, that is a great thing for them to have, because at the end of the day, this is what mommy would be teaching them. Isn't it? To be showing them shapes and colors and I have that mindset. It isn't instinctive for me, it wasn't instinct there to think: “Oh I need to do this. I need to do that. The things that a mother would probably,”
If you think about the little things, mom goes out shopping and she goes to children's toy shop or wherever, and she thinks, Hmm. For whatever instinct is in a woman, she'll think ‘Oh, I'll get this beautifully blue, little rough and colors and things’ But there is, there is a reason behind that. There is a female reason behind that, cuz it was always historically a woman's job to teach children about things like what it's good to eat, what isn't, what is the, and it was never a managed job to do that. Historically it was always the man’s job to be the provider. So to teach you about colors and things like this, it was always a mother's job to do that.
Maybe there is some conditioning when we grow up as girls, that we are taught certain things, a certain way of being. But I must say as a new mom, I was always worried because I thought I just don't have those instincts. I just don't. But I think they come with being with a child most of the time, therefore you start learning. But it's also interesting what you said about you went ahead and actually proactively figured out, okay, what do young children need to learn when they're young? And so I will teach them that. So just to hone in on the part where your wife is traveling more, because I think eventually she gets a job where she travels more often.
Right. So when she returns, so later on, after we'd done about almost three and a half years in DC, we returned to the UK. So we have the issues then of finding somewhere to live and all of these things, which is quite difficult. You've got the two young kids and I then got to manage the day to day things with the children and we moved cause we bought a house while we were in DC and then we'd come back, we'd let it. And the letting agent had basically not monitored the tenants and the tenants had trashed the house. So we informed the house that it’s pretty much trashed.
The one in the UK?
In the UK. So this house is a bit too small for us anyway and it's now trashed. So we had it repaired and whatever we sold it. And then we moved to a town closer to London and closer to my father and stepmom, and good train links. So we've done this. So the children are still not quite ready to start school yet, so I'm still being the primary caregiver dealing with the move and all these other things. My spouse is then starting a new job, which is about the audit office. Although she's the support staff she's then expected to, or encouraged to, go with the auditors to go visit places and go and see what the auditors do.
So she has a good perspective on what her work is. So she starts to do this. She'll go and spend maybe it's a few days in Europe, three, four days in Europe on, on an audit. And then she'll come back and she’ll be in the office for quite a while and stuff, and then she'll go… I mean, for instance, she went to Sri Lanka to do an audit for a week and to Brazil for 10 days, I think it was then I was looking after the children who are just about to start school. So the reality becomes that London's an expensive place, although I've got a pension, we need to earn more cause the rented property is expensive in London. So we look at the options that we have. We quite quickly come the solution that an au pair would be great to have. That’s not that expensive in the grand scheme of things, I cook and I do everything else, so there's always gonna be food there for them. So we have a discussion about having a young woman in the house.
And as I said to my wife, the reality is that I need to go and look a ta new career or doing something. And then that being the case, the kids are now starting to go to school for a little bit and then come home and these sorts of things. So an au pair would be good for that. And what does an au pair look like? And then we, and then we decided what language do we want them to speak? So we decided that Spanish au pairs would be great to have. So we went online, looked at au pair sites and stuff, and put a profile on there to say we're looking for au pair for periods of times. And we interviewed people together, girls, and we then chose who would be our au pair, but…
Did that work out? Did that work out well?
It didn't just, we didn't just choose them on who was the prettiest, ok?
For us it was important things like, do you have siblings?
Yeah. Are you used to being around children?
What are you in that mix? Are you the oldest child, you the youngest child are you the middle child?
Now, what experience do you have? And to be fair, we found the better ones. I mean, the other thing in Spain strange enough is that they have to have English language if they want to teach. Cause there was lots of qualified teachers who needed English language experience immersion before they could go back and apply for a job in Spain.
