lifestyle

The invisible expats: Support for trailing spouses and children

40 Comments
By Roberto De Vido for BCCJ ACUMEN

The most common reason expatriate postings are unsuccessful is an unhappy spouse. Next on the list are the children, who have difficulty adjusting to their new environment.

A trailing spouse may have made career sacrifices to enable the move, and may not be able to find work in the new country of residence. Not only can it be frustrating to have put one’s career on hold, but no longer being able to contribute to the household income can also sap confidence.

In almost every case, the expatriate is the focus of his or her organisation and abundant resources are expended to ensure that he or she has a soft landing. This is to ensure productivity can be achieved as quickly as possible. Spouses and children get far less help adjusting to their new environment.

Understandably, organisations offer practical support to staff and their families who are relocating. They may provide property services in both the country of departure and the country of arrival, language classes, as well as visa and tax consultancy.

Yet, fewer provide professional support to trailing spouses. Ideally, spouses should be offered career counselling prior to the move and support with a job search—including the obtaining of a work permit—once they arrive.

Social support is offered by even fewer organisations. Fortunate expatriate families find themselves welcomed into their expatriate and local colleagues’ social circles. However this does not always occur, and it is unfair to expect that it will happen organically.

Organisations that really want to make overseas postings succeed make efforts to arrange social activities for new arrivals, including their families, and provide information about networking groups for expatriates and spouses.

It is easy to make a list of what organisations should do to help expatriates and their families adjust, but regrettably, many organisations don’t do all of those things. Frequently, an overseas assignment is looked at in economic terms. If the expatriate is being well compensated financially, the organisation may think it has done enough. After all, money makes the world go round, and it is only a couple of years they will be spending in their new location, right?

The expatriate certainly can survive a couple of highly compensated years of long working hours and frequent international travel, but the trailing spouse and children don’t have the distraction and stimulation of assignments, travel experiences and new colleagues with whom to interact.

Instead, they may experience long periods of separation from the working family member. This may be exacerbated by having few friends and adapting to household management and schooling in a country in which communication in the local language is difficult and cultural mores are unfamiliar.

As a result, trailing spouses can find themselves struggling psychologically. Depression is a common problem for people battling cultural adjustment issues, and the difficulty of adapting to life in a new country can put relationships under stress, compounding any stresses that existed within the family prior to the move.

In addition, children with development, behaviour or learning issues—and their parents, especially the trailing spouse, who may provide much of the day-to-day care—may need extra support, which might be difficult to find in English.

There are many ways of coping with the stress of an overseas move, starting with basic self-care measures such as maintaining exercise routines and healthy eating habits.

Learning the local language is a big step, as is finding friends who share interests. Sport, for example, is a shared language understood around the world; I have run in 50 countries, and made running friends in many of them, even with little shared vocabulary.

Finally, if professional support or counselling is needed, don’t hesitate to seek it out. TELL was founded as an English-language lifeline for Japan’s international residents, many of whom found it difficult to access mental health services in Japanese.

Some 42 years later, the lifeline has served many tens of thousands, and has expanded to offer a wide range of clinical counselling services. Call any time at 03-5774-0992.

Custom Media publishes BCCJ ACUMEN for the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan.

© Japan Today

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.

40 Comments
Login to comment

There is definitely some truth to this but the flip side is that people like myself who were hired locally could only dream of some of the perks my expat hire colleagues got.

One of my colleagues was living in a 1 million yen a month apartment paid for by the company with 4 kids in an international school paid for by the company as well. Cost of living allowance was there as well.

Me on the other hand, I just cleared 7 million yen the 2 years I worked for this company with no other real benefits.

I don't feel sorry for these pampered expats I'm afraid.

9 ( +14 / -5 )

I am thankful that my tool and die experience I gained while in college came in useful as I was able to start my own tool and die business here in Miyazaki. Otherwise I really don't know what use my MBA would be here as Japanese companies tend to hire Japanese above others with the same education and experience, even when the expat is fluent in Japanese.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

The most common reason expatriate postings are unsuccessful is an unhappy spouse. Next on the list are the children, who have difficulty adjusting to their new environment.

