Saturday, December 29, 2012

Single Parents in the Foreign Service

I have been wanting to write this for a long time, but never got around to it. Now that the holidays have descended upon us, it somehow seemed a particularly appropriate time to write about it. I often get asked by FS applicants whether there are any single parents in it or whether it is a suitable job for such parents. The simple answer is – yes, there are plenty. Is it a suitable job for a single parent? Well, how many suitable jobs for such parents are there exactly in the world? This actually might be an easier one than you have imagined.

The Service is home to many single parents. In my own A-100 class I had a single mom of a 10–year old boy. She got posted to one of the toughest posts on the Mexico border. Here, in Dhaka, there are at least three that I am aware of, some of them with more than one kid, under the age of 5. Some enter the Service as single, some become single while serving. The reality is that the Foreign Service life can prove to be too much for some families and we have our share of divorces. Then again, the same happens to perfectly stable communities, with perfectly normal jobs, in say, Wisconsin. The one tiny difference is that while most divorced Wisconsin couples will probably stay within a few miles of each other with the distinct possibility of some form of co-parenting, the folks who get divorced in the Foreign Service are facing a global geographical divide as your beloved former spouse packs him or herself and moves back home while you jet off to another part of the world every couple years or so. For those who are already single, for whatever purpose, leaving the past behind and working your dream job abroad is just the balm needed.

I am in awe of single parents. I think there should be a special place in heaven for them. Or they should always be allowed to fly business class. Or be given free drinks upon sight. Or chocolate. Or cupcake samples. Or have famous songs written about them. My mom was a single mom. She is an awesome mom and she did a spectacular job of raising me. So I know how difficult it really is. Single parents have to make decisions on their own. All the time. About everything – whether giving frankfurters and mac and cheese from a box can pass for a nutritious meal, whether a nosebleed in the middle of the night merits going to the hospital, whether not putting your kid in the Spanish immersion program will put him behind all those little brainy brats from his kindergarten, whether to co-sleep with your kid, whether your 5-year old daughter’s strong desire to wear shoes to bed every night is a problem, what is a good curfew for your teenager, should you allow your little girl to date at 16, what is a good bedtime, are 5 cookies before dinner too much, whether to circumcise, to have long or short hair, to give TV every day after dinner, to allow a sleepover, to choose a college, to do just about anything. It is so difficult and lonely to make these choices on your own. I know, because I am constantly asking the Diplomat about his opinion before making most decisions regarding Son – and while I mostly ignore his opinion much to his chagrin, it is so damn comforting to hear him yey or ney or even venture a more evolved opinion when needed. Yes, I have a lot of respect for single parents.

But oddly enough, I think the Foreign Service just might be the place for them. The fabulous job aside, it can take one to a country where help is readily available and inexpensive. In many South Asian, African and even South American countries, live-in nannies, housekeepers and drivers are the norm. With free housing, free schooling (K through 12) and unbelievable embassy support network by your fellow colleagues, such help becomes quite affordable. You can even bring your trusted nanny with you to the United States when you are back there temporarily. For many FS families, their foreign nannies become a beloved part of the family. The Service will also allow your parents to come and live with you so that they can provide you with the moral and physical support you might need. The Foreign Service is a community in the best sense of the word and if you need anything ranging from advice, emergency stroller, a few hours of babysitting, home cooked lasagna when coming back from the hospital with your little one to dog walking when you need to be away– the community will be there to support you just for the asking. While you might have family and relatives in the U.S., at post you will have a good network of colleagues and their spouses, most of whom will live either in your own building or a few blocks away at best. So, help will always be a few steps away while in the U.S. you might have your sisters, but one of them lives in Wyoming, and the other one in Florida.

So, be brave! Join the Foreign Service even if you are a single parent and you are scared of making all decisions on your own thousands of miles away from your comfortable U.S. home. You will be surprised at how manageable it can be.

I remain in awe of you, single parents. I think you are amazing. Rock on!
 
PS - I encourage comments and recommendations from FS single parents, so that I can make this post even more useful.

