Life as a Trailing Spouse by Andrea Barton


This is a part of the Other Folk project. 

Twelve years ago, I thought I had it all: a loving husband, two young boys, a blossoming career and a beautiful home. I held my head high.

Then my husband, Andrew, who works in the oil and gas industry, was offered a job in Nigeria. We stood on a precipice. A friend said, “You can’t seriously be thinking about taking your boys to Nigeria! Have you lost your mind? Have you read the news?”

I was not a bungee jumping, skydiving kind of girl. Andrew and I were both engineers and made sensible, calculated decisions. Yet despite the high stakes, we took the leap and moved to Lagos.

The process of moving countries comprised a series of logistical hurdles. Leaving home was an emotional wrench. Everything familiar was left behind. For the first time since leaving school, I was jobless. Friends asked, “What do you do all day?” I felt that I had to justify my existence. I worried that I was betraying feminist ideals by following my husband’s career around the globe. I had to create a new sense of identity.

The next four and a half years were a kaleidoscope of new experiences. The expat community was vibrant and active. The local community was friendly and welcoming. Our children attended an American school with students from over 50 different nationalities. We had a steward, aptly named Happiness, and a driver called Joseph. We helped build a school in a remote fishing village, learnt to dance, organized fundraisers, bolstered the coffers of wine import companies and enjoyed glorious European vacations. I used my new lifestyle as an opportunity to follow my dream of becoming a writer. I thought I had it all, but I still called Australia home.

Our next move was to Houston. Leaving Lagos was even harder than leaving Melbourne because we knew we would probably never see our Nigerian friends again. I left Happiness behind.

The next five years offered a whole new set of circumstances. We were looking forward to living in a country with reliable power, but we arrived the week of hurricane Ike, and power was down. After this hiccup, things looked up. We lived in a regular house surrounded by lovely people with very busy lives. Our children felt comfortable in their small private school with other expats. I continued writing. We had wonderful visits to New York, Washington D.C., drove Route 66, visited the southern most point of the U.S.A. in Florida. I thought that I had it all, although I missed my Nigerian friends and I still called Australia home.

We were back on the merry-go-round, this time to Qatar. We adapted again.

Sometimes this expat life makes me dizzy. There are times when I wish we could just pack our bags and go home. There are times when I crave more stability. But we do things differently. We have lived on four different continents and visited every one except Antarctica (it’s on the bucket list). We have laughed and cried more than we ever would have believed possible.

Today, I realize that nobody has it all; you can’t be in two places at once. There’s beauty in travel, there’s joy in staying put. There is pain in saying goodbye. This is the life we have chosen, and I hold my head high.

Andrea Barton is an Australian expat writer. As Jo Demmer, she has written one children’s book, two anthologies and several dance dramas and school productions.


Facebook: Jo Demmer

Twitter: @JoDemmer


Read the last week’s Other Folk post: Gemma Watson Would Not Like A Drink, Thanks. Please Stop Asking.

Photo Credit: Irene Cavaliere


4 thoughts on “Life as a Trailing Spouse by Andrea Barton

    • Jo says:

      Hi Bronwyn,
      I have created a new career as a writer, which keeps my mind active and gives me as sense of achievement. I do miss the camaraderie of an office environment, although I am glad to avoid office politics. I did enjoy having a structured day, but now I have complete flexibility to plan my own time.
      I think the critical thing for any trailing spouse (any person for that matter) is to create a “career” for themselves. That could take the form of being a full-time mother, serving on the PTA, becoming a professional photographer, traveling prolifically or any other outlet that gives a sense of purpose and accomplishment.
      I feel that I have managed that in my life.
      Thanks for the question,
      Andrea (Jo)


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