11.13.2011

If It Takes A Village To Raise A Child ...

... where did my Village go?

My girlfriend put things into perspective for me a few weeks ago when I was having a meltdown of epic proportions. I was complaining that while life was finally on an upswing and most things were moving into place ... there was still something I couldn't put my finger on that had me REALLY depressed.

She called it Reverse Culture Shock.

Reverse Culture Shock is defined as "returning to one's home culture after growing accustomed to a new one can produce the same effects as Culture Shock. This results from the psychosomatic and psychological consequences of the readjustment process to the primary culture, and is surprisingly more difficult to deal with than the original culture shock."

I spent an inordinate amount of time questioning how I could be dealing with this considering ... a.) I've been back in the States now for over a year now, and b.) I've spent more time living in the States than abroad. But as I slowly move out of my funk, I'm beginning to understand just how much this has affected me... and our family.

Last year with Matt in Iraq, I was purely in survival mode in our tiny California rental house. We had very few of our own belongings with us. I knew our situation was temporary. And in retrospect, that's exactly how I acted. That's how the girls acted. We talked more about our future in Virginia rather than enjoy the time we spent in California

Now that we're here in Virginia, living in our new house with all of our own things, our focus is on establishing roots. Making life-long friends. Building a community. Though, we're finding that settling in and starting anew isn't as easy as it used to be. Yes we are together again as a family. And yes, we are completely unpacked, with most of the construction issues behind us. Yet I still am in search that one elusive piece of the puzzle I'm certain will hold the key to my happiness.

The reality of my reverse culture shock, is that I am seeking something that just doesn't exist. That a large piece of what I've come to expect and appreciate with each overseas move, is missing here. Moving back to the States now means ... that we don't live on a compound or have an Embassy / Consulate looking out for us. We don't have the immediate built-in friendships of those who are in the same situation as us... friendships based on same experiences that start strong and last a lifetime. We don't have the built-in work / family social structure that has been our saving grace, even when we may not always have appreciated it at the time. And the parent's don't all go to the same work place and do the same kind of job ...

Now that I recognize I'm comparing what our past was like to what our future holds, I need to let it go. It. Is. Just. Hard. Moreover, it's lonely. It took me seven years in three different countries to be comfortable enough to accept the chaos ... the fishbowl ... the diplomatic lifestyle. My neighbors here don't understand Matt's crazy work hours. The new friends I have don't care. The stories we all shared at dinner parties and at official events now seem far fetched when I tell them. I mean ... how many of Riley's friends really care that for her 7th birthday we took her to Singapore? How many of Sheridan's friends actually believe that she's American, despite her being born in Oman? How do I delicately address Grady's affinity for darker skinned people?

These past few months have not been the easiest of transitions. From an interim boss for Matt ... to the girls being introduced to cliques for the first time ... to repeatedly putting myself out there and going outside of my comfort zone to meet new ladies and build new relationships... (because unlike kids, thirty to forty year old women don't just knock on each other's doors and ask to become friends ... though that would make it SO much easier).

But every day is a new day and we are finally moving in the right direction. We're making plans. We're making friends. We're addressing this as a family. And just as the seasons begin to change, so too do our attitudes, as we slowly begin building our own little village.

Or at the very least for now, a small tribe.

18 comments:

C.C. said...

Oh, Jill, I know exactly how you're feeling. We are stateside after being overseas and it is a lonely road. I think friendship building is a slow process in the States without the shared experiences that bind us together when we're in an Embassy community. But friendships will blossom and you'll feel rooted before too long. Still no GSO to hang our pictures, though ; ) Big hugs to you and your family! C.C.

wellthatwasdifferent said...

Very well said. What I found in 7 years in DC is that I ultimately ended up hanging out with FS friends, for the most part. At least those felt like my closest friends, for exactly the reasons your mention--they are the only ones who truly get it. (Especially when my husband was gone for a year to a place most people have never heard of!) It took me a while to accept that was just the way it was going to be. I didn't like to think that I had become such as weird person because of the FS that I couldn't fit back into my own culture. But I'm OK with it now.

Elaine said...

Not having the FS background, I can only speak to a little of this, but when we relocated from NE Ohio to the Mid-South after our children were out of HS and in college, it was much harder for me to make connections. No school to volunteer in, no PTA to join, no fund-raisers to help with. Those had been my doorways with all our other moves. When I found a job, most of the other teachers were young things just starting their families--a whole different life-stage--and since I was commuting 35 miles, we weren't neighbors. And-wow- don't be fooled because the USA is one country; there are huge cultural differences between regions. Now I'm retired, and the quilting community is where I've made my friends.

Hope things ease up soon!

Loukia said...