Cambridge exams. So we thought this is great. I was looking around anywhere for jobs. And we got some of these girls to come through and they're really good with the children as you'll expect. And we looked specifically for au pairs that were dealing with primary school age kids. So there was that connection of dealing with, and we’re still in contact with some of our au pairs.
Wow. So that allowed you to go and retrain?
So at this point, the government does a troops to teachers program, so they train us in becoming teachers. So I signed up for a program, started being in a school, more teaching kids, about one, two years older than my children, cause I've got lots of skills to bring to it. I understand, I'd spent a lot of time. I mean, I did find it difficult because as an adult, who'd recently had an official diagnosis of having suffered from dyscalculia and lots of other things, I could have lots of empathy with children that have numerousy problems and other problems. And I had understood them. I mean I put myself through a course as a mental health first aider, especially for children. And I had lots of engagement with children and I understood them and I find it very difficult working with young people. I mean, at this point, I'm in my late forties and I'm dealing with teachers that have gone from school to college, to university and back into school.
There's me approaching 50, I've traveled around the world. I've seen the reality of world, the violence of world and what the world is really like, and I've seen extreme poverty, I've seen blatant wealth and anywhere in between. And then to deal with people that are trying to tell me the way the world is, and I think...
Yeah, I trained straight out of university. It wasn't the best. I think it's better to have some, it's good to have some life experience behind you. I think for me that it would've helped.
I mean, the au pairs really helped with the traveling. That was great because I didn't have to worry that who was gonna be picking the kids up from school. Who's gonna be doing all these things with it. And the au pairs were great, especially the ones that were training to be teachers and wanted to learn English language, because it was a good practice for them. They would do the things that possibly, cause I'm studying at the same time, I'm doing degree in teaching and so they were able to do the things that I couldn't do. So they'd be there coloring with the children. They'd be making plasticine models, they'd take them for walks and do for photography and all these sorts of things. All the soft skills, I suppose, the baking, the stuff like that. I don't do baking by the way, I do cooking.
Yes. We've been warned!
When I was a serviceman, I was alone and I had a house andI used to work lot. I also work long hours, 18 hours a day in my last but one job. I quickly realized that I was gonna be eating awfully unless I did something about it. So I basically implemented the skills that my mom taught me. So I went out and I come from the North, we don't buy a hundred grams of mince in the North, you buy a kilo of mince and you make, you make lots of meals out that mince.
So you're batching?
So I make batches of stuff. That’s something that still serves me well today. So when I get in at nighttime, I'd have a meal. So I would do exactly the same thing with the au pairs. I would say to the au pairs, the meals would be prepared already, the bolognaise, all of the other meals that we do, sausages and mash, they'd all be pre-done I'd be there at the end to just finish it off and cook it. So we all have a meal. So that's how we cooked with the traveling in the UK. Then we had au pairs and then about a year and a bit into my teaching degree, I thought I loved working with children, but I didn't like working with adults who thought they understood the world around them rather than the little bubble they lived in. And so I decided, I can't do this, I need to do something that's more, that's, that's more fulfilling for me and isn't as…
Yeah. So culturally challenging for me. It was an environment I didn't really get on with. So anyway, so then I was then looking around what else to do. And then we had modern day apprenticeships and one of the utility companies was offering an apprenticeship in smart major engineering. And I went and did the test, passed that, got offered an apprenticeship. So now we're in the position where we have the au pairs, which is great. And we have the link to the au pairs, which we kept. And then when I started the apprenticeship, so I would do two weeks in London and I'd spend a week going away to Wickfield, to do the study training. And then Karen would be working flexibly at this point.
Cause I suppose we should mention having the ability to have flexible working is great. And I would say one thing about flexible working is it's not as easy as people think it is, that you just think you slack off at home, it’s not the case. The thing about flexible working is it's very dangerous because the computer is just there. If you work in an office, you leave home at 7:30 or whatever to get in the office for 8:30 to start your day, you're there, you'll then finish at five or whatever time. And then you switch your computer off and you go home. That's your working day done. You work from home when the kids are up and you're like, ‘Hmm, I'll get a headstart on the day.’ Seven o'clock I'll switch my computer on so seven o'clock you're at your desk.