I was fortunate in this regard. When I came to Japan I was a single father, so the "trailing spouse" issue did not present itself, and my two kids did remarkably well -- one at an international high school, and the other at Temple University there in Tokyo. And they actually looked forward to my travel as it gave them a chance to spread their wings a little.

One of my colleagues was living in a 1 million yen a month apartment paid for by the company with 4 kids in an international school paid for by the company as well. Cost of living allowance was there as well.

Akula, I understand your frustration, but you need to recognize that Japan is a tough sell to expats right now given the poor economic outlook, sky-high cost-of-living, and general lack of a welcoming society. So companies have to make life there as comfortable as possible for them, even if that means they sort of live in a "bubble" for their time their. (My rent was 750,000 yen a month, plus tuition for my son, and membership to the American Club. At that was over ten years ago.)

-4 ( +6 / -10 )

The American government does an excellent job of supporting the spouse and children, as well as singles new to the country. Perhaps some of the big companies that often hire would do well for themselves to study the US policy on overseas assignments.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Jerseyboy; I disagree with your commit on living costs and the welcoming society. All my work is freelance. I work for myself and never work for a company here in Japan. My life is a good life. I don,t eat beef everyday like back home. But back home I could never pick up a dinner pack of fresh sushi under $10 AUD. I live a 5 minute walk from Sapporo Station. I paid Y100,000 pre month for my apartment includes internet, power and parking. In summer I go the the ball game once a week on average each season. I hit the batting centre once a week for 3 hours. In winter I am 30 minutes away from Mt Teinie and hit the slopes two to three time a week. I average Y 250,000 per month. No way I could live this life in the most affordable city in the world Melbourne Where I was born and lived for 40 years. On the welcoming society. Never had a problem because I came from the lower class in my society. Meaning I have a ingrain respect for all people and it show in my attitude to life.

8 ( +12 / -4 )

I didn't come to Japan with a 'trailing spouse' or kids, but married a foreign woman who used to come back and forth on a visitors visa and I can tell you a lot of this is true, despite the aforementioned slightly different situation. Under the visa she got when we were married she could not work in any regular capacity (and of course in the 'entertainment' industry, which needless to say was not an issue) until a few years later when we both got permanent resident status. There were some pretty unhappy times, I can tell you, and while she often gripes about work conditions these days and wants to just stay home some times, the situation, and financial situation, is a whole lot better on the whole. Just having the option to work changed her attitude completely. And in the case of the people in this article, the spouses who 'trail' are not necessarily going to be here for a long time nor is the family going to apply for permanent residency visas, so there really does need to be a visa for trailing spouses that will allow them to seek regular work if they desire it. Doesn't mean they'll get a job, but at least they CAN if they want to.

-1 ( +7 / -8 )

I've heard all the stories. There is nothing, but nothing, that could compell me to become a so-called trailing spouse (by the way, the expression immediately reminds me of the Japanese expression for goldfish poop because of the way it trails behind the bum). And believe me, I've had my fair share of offers! Make your own way in life. Decide for yourself where and how you want to live. And if you do decide to become a goldfish poop, then don't come whining to me.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

I didn't come to Japan with a 'trailing spouse' or kids, but married a foreign woman who used to come back and forth on a visitors visa

You fail to understand the topic . The topic is about "married business professionals" who are assigned positions in Japan and the difficulties the spouse & children experience. Nothing to do with an English teacher marrying a "foreign" wife on a back& forth visitors visa.

1 ( +8 / -7 )

I should also add the Japanese lessons as well which these guys invariably drop after a month or two. Membership at the American Club paid for by the company.

Always thought it was funny when they would complain about the long haul flights from Europe to Tokyo. Yeah it's really hard guys with the champagne and lie flat seats of business class.

From me zero sympathy.

8 ( +11 / -3 )

jerseyboy wrote:

Akula, I understand your frustration, but you need to recognize that Japan is a tough sell to expats right now given the poor economic outlook, sky-high cost-of-living, and general lack of a welcoming society. So companies have to make life there as comfortable as possible for them, even if that means they sort of live in a "bubble" for their time their. (My rent was 750,000 yen a month, plus tuition for my son, and membership to the American Club. At that was over ten years ago.)

