This Fil-Am mom shares a behind the scenes exclusive of her life as a diplomat’s wife, living in Cambodia and geographically single parenting
“I don’t know how you do it” — a statement uttered almost all the time after I finish telling someone that I have followed my husband for over 10 years as a Foreign Service spouse. On top of that, I juggle a full time job, manage a household, and have also become an in-home provisional teacher.
I am also a temporary single parent to three children while my husband is away on a special assignment, as we are currently living through a pandemic in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Yup, there are days I wonder the same thing myself.
The Diplomatic Life
My husband and I are both Filipino-Americans, but we consider the U.S. to be “home.” He is a Foreign Service Specialist with the U.S. Department of State. Assignments range between two to three years and our life consists of packing up kids and home while moving between domestic and international borders.
I like to tell people we live the more professional nomad lifestyle — all in the name of safety and security for U.S. Diplomacy. As a trailing spouse (a term that I am not fond of, but can often times be true), not every location can provide the same career or employment opportunities for people like me.
With a background in law and terrorism studies, I have held different jobs outside of my career focus whenever we moved. The positions I’ve held are both challenging and unique with the downside that there is no fluidity in my employment history. Currently, I am part of an office that investigates consular related fraud and thus far, is my favorite position as a foreign service spouse.
Home Away From Home
Cambodia is a hidden gem and a blessing to our family. Cambodians are genuinely the friendliest people in Southeast Asia and I am honored to be part of such a wonderful community here in Phnom Penh.
Although it is considered a hardship post within the Foreign Service and without the luxuries of a Costco, Target, or Amazon Prime’s two-day shipping, daily living here has been pretty easy especially when the rest of the world has been struggling to control the spread of the pandemic.
With Cambodia’s relatively low numbers in positive cases and no deaths, life pretty much has moved on normally, but for the added necessity to wear a face mask.
We continue to receive orders placed via delivery apps, open markets are still full of vendors, and the two malls in the city remain open. We can also still eat at restaurants in a socially distanced manner, and never experienced having to wrestle with other people to buy toilet paper in the grocery store for fear of them going out of stock.
The Kids Are Alright
Aside from my full time job, I manage the household from top to bottom, from food to financials and from plants to children. We have three kids and they are all in different age groups attending kindergarten, elementary, and college.
Although Cambodia has not gone into lockdown or have had any tight quarantine policies for the country, they are quite strict with the schools. So my kids have switched back and forth between in-school attendance and virtual learning, with all of us feeling strapped to a roller coaster of academic survival this past year.
I can’t speak for everyone else who is in the same boat as I am, but this year has hit their education quite hard. I am quite open that although I love learning, I discovered that I was not born to be a teacher and that my two younger children who thrive in a social environment are being impacted in a less positive way. I am still grateful however that even despite these setbacks, the kids are healthy and continue to thrive.
Geographically Single Parenting
When my husband told me he would be leaving me with our kids for one whole year to work in country where he is not allowed to bring family, I wasn’t devastated and not at all worried because we are quite comfortable living here.
Of course, it’s not a walk in the park when it comes to being a geographically single parent. There are definitely a handful of instances where I wish I had my husband beside me so I can tap out while he can tap in to take over during difficult parenting, household issues, and virtual learning moments.
So how do I do it? How do I work full time, manage a household, stay active in the community, and assist with virtual learning to my two younger kids while living in a foreign country and being left to single parent? My overall answer is usually the same where there’s no set of rules to follow, no helpful book to read and no list I go by in my current situation as a mom.
Instead, as a family unit it’s my main priority that we continue on with our daily routines as best as we can because this is part of living the foreign service life. Those who know this lifestyle have understood that learning to adapt to new environments and new situations becomes second nature.
Many of us have transformed to become more resilient human beings in 2020 by way of our own experiences. Hence I admit to every listener, while the parental load has doubled and the weight has become heavier since my husband has left, the simple truth is that the foreign service life has prepared me for this as a mother mentally and emotionally.
Also, I’ve relied a little bit more on Netflix, social media, alcohol, delivery of sweet treats and Tiktok to comfort me during this year and my own single parenting adventure while living in Cambodia.
This is how I do it.
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