Motherhood for Expats: Insights From Carrie Frais

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Mothers that decide to raise their children abroad can face many challenges. These challenges can arise from the unique combination of adapting to a new country while handling motherhood. 

Carrie Frais is a British journalist based in Spain. She is the co-founder of MumAbroad.com, a website that includes resources for English-speaking families living in Spain, Italy, Germany and France. Check out our great interview with Carrie below for more information about MumAbroad.com, including advice for expat mothers. 

What inspired you to create MumAbroad.com? 

In 2007 I was a new mum in a new city (Barcelona). As a relatively new arrival from the UK, I didn’t really have any idea about motherhood, for example where to go or what to do with a newborn child. Along with a good friend who also had a newborn we decided to set up a website (originally called Barcelona Mum) aimed at the international community to share recommendations and advice on everything from activities for kids to international schools. The website grew organically to incorporate all areas of Spain with a high international presence and we morphed into MumAbroad Spain. We then went on to incorporate France, Italy and Germany. We now cover 21 regions in our four countries all of which offer comprehensive recommendations usually by a local parent. In recent years we have put a strong emphasis on education, relocation advice and therapy and also we are a popular platform for women to promote their business, 

What would you consider to have been the major challenges of raising a family abroad?

A lack of extended family support for sure. This is something that you don’t realize until you need it. As expats, we tend to visit parents for more intense periods of time due to the distance. When my kids were young, it always felt a bit harsh to pass them over to my parents to look after them when we got together. As a result, it can be a case of 24-hour parenting when you have young kids. It’s also particularly hard when parents are unwell, as then the distance is felt more, especially as it is increasingly hard to travel nowadays. As for everyone, Covid has had a major impact on the international community, in that the long periods without seeing family have got even longer. There are also cultural and identity issues. My own children hate being asked ‘Where are you from?’ as they were born in Barcelona but feel British as their parents are from the UK. I tell them that one day they will be proud of being citizens of the world but when they are kids, they just want to ‘belong’. I also think expats tend to crave a sense of belonging, which they tend to lose as soon as they move away. As a result, we create our own communities which can often become tight-knit but then people come and go far too often, and that can be difficult when you have spent a long time making a tight network,  

How did you overcome these challenges? 

I had to create a ‘surrogate’ family! Friends become your family after a while of living abroad. When locals are spending Sunday lunch with their extended family, expats tend to meet friends. We take turns looking after each other’s children, taking kids to school and friends’ children become like stepchildren. Also, I think one needs to come to terms with the trade-off of living abroad. We made the conscious choice to swap family & ‘home’ for lifestyle and new beginnings, something I have learned to accept and appreciate. 

What kind of resources does MumAbroad.com offer? Are they mostly informational, or do you offer services as well? 

It is mostly informational. In each of our regions, we offer recommendations in 6 categories: maternity, activities for kids, healthcare, family services, baby & toddler, and removal services. We also have stand-alone categories for educational specialists, schools, therapists, and relocation experts as well as a section dedicated to Women in Business and MumAbroad Life, which is essentially our storytelling platform. 

What is your vision for the future of MumAbroad.com? 

We’re very much consolidating the work we have been doing in the last 3 years which includes developing the educational specialist, therapist & coaches, and relocations sections. We see these as 3 key areas of interest to our readers. We’re also making sure we get an even higher level of content across our pages, ensuring that every piece of copy is engaging, informative, and concise as well as being optimized for Google search. We are continuing to expand our popular YouTube channel, not just for one-to-one interviews but also for short reports. Life abroad is exhilarating and chaotic and we need to make sure that both ends of the spectrum are covered!

Do you have plans to expand MumAbroad.com into more countries?

We are happy working in Spain, Germany, Italy & France where we have established ourselves for several years, so no plans to expand further (for now at least!). 

If you could give expat families one piece of advice, what would it be? 

Be prepared for ups and downs, but 9 times out of 10, that ride will be well worth it.

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