19 comments:

  1. HI there! Great post, as usual. I'm a lawyer, engaged to an FS Register-dweller, so I really appreciate your insight!

    This is more of an administrative comment, and I apologize for posting here, but I didn't see a direct-contact option. I follow your blog (and many other FS/DOS blogs) through Google Reader. Your blog requires that I click through to the actual blog site to read the entire post. I don't really have a problem with that - I can handle the clicking. But, the page and text colors make reading really difficult! The contrast of the dark blue background and the white/yellow text is murder on my eyes; when I look away from the screen after reading, I see stripes. Am I the only one? I'm not yet 30, so I can't blame my failing eyesight yet. Sorry for the rant. I really do like your content, I just wish it weren't so hard to read.
    Thank you for your wonderful insight on FS life. Have a wonderful holiday season!

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  2. Hi Anonymous,
    It might be your computer. I'm reading this blog the same way (via Google Reader) on an iPad and it's perfectly legible.

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  3. Score one for the iPad!

    Maybe the iPad reader app is different - I'm on a regular old laptop and I can only see the first paragraph or so of each post within Reader; I have to click through to the blog page to read the entire post.
    This "click-through" setting is site-specific; some blogs/sites require people who read/follow via RSS feed (like Reader) to click through to the actual website to read all the content. This (a) limits content theft and (b) generates more page traffic.

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  4. OK, I threw in the towel on the font thing. I have been asked thru time by several people to change it, and I do admit - the bright white was a bit grating even on my eyes. Let's see how this goes. Thanks for the constructive feedback!

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  5. Thank you. I know it's not your decisions that make the facts of what you wrote true, but thank you for writing about it. You've given me hope that my dreams are not over at 23.

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  6. Anonymous, NO ONE's dreams are over at 23. Even those who jail for murder. At least that's what I'd like to think.

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  7. Thank you for writing this! I am a single mom of a five year old girl. We are just about to transition from our first post in Colombo to fantastic Brussels. I have to agree - the FS is a great place for single parents. There are opportunities here I couldn't imagine having access to in the States. Thanks!

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  8. Kelly, I am so happy to hear this. Rock on in Belgium! I still dream of the beer and the mussels...

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  9. I am a single parent of a wonderful 6 year old who told me she would travel the world with me! reading this gives me more fuel to pass that test!

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  10. Mariel, this is wonderful! Also, to answer you other questions. Kids seem to be doing fine int he service. I know a couple of "FS brats" some of whom are my colleagues and they are wonderful, well-rounded individuals. Switching schools becomes your routine and becomes an issue for some, I think, only in HS when many choose to go back to DC for that HS experience. And yes, parents are allowed as Members of HOusehold (MOH). Quite a few singles bring their parents with them. Good luck!!!

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  11. Thank you so much for posting. It's renewed my hope and I am considering applying. However, my worry stems from the fact that I have a 5 year old boy and his dad is not involved. It says some post assignments that are too dangerous will not allow family members to go and I just sit here and wonder if that happens, who will my son stay with? Does anyone know if this even happens?

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  12. Dear Anonymous, then you simply do not bid on those posts. State Department understands :).

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    Replies
    1. Are there any required unaccompanied tours? If so, how does it work for single parents, might you know?

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  13. You're giving me so much hope thank you.

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  14. Wow! I'm so happy I read this! I'm a Bechtel Baby and grew up all over the world until 15 years old when I came back to the states to attend boarding school. I have been thinking of applying for an FSO position but have held back as I'm a single mom. I so want my son to experience the world, cultures, and its treasures but I've been worried that as a single parent it would be harder for him than stateside. My mom always said it was easier to raise my sister and I when overseas due to the expat network and their support of one another, I just worried that a single parent would be put on an island... Not fitting in and with no support. I'm 39 and my son will be 3 this summer. Now that I have read this AND found similar feedback/information I feel my decision is the right one. If there are any resources or suggestions as I get started please let me know! Thank you so much!!!! Texas mamma!

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  15. I'm with you Bechtel Baby (above). The main thing keeping me from even starting the process is my one year old son. I would be interested in any resources or suggestions!

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