You have all been through so much, Jill. It is normal to be feeling all these things, despite the fact that you've been back to the US for as long as you have. Your journey hadn't been easy but you've dealt with each stage so well. I know you'll be just fine. You're strong. And wise, and a great mom. I do agree that making new friends in one's community can be very hard. And sometimes, it can be isolating.

Robin said...

Be gentle with yourself, you've been through so much, done so much, it can't not cause some pretty serious disorientation.

Slowly slowly, as they say in my part of the world. It WILL come together and the roots you seek and need will grow larger and stronger with each passing season.

xox

Donna said...

Moving "home" is so much harder than moving overseas. I had a tough time adjusting when we moved to Virginia. You'll get there eventually - but it does take awhile.

And in other news: my husband met your husband in real life. Before I met you! How wrong is that???

Camille said...

Somebody from my husbands A-100 class totally showed up at my door one day and said "Let's be friends!"

It was really weird and we aren't all that close now.

Hang in there! You've been through quite a lot in the last couple of years, I'm sure it'll take some time to adjust :) In the meantime, go get a massage, and a pedicure!

Issas Crazy World said...

I think building a community takes time. I'm still finding mine and I moved four years ago. I think it's easier to find community in the places you've lived, because everyone you meet is in the same place you are.

Take your time and meet the right people friend. It will happen. I know it.

Kat said...

It is a big change, and changes are always hard. It will take time, but you will get there. Be easy on yourself. Give yourself the time you need to adjust. And hang in there!

Kate Coveny Hood said...

This was so interesting to read after talking with you about it today.

And I hope you know that I'm totally part of your village.

Emily said...

I am so sorry that you are having a hard time. Somedays it makes me feel so frustrated that no matter what we do, there are hard transitions. It makes me want to live in one place for the rest of my life.
I hope you are able to get out of the funk...lots of love sent your way.

Nomads By Nature said...

Reverse Culture Shock really sucks. But it isn't permanent and you will come out of it stronger, wiser, and with your rocking sense of humor in tact. Hang in there as you find your new balance!

thesockmonkeymom.com said...

I read a book last year called Third Culture Kids and they talk a lot about this, the reeling feeling of not feeling like you necessarily belong someplace and everything feeling foreign. We were only gone for four years but I remember very vividly standing in the cereal aisle in a US grocery store and crying. The choices were so overwhelming. I'd gone from ten choices of cereal in Germany to 100 in the US. It was a metaphor for all the change and feeling like I had no idea where I was supposed to be.

Now that you've settled and things are relatively normal, it's hitting you just how different everything is. It'll get better and people might not understand what you went through or really get the kind of life you've been used to living until now, but you'll find the group of people that at least listens and appreciates what a great experience you can share.

Some days (okay a lot of days) I find myself really wishing we were going back abroad. I miss the excitement of a different country for a weekend adventure, all the different people we met from all over the world. Those experiences are things a lot of people never get. And I've finally come to cherish them.

Mom24 said...

Great post. I have always admired your strength and I think it would be impossible to get through everything that's happened without some difficulties. I hope things are easier and keep getting easier.

Steph said...

It's fascinating to me that you wrote this because about 2-3 weeks ago I was literally thinking to myself "Jill seems so unhappy now that she's back. She seemed much happier when she wasn't "home".
Although I've never even traveled out of the country (let alone lived out of the country) we've been fairly gypsy-like. We've moved 14 times in 16 years of marriage. So with this comes a laziness about getting to know your neighbors. We don't bother. If it happens on it's own, okay...but not pursuing anyone. Keeping to ourselves, until we finally decide to buy a house and retire and STAY there. That won't be for quite a long time as we plan on living on a boat first, and that part doesn't happen until after the kid is in college. So I have a good twenty years before I will be in your shoes. And I'm not sure I'll handle it very well either. I might have to come live next door to you to make it easier. <3

Betsy said...

I so get it. As a military wife who spent a great deal of time overseas, I miss those built-in friendships with others who are also far away from home.

Our last two stations we lived off base. It was so hard for me to meet new people. Most of the families in our neighborhood were DINCs. Right now we are in a peachy situation living on a beautiful base, in a beautiful house, with absolutely lovely neighbors.

My DH is considering retiring, and I dread not only another move (I have had 10 in 17 years), but trying to find my place yet again. I hate feeling like I am floundering. The plus is that hopefully this next move will be our last for a very long time.

This time next year you will be totally settled and loving your life.

Delhibound said...

This is exactly what I'm nervous about - whenever that move "back home" happens ...

Here for you anytime you need to vent. Making a small little village is DEF healthier than a huge massive mega city!

anymommy said...

I would be ecstatic if you knocked on my door and asked to be friends. ;-) It is SO hard. Even just moving a lot in the beginning of our marriage and living overseas, we had a hard adjustment back to Spokane. I still remember the day something happened with one of the kids and I had so many people to call who would help me and I cried because it took three years to really get there. xoxo.

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