Okay. Yes, yes.
Then what you're doing is you are there all day doing your work. The kids are at school and whatever, then you're working on a project and you think, oh, I'll just finish this, it’s getting to the latter part of the day, and you're like ‘Oh, well, I'm waiting for a response from such and such. I'll keep the computer on.’ But now at dinnertime, it's five, six o'clock. And wherever it is in the world, they're not necessarily spending on the timescale you've got there. So you might be switching off the computer late at night.
I mean, I remember some of the jobs my wife was doing where they needed a response by the next day, wherever it was in the world. And she'd be writing speeches and all sorts of stuff, and she'd still be there at midnight, writing this piece of work for whoever it was. So her work was there, 7:00 AM till 12:00 PM, sometimes later.
Yeah, yeah. Which means sometimes the partners can be traveling, but sometimes the partners work really long hours, which means that they're still not necessarily around.
Well throw into the mix, me being away for part of that. And then I have a parent back in the UK who has been very unwell, has had multiple strokes and then you're then supporting elderly parents as well.
How'd you cope with that?
Uh haha do you know what served me really well? When the eldest was very young and we would do staggering on and staggering off when my stepmom was unwell and she needed the company and whatever, my dad was away or doing whatever it was he was doing, then I'd go over for a day and spend a day with her and, and look after her and stay overnight. And then my wife would do the same thing. So we sort of…
So you were you staggering on, staggering off again, same thing?
But with older people, rather than with younger people. So you might be away for a week, and it wasn't very regularly, but we just did that. So that's how we got through it.
OK. So what would you tell a dad who was, maybe let's say a dad about to become a new dad and about to be the primary caregiver or a dad who say has older children and his wife is about to leave or about to start traveling a lot and is sort of freaking out.
So a new dad, the comfort I would give you, right, it's a very military approach to it. It doesn't matter about the plan. It's about the logistics. Okay?
It doesn't matter about the plan. It's about the logistics. I love it. I love it.
Do the things that you can do, make lists. You're gonna be tired if you’re a new dad, you're gonna jhave brain fog. Make lists, you got the technology. I mean, I’m somebody that suffered from a disability, I find it very difficult to retain things in my head. So I use technology, I'd make a shopping list. And the, the Americans, they're amazing people, but they they're odd in the same way. So for instance, I could go shopping to Sainsbury’s, that was the local supermarket. They had an app and I had a list on it. You put your shopping list on with everything you need. So you go round the house, toilet rolls, washing up liquid, da, da, da food, everything you put on the list, you go to the supermarket, it registers that you’re there, and it guides you around. And when you get your item, you scan it and it takes it off.
However, you, they don't have touch technology. You've gotta write a check.
Yes, I know. Yeah. I know. It's the same in every country! You have like ‘What?! This doesn't make sense! Because…’ anyway, that's another conversation about living abroad, Robert!
Well, logistics trump planning. Okay. Don't worry so much about the things that you planned to do that day, you get the logistics right, the basic necessities, the food, the nap, all the things that you need for a young child, if you're gonna be a new father. And then you have those things in stock if you have a bad day and you can't get out the house to go and do the shopping, at least you've already pre-planned for the week or two weeks, or however you wanna do it ahead. There's always food in. So you've gotta go and collect your partner from the airport, and you've got the kids in and you're like, oh, where am I gonna feed them when you get in, then it's there. You've taken out the freezer of the morning before, and you've got bolognaiser, you've got whatever. So you've got stews, you've got anything you can imagine. You've got meat, you've got meat frozen there. So you've taken out and you can have steaks or burgers or whatever you wanna cook it's there.
And what about navigating mom's groups? …Don't worry about it, just go?
