We’re profiling one mother from every country on the planet. (Current tally: 18 down, 174 countries to go!)
Meet Farrah Ritter. She’s an adventure-seeking expat mom from the States living in the Netherlands with her family. Originally from Michigan, she and her husband relocated to the Deep South in 2006 and then jumped over the pond with their boys in tow. Her blog, The Three Under, started when Farrah was on bed rest with a difficult twin pregnancy, but has since morphed into documenting and sharing her family’s European journey with three little kids — Brody, (almost) 5, and Lincoln and Chase, 3.5 year-old twins. A sucker for the cities of Europe, Farrah loves to see the perspectives of others and experience the beauty of old towns and historic places.
Here’s her story …
Life before baby …
To be blunt, I didn’t think I wanted children. It was almost a deal breaker when I was dating my then boyfriend (now husband)! I enjoyed working and going to graduate school, loved the freedom to travel and be on my own. I treasured my freedom. I couldn’t see myself as a mother. Plus, I was terrified of anything involving hospitals, doctors and needles. To me, the idea of pregnancy and childbirth was the last thing I ever wanted to experience. I didn’t see the bigger picture. It was only me and me alone.
My ideas about motherhood …
I honestly never thought about motherhood before becoming pregnant. My husband and I were married for about three years, and I was over 30, when we decided to add to our family. I didn’t think I was responsible or unselfish enough to give so much to another person. I didn’t play with baby dolls as a little girl — nor did I want to be a “mommy.”
When my husband and I did sit down and talk about it, the idea seemed very abstract. After our first child was born we decided to have our second (and last) child. Two seemed good for me. However, the universe had other plans.
Then came baby …
After we had our first in 2009, I never imagined I could love so much. The end of the pregnancy was scary as I had preeclampsia and had to have him via C-section at 37 weeks. As frightening as it was, I felt it was worth it. I knew that we would have another child, that I would endure pregnancy (even though I didn’t enjoy it), but I felt that it was possible to double my love instead of dividing it.
The biggest change had to be how nothing else mattered but him. For once, I saw in my life a bigger purpose, an ability to love something so much that I put myself last behind everything else. I left my career in teaching without any remorse. I threw myself into caring for our son, thinking about our future and focused on nothing else but his happiness and wellbeing. For someone as selfish as me, this was easily the biggest transformation and change. Something I never imagined possible.
The most challenging part of motherhood …
It was the surprise when our twins entered the picture. My oldest was just over a year old when they were born, and as I expected life to be interesting with two, suddenly we were jumping to three. I was terrified. We lived 12 hours away from our family, and I did not think I was up for the task.
Today the twins are 3 and my oldest is almost 5. I look back on that haze of the twins’ first two years and can’t believe we survived! Structure, self-discipline and routine became my life. Nothing else mattered. Daily life was survival. I doubted my capabilities of caring for three babies at once and had trouble seeing beyond the early years. I loved more than I thought possible, but the chaos was intense. Three boys under two years of age at once was something in a million years I did not expect nor plan for.
On balancing work and life …
My entire life I wanted to be a high school teacher. I was in my third year teaching in South Carolina when I became pregnant, and was already feeling disillusioned with my career choice. I threw all of my emotions and mental strength into teaching troubled kids, and it sucked the life out of me. The last year I taught was so difficult, I do attribute it to my high blood pressure during my pregnancy and have never regretted leaving it behind.
I am now in the early stage of realizing that my boys aren’t babies anymore. They aren’t as dependent on me as before. I am just beginning to formulate an idea of life while they are going to be in school. I ask myself, What do I want to do next? Teaching left a bad taste in my mouth, but I always enjoyed working. The trouble now, though, is what do I do? I am in a foreign country and do not speak the language. How to I join a workforce and contribute as a foreigner?
The best part about raising a child in the Netherlands …
The best part (and there are many) has been the school system. I am beyond thrilled with the quality and friendliness of the traditional public Dutch school that we chose, instead of going the International school route.
My oldest is now fluent in Dutch (after just a year!) and I am amazed. My 3-year-olds are speaking more and more Dutch daily. It’s a challenge for me to keep up with them.
I have embraced the bike culture. We traded in our minivan and suburban life for a small village and cargo bike.
The food is better for my kids. And friendships seem easier to make — and keep.
Also, there’s health care for everyone. There is a government service called the Consultatsie Bureau that provides early childhood vaccines and checkups. (However, there is some contention as to how “helpful” the CB really is, so the jury is out on that.) I do miss having our pediatrician. Here you only see a pediatrician in an extreme situation. They are at the hospital. For everything else, you see your family GP.
Also, I do see quite a bit of involvement on the part of the Oma and Opa [grandparents]. They come to school for drop-off and pick-up. Extended family is very involved with childcare.
Overall I’m thrilled raising my kids here. They have gained insight to a new culture, have been able to explore all over Europe and learn a second language. I feel at home and at peace with where we are located. So much so that we just extended our stay three additional years. At this point we are in no hurry to return to the US. I feel that we are doing really well.
The parts that I wish were different …
Dutch is a very difficult language, and although it is extremely helpful to be in a country where English is taught and spoken, I still do not like being helpless in the occasional situation where I do not understand what is going on.
Best piece of advice I ever heard …
My dear friend and postpartum doula taught me: Always remember that you must put on your oxygen mask first. You can’t help anyone if you do not take care of yourself. I think of this often, and thankfully have a supportive partner in my husband who encourages me to take time for myself. Know when to say, “I give up” for the day, take a step back, go someplace alone, do what I want. I am still an individual even though I am a mother. I have never lost sight of that. I matter too.
If we could jump into the DeLorean and race back in time …
I would tell myself: Don’t worry so much. You’re doing great. He’s going to be amazing. And … you think it’s hard now? Hahahah! Just wait until you see that sonogram next spring!
Read more about Farrah Ritter on her blog The Three Under.
We’ve got over 170 countries to go (yeah, whoa.). So if you would like to nominate a mother who is living and raising a family abroad to be featured on MMM’s Global Mamas series, do let us know! Drop a line to: get[dot]msmack[at]gmail[dot]com.
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