Coming to Japan for work with no prepared connections is only asking for trouble. We have to keep on reminding ourselves that Tokyo is no Hong Kong, Singapore or KL where English speaking foreigners can easily fit in. To you would be Japan-bound jobseekers or students: unless you have an obsession with traditional Japanese culture and/or an expat hire package, think again, hard.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

From me zero sympathy.

Yeah, they have difficulties in their marriages due to the stresses of being transferred to other countries, but they get zero sympathy because they have money. Zero sympathy. Because we all know that money is everything, and nothing else matters when someone has money.

3 ( +7 / -4 )

Yeah, they have difficulties in their marriages due to the stresses of being transferred to other countries, but they get zero sympathy because they have money. Zero sympathy. Because we all know that money is everything, and nothing else matters when someone has money.

Why do I have this image of some foreign Bulge Bracket hot shot staring blankly at the window in his company paid Roppongi high rise condo with a glass of Scotch in his hand?

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Yeah, how could anyone ever be unhappy in that position?

2 ( +5 / -3 )

Keika1628: "You fail to understand the topic . The topic is about "married business professionals" who are assigned positions in Japan and the difficulties the spouse & children experience. Nothing to do with an English teacher marrying a "foreign" wife on a back& forth visitors visa."

You clearly cannot read, as I said while there are differences, the spouse not being able to find proper work based on the visa and there being a lack of support is precisely the same, or did you also fail to read the story where it says:

"Yet, fewer provide professional support to trailing spouses. Ideally, spouses should be offered career counselling prior to the move and support with a job search—including the obtaining of a work permit—once they arrive."

Despite being her visa changing from a visitor visa to a spousal visa, she could not work because a simple spousal visa does not permit it in many circumstances. Nor could she find support with a job search. Nowhere did I say the ENTIRE experience was exactly the same, and in fact said only certain factors were.

"The lad went off on a self tangent without reading the External Link much the same as you are doing yourself. Stay on topic."

Well, you know what they say when you are accusing everyone of being wrong but yourself, right?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

No Problem , your comment noted < perhaps you have a view on the ethnic and civil strife parents experience with settling their children into a new environment. Let's move the conversation along

0 ( +2 / -2 )

This article seems to have come straight out of the late 80s early 90s about the few who live in the golden ghetto of Tokyo!

Pretty hard to feel for them as most of their needs tend to taken care with cold ca$h or other people hired to do things for them, most of them have it pretty easy relatively speaking.

Plus I imagine these days they are much fewer in numbers & lots wouldn't bring the spouse & kids for any length of time unless they really had too

4 ( +5 / -1 )

keika1628: "You fail to understand the topic . The topic is about "married business professionals" who are assigned positions in Japan and the difficulties the spouse & children experience. Nothing to do with an English teacher marrying a "foreign" wife on a back& forth visitors visa."

Clearly I said the circumstances are not the same, however since the article is at least in part about the lack of support for someone on a spousal visa, and who cannot therefore find a job easily, what I said is not off-topic (and hence is still on the board to be read). The problem with support, therefore, is not just people who come over trailing a spouse, but applies equally to foreigners who are here but are married to a foreign spouse and on a spousal visa. Likewise the boredom that can arise for people in such situations is also entirely relevant.

Obviously the other elements of the people specified in the article: those with kids and/or professionals who have given up careers and/or the kids themselves do not apply.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

Completely agree with @GW on this. The dateline on this article could be the '80s or '90s and might be more relevant.

Look, don't get me wrong, there are probably some expats coming over here with spouses and children that encounter issues However, it is now 2015. The resources available to companies and prospective expats to evaluate the fit for a potential overseas move are AMAZING these days as compared to the '80s or '90s. This little thing called the Internet is a great resource to answer all sorts of questions.

It is not that I don't have sympathy. It is just that in this day and age, people that find themselves in this situation in Japan either haven't done their homework on their fit for a move or have family issues that really have nothing to do with Japan but more to do with two career couples and the like.