No, you don't need to… at the end of the day, you know, my experience is people are people, whether they're women, I find here they tend to find a clique and they stick to it and I don't fit into any of those cliques. I don't do the ‘I'm a 30 something woman who's had a child and I still wanna keep my youth and go to nightclubs here in this country.’ I, yeah.
You don't have anything in common?
Yeah. I’m in my pajama sat with a cup of tea watching Reach is my latest thing on the TV. That's what I wanna be.
So you saying, make your own clique?
And we do that. I mean, here is an example, I have things that I do and I enjoy doing. There are gonna be women that enjoy doing those things. There's gonna be men, if they're single men that enjoy doing it and will want to do these things with you: going to the park, meeting mums to go to the park and get some fresh air, simple, you go and do that. That's nice, having human contact, that’s an important thing. If you live in a world of children, you risk going crazy because of, you know…
Loss of adults?
These little people they don't come pre-programmed like an iPhone that you just set it up and it’s good to go.
Yeah, no, no.
You program into this little person and they're gonna learn from you. And because you are having to be on a level, I'd learned this in the school and working with children with disabilities and stuff is you've got to be patient with them. And the children are very, very forgiving. I think they grasp life more than we understand. If I make a mistake, even though when my children are older, there's no criticism about me not doing something, like ‘Oh, why aren't all my t-shirt ironed’, as in for instance, because they’ll say ‘Oh yeah, I'll wear a top over this un-ironed t-shirt and then I can do the ironing today. Like I'm gonna be doing it cause they're down to the last three or four t-shirts. But it's about the logistics and your own mental health. That's a big thing is your own mental health. You've got to engage with adults, go meet people for coffee, go meet like-minded parents or you'll get invited to parents groups, play dates… Play dates are great. Especially if you can drop the kid off and go and do your own thing. if somebody's willing to… I suppose it's sort of like a reciprocal childcare agreement. They'll just say to you the parent ‘Go, go, go and do what you need to do.’
You can come home and go shopping. I don't go shopping with my kids cause I don't go shopping. I don't go, grocery shopping with the kids because it doesn't become grocery shopping. It becomes child shopping and we come back with child things. So we do things like that. I tend to make time to do stuff like when they're at school, when they're the childcarers, and it comes down to the logistics of doing stuff and the planning ahead and doing the best that you can.
If you’re an older parent, exactly the same thing, use the calendar, put your stuff in it, so what you have to do at certain times. And again, plan meals, I'm a father of girls probably knocking on the door of puberty, and that scares the hell out of me. But you know what, if we go out, I have a bag that has female products in it, it has sanitizer for everything. Cause I've got to be mom and dad at that point. Small things like they're approaching that edge, so little Snickers, little chocolates in my pocket. So when they have the sugar drop and they’re like ‘Ooh, I hate you.’ ‘You don't really. Have some chocolate?’
Yeah. Fantastic. But listen, Robert, we're running out of time. But thank you so much for sharing your story. Thank you for sharing your perspective. I really really appreciate it. And I'm gonna go through the interview again and pick out some of the resources that you've shared and some of the main points, so I can put them in the show notes. Thank you so much. Is there anything that you wanted to add? Anything that we didn't cover?
One thing I’d say is don't be afraid of, two things. One: your children, and two: of making friends with women, as well as men. At the end of the day, as the primary caregiver, you can create your own support bubble around you, which is what I've done here. And we help each other. People quite often have played dates and they see I'm getting stressed cause I'm here alone cause my wife's away. And they will say ‘Oh, do they wanna come over and of a sleepover?’ cause they can see I'm tired, I'm fatigued, and I could probably just do with a night off. And it’s great, you make friends from all different nationalities cause regardless of what you believe or what your nationality is, you all have, as Kennedy said, ‘You all have one thing in common in this planet. We all have children.’ We love them dearly, but we need a break once in a while!
Yes, absolutely! Well, thank you so much, Robert.
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.