Musings on Being a Trailing Spouse

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it is for me to be an EFM (Eligible Family Member, for all you unfamiliar with State Department-ese).  Really, though, what I’ve been feeling most like for the past 1 ½ years, since Albert entered the Foreign Service, is a trailing spouse.  Simply put by Wikipedia, it is “a person who follows his or her life partner to another city because of a work assignment,” “often an expatriate assignment.”  For me, the emphasis has been on a feeling of trailing

It’s funny because before entering the Foreign Service I was also a trailing spouse but never really felt like one… I followed Albert out to California when he entered the military where he was assigned to the Defense Language Institute, then I made the scary move to El Paso, Texas, when he was permanently assigned to Fort Bliss, and finally I had to wait for him in El Paso while he was sent on multiple, extended deployments.  I think I didn’t feel the full effect of becoming a military trailing spouse because I was able to find fulfilling jobs at each move. 

Becoming a Foreign-Service trailing spouse, though, was accompanied by another BIG change:  becoming a stay-at-home mom, a first-time mom of a premature baby at that.  As a result, for the past year or so I have spent a LOT of time at home with my daughter with little time or ability to get out to volunteer or work part-time, let alone have a coffee with some friends.  So, I went from being an equal (if not greater) wage-earner in my household to being a dependent caring for an even greater dependent.  A tough feeling for someone who felt some pride in her independence and educational and professional accomplishments.

With our daughter reaching the year mark a couple months ago, though, I finally felt that I could consider a re-entry into the professional world.  So, after meaning to for more than a year, I finally contacted a group that supports various non-profits to volunteer my time.  And, personal drum roll, I put in an application for a part-time job at the embassy.  Whatever happens with the job, it was a good experience just to work on my resume again.  Editing my resume forced me to really look at what I’ve accomplished.  It reminded me that I DO have something to offer someone, somewhere! 

Also recently, I happened to pick up the April 2010 American Foreign Service Journal which focuses on Haiti.  I read the “Tales from the Field” article from start to end.  The article simply printed letters that AFSA members submitted about their experience with the Haiti earthquake and relief efforts.  While each letter was interesting and powerful, what I found most striking was the role that EFMs played.  They played real, substantive roles in relief efforts both on the ground and from afar.  It was inspiring to me.  It made me think that maybe I could be that involved in the future. And, it also reminded me that the EFMs who were called upon to help in critical ways had to have done work in smaller or more local events in the past in order to gain the experience they needed to help in such a big event.  Realizing that, it made me feel glad that I’ve made those small, but significant, steps to start volunteering again and to put my resume out there.  It makes me feel more like a collaborating, contributing spouse rather than a trailing one.


~ by Chela on May 6, 2010.

9 Responses to “Musings on Being a Trailing Spouse”

  1. Such a well written posting. I loved reading it, but I have to say, don’t discount being a mother! I understand your need to get out there and contribute outside the home BUT I know you and I know you are already a collaborating, contributing spouse AND mother. Rock on!

  2. Good point, Terra. I just have to keep reminding myself of that. After having such a different definition of self for 30 years, it’s been an adjustment to add mother to my definition of self and to see how that fits with my other selves.

  3. I just had this link retweeted to me and I wanted to say what a great piece. I too am a trailing spouse – trying to make a little difference and not just trail! I too am a mother and with my two little girls now 7 and 4 reflect back on the great opportunity my trailing spouse status gave to me to be at home and spend so much time with them. You’ve given your little girl a great start – and I wish you all the best for your new roles outside of the home!

  4. Love this post!

    Blessings on your and your little one and thank you for the fresh perspective on being an EFM.

  5. Chela — without EFMs like you, the Foreign Service wouldn’t function. EFMs make a huge difference in a place like Pakistan, professionally and personally. I have four EFM positions in my department, two of which are filed. I couldn’t function without them. I am very lucky that wife choices brought two EFM husbands to Islamabad; they are the backbone of my operation. EFMs must have a job or they can’t come to Islamabad, and those who do come, make significant contributions to the Embassy.

  6. It’s Friday, and it’s the Weekly State Department Blog Roundup’s Three Month Blogiversary – and you’re on it!

    Here is the link:

    (If I quoted your text or used your photo(s) and you would rather I had not, please let me know. Please also be sure to check the link(s) that I put up to you, in order to verify that they work properly. If you would rather that I had not referenced you, and/or do not want me to reference you in the future, please also contact me.)


  7. Congrulations and good luck with the embassy job.

    Most of my friends and family think I’m lucky because I will get to travel the world as an unemployed “trailing” spouse (yucky term!). They have a hard time grasping the concept that it is very trying on people like us to lose that feeling of meaningful contribution because we had to sacrifice our jobs.

  8. I”m going on 7 years as a trailing spouse – and in all honesty, that phrase has bugged me the entire time.

    Like you, I went from being a well paid working woman, to a SAHM who lives overseas… and hasn’t been “paid” for my work ever since.

    Frankly, I work just as hard as my spouse – maybe harder… and my job doesn’t end at the end of the day. 🙂

    Best of luck on your new job – the next phase in your FS lifestyle.

  9. Good luck with the new position! I worked in two different positions when we lived in Caracas, and really enjoyed both…and good luck with the move!

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