Finally, companies that still send expat families to Japan should really reconsider the necessity of it, particularly given the number of qualified professionals that reside in Japan.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

John-san, living simple is living good. Seems like you found the secret to happiness without the expat baloney.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

They live in an alternate reality. 4LDKs in Hiroo, kids in international schools, grocery shopping at National Azabu - all paid for by their gaishikeis / zaibatsus. Drinks at Roppongi Hills. All in their own bubble. They have absolutely nothing to complain about here.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

but no longer being able to contribute to the household income can also sap confidence. certainly not talking about Japanese housewives are we!?

0 ( +2 / -2 )

They live in an alternate reality. 4LDKs in Hiroo, kids in international schools, grocery shopping at National Azabu - all paid for by their gaishikeis / zaibatsus. Drinks at Roppongi Hills. All in their own bubble. They have absolutely nothing to complain about here.

You do know families can have troubles regardless of their financial status right?

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

You do know families can have troubles regardless of their financial status right?

Yeah, with 1 percenter problems like: -I miss my friends back home- The kid -It's difficult to get good bread here- the wife

7 ( +7 / -0 )

And those aren't real issues? Or they just don't matter because these people have money, and people with money don't deserve sympathy?

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

@Strangerland

You do know families can have troubles regardless of their financial status right?

Yeah, of course. Like all expats, they chose to do so on their own accord. Most of the time, the sponsoring company sets them up pretty well, and provides them with all the bells & whistles. Me on the other hand, sacrificed a lot financially coming here. Financial situation only seems to be getting worse, but that's life hey?

6 ( +6 / -0 )

You seem to be under the mistaken impression that money can buy happiness. It can't. It can only stave off the unhappiness that comes from struggling for money.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

@Strangerland

Wow, brilliant!

Is that your own quotation, or a borrowing?

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Rereading this article, it is clear it was written as though it could be an article in Metropolis, the TAC magazine or some other publication geared to expats. Complete with a telephone number of TELLL for those in need to call.

Look, in an expat focused publication, this kind of piece may resonate. Here at JT, where the audience is much broader, it just seems rather "whine-y". Make no mistake, everyone has issues. But when someone has an expat package and a life that most Japanese and most local employed non-Japanese only dream of, there is very little sympathy, even if the problems are real.

To put this in perspective, this is rather personal for me. I was dating a woman in the U.S. many years ago and we were planning to move to Japan. Me, I had grown up in Japan and knew what I was getting into to. She, was a true American native and viewed the whole thing with great trepidation. I was supposed to move as an ex-pat and she would have moved with me. But she would have had to leave her job/career to go somewhere that was an unknown for her. Oh, and this was the early '90s.

We discussed it. I knew this was the right move for me. She decided it wasn't for her. We loved each other, but we decided that our paths in life were different. And we made some tough choices. She is now very happy with her family in Kansas. I am happy with my family here. That is how life works out.

How many expat families don't make the tough choices they should make in the best interests of their family and end up paying the price at a personal level?!

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Is that your own quotation, or a borrowing?

Thanks!

My own words, but a summarization of a study I read one time, plus my own experiences and observations.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Jerseyboy; I disagree with your commit on living costs and the welcoming society. All my work is freelance. I work for myself and never work for a company here in Japan. My life is a good life. I don,t eat beef everyday like back home. But back home I could never pick up a dinner pack of fresh sushi under $10 AUD. I live a 5 minute walk from Sapporo Station. I paid Y100,000 pre month for my apartment includes internet, power and parking.

John-san: Fair point, but you are not talking about the same type of expat that this article is, nor I was. You came to Japan as, you state, to work "freelance". This article is about the transfer of senior executives with muulti-national companies. Comparing the two is apples and oranges.

Coming to Japan for work with no prepared connections is only asking for trouble. We have to keep on reminding ourselves that Tokyo is no Hong Kong, Singapore or KL where English speaking foreigners can easily fit in. To you would be Japan-bound jobseekers or students: unless you have an obsession with traditional Japanese culture and/or an expat hire package, think again, hard.

Bossu -- again, apples and oranges. Most multi-national expat transfer situations do not allow the time for someone to "prepare connections" in advance. In my case, I was contacted by an executive recruiter working for the U.S.-based headquarters, interviewed there, and then put on a plane to Tokyo to meet/interview with the folks there. Then given less than a week after returning to decide, since the position needed to be filled immediately. How do you build a network under those circumstances?

Respectfully, you folks need to understand the world of the senior multi-national executive better, because that lack of understanding is exactly why Japan is not a "Hong Kong, Singapore, or KL", and why companies like P&G moved their senior ex-pat managers out of the country -- to Singapore. They now run Japan from outside. And they are not alone. Japan is now a second-tier destiunation for expats like this article is about, and that is not good for the long-term prospects of the country.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

I have work a total of 10 years away from my Family over 20 years in the mining Industry. The shortest time away was 3 months, the longest time 6 months. After each Job I spent at lease 3 months a home with the family until I decided to go back to work. Always leaving the family a home where they want to be and where they should be. You don,t go dragging your Family around the world casing promotion. And if you do decide to take up the Family settlement option ,no way you should be complaining. Harden up and get over it and get back to what your pay for WORK.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Lived in Kobe a long time and it was full of foreigners in the nineties - now it's not.....

5 ( +5 / -0 )

You seem to be under the mistaken impression that money can buy happiness. It can't. It can only stave off the unhappiness that comes from struggling for money.

And the massive irony is that the satisfaction gained while working to get money so you can supposedly be happy is often what actually gives you the greatest happiness, which then dissipates once the achievement has been realised.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I felt enormous guilt that my 8 year old son was segregated from his classmates and put into a room on his own with a coloring book and no English speaking teacher because he couldn't speak Japanese. My wife had continuously spoken to him his whole life in Japanese so he had an ear for the language but just couldn't speak it.

The first year was hard. Vary hard on us all. The second year got better. He had many friends and just copied what his friends said.

He is now 20 and perfectly bilingual in both languages. He remembers the difficulty but thinks our intentions at the time where in his best interests.

There is no better gift you can give your child than a second language. It opens many doors. Anyone on here having the same difficulty I had...my advice is to show your kid all the love in the world when you get home from work. Do things as a family at the weekend....and soldier on. It will all work out in the end.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

10,000 U.S. Per month for an apartment is a waste of money living in a box where everyone can hear what being said from apartment to apartment

1 ( +2 / -1 )

10,000 U.S. Per month for an apartment is a waste of money living in a box where everyone can hear what being said from apartment to apartment

Not likely. You are talking about apaato, not manshon. No apaato costs that much per month. And in no manshon can you hear your neighbours.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Always keep in mind your audience when you perform! And keep your material timely. This article seems to have clearly missed the audience who took the time to read it and respond. I suggest that it should be entirely rethought, and brought up to date.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Jerseyboy,

Your case for a quick placement at that level I suspect is likely a bit rare, most of these postings don't come out of the blue with quick decisions needed & are more often set up with plenty of time before the actual change.

That said I definitely agree about Japan compared to HKG SIN or KUL, I find it quite depressing to see Japans standing slide down so so far so fast, clearly less & less people want to make the move here & it simply makes sense to position expat OUTSIDE Japan a lot of the time, Japan's loss & it continues to lose sadly

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Always keep in mind your audience when you perform! And keep your material timely. This article seems to have clearly missed the audience who took the time to read it and respond. I suggest that it should be entirely rethought, and brought up to date.

Robert -- huh? There are plenty of articles that appear on JT that have talked about the challenges facing English teachers, for example, in Japan, And although I am not among their ranks, I read many of them, and the associated postings, because I learned something. Guees you do not want to do the same.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I've heard all the stories. There is nothing, but nothing, that could compell me to become a so-called trailing spouse (by the way, the expression immediately reminds me of the Japanese expression for goldfish poop because of the way it trails behind the bum).

Rather unkind comparison.

If my spouse got an offer to go overseas for long-term, we'd have three options:

move along and be a 'trailing spouse' stay put at my job and live separate lives for however long the term abroad is decline the offer from the company, impacts on career vary

What anyone chooses is not my business, personally I'd hate the tanshinfunin option of #2 that so many Japanese seem content to do. I can totally understand why a family would want to stay together resulting in "trailing spouses/kids"

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites