Jennie Linton is a certified life coach, about to complete a clinical mental health counselling program, she is a mom to 4 daughters and married to a US diplomat. She’s lived on 4 continents and in 7 countries. She is part of the team on the Big Purple Blob, an online platform for US Diplomatic community and she is also the host of her own podcast, The Expat Mom. She is passionate about helping moms feel emotionally healthy so they can be the kind of mom they want to be.
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Rhoda: Welcome to Holding the Fort Broad, the podcast for expats with traveling partners. My name is Rhoda Bangerter. I'm a certified coach and the author of the book Holding Afford Abroad. In this podcast, I interview men and women who live abroad and have traveling partners so that we can all benefit from their wisdom and experience.nity, and she also hosts her [:
Rhoda: She's passionate about helping moms feel emotionally healthy so that they can be the kind of mom they want to be. Jenny, welcome to the show. Thanks for having me, Rhoda. Thank you so much for being here. You and I were introduced by a friend that we have in common, a colleague that we have in common.
Rhoda: Karrie, who's doing a study on expat moms, right? She's doing her PhD thesis on it and becoming a mom abroad, and specifically highly sensitive moms, and then seeing the traits potentially that come out when you're combining. Being highly sensitive and moving abroad. Now, expat moms, this is something you know well being an expat mom yourself and also with the training that you've done, the clients that you help, and the community that you work in.explain a little bit who you [:
Rhoda: When we are living specifically with a partner who travels a lot, who's away from home when we are holding the thought, when we're juggling a lot of different things. And I think even for those who aren't holding the thought, this is gonna be a useful conversation. And I know that you have some very specific points to make today, so I'm, I'm really excited to hear them.
Rhoda: But let's start maybe first with your own experiences. What you see inyears and have [:
Jennie: And it was when we went overseas with children for the first time that I experienced. All sorts of really unique challenges. There's always challenges living abroad, but especially living abroad with children. Introduced a lot of new challenges. My children circle with a lot of anxiety and you know, kind of a combination of factors.y healthy despite, you know, [:
Jennie: That come up. And you're not expecting them. So you know, my daughter having anxiety or my mom passing away, or political unrest in the places we're living or whatever it is. I wanted to be able to provide a resource to help moms become more mentally and emotionally healthy. And I've had some amazing mentors along the way, but one of my most powerful mentors was a life coach who taught me how.
Jennie: To recognize the stories and the dialogues that I was telling myself and how to shift those. To a much more useful dialogue and story that changed everything for me. And just to give one example of this, my children, like I said, struggle, a lot of anxiety. And I assumed that that was from moving frequently.it. I felt a lot of anxiety [:
Jennie: And this coach was able to help me totally shift the way I saw it. And she said, you know, Jenny, is it possible this is the perfect life for your children? Not necessarily the thing that's causing their anxiety, but, and I was like, what are you talking about? Like how could that even be possible? And as I.idn't mean that anxiety went [:
Jennie: My kids still struggle with anxiety, but they have learned to be so much more resilient as my mental health has improved. Not feeling all that guilt, not feeling all that pressure of I am ruining their lives and all these things. I have been able to empower them rather than victimize them in my own mind and give them the empowerment they need to navigate these issues.
Jennie: And my daughter, who at one point was so anxious she couldn't go to school for a couple of years and had to do homeschool, is now the lead in the. You know, high school play and thriving and has a large group of friends and is doing fantastic and, you know, getting ready to apply to college. And not to minimize the challenges in our life, but I think the way that we choose to see them has a tremendous impact on our mental and emotional health.children or our fathering of [:
Jennie: So, well, I think
Rhoda: what you're saying is so powerful because what. I think what you're saying is the circumstances stay the same. The challenges stay the same. And the difference is our thought process, what we are thinking about and how we think about it. And it's that that then changes how we react to the circumstances.And you are showing that the [:
Rhoda: Totally. Is that what
Jennie: you're saying? Yeah. I'm saying that the way we feel comes from the way that we think, the way we perceive the world, the way we interpret what happens to us and what's around us, right? And the way we feel drives how we act. So it's a chain reaction. The way that we see the world, the way we think about it, the stories we tell ourselves about.
Jennie: How we interact, what's happening around us, create the way we feel and the way we feel drives the way we act. So all of it's a chain reaction and so much powers in our thoughts. There's a lot of power in the way we think, especially when we're not able to change the circumstance or when it's has to do with relationships with other people where we cannot change them.
Jennie: Mm-hmm.like, I'm feeling angry, I'm [:
Jennie: No, not at all. And in fact, one of the really most powerful ways that we can address our story is actually to learn how to recognize what we are feeling and process that and allow that.
Jennie: Gosh, I'm feeling grief. We've just been through a transition. I notice I'm really short with my family. One of the most powerful ways we can shift our mindset is to stop resisting all the negative emotions. And instead just feel them, uh, have a somatic experience of allowing yourself to feel some of those feelings.antastic and I didn't decide [:
Jennie: Didn't impact their anxiety and I didn't decide that I could control their anxiety. All I did was shift the idea from this life is ruining them to this life has the potential to bless them. That's it. And as I did that, my brain, our brains are such amazing organisms. My brain. Then had a whole new feeling set, rather than when I thought the thought, Ugh, this lifestyle's ruining my kids.
Jennie: I felt guilty, I felt sad, I felt victimized, resentful, all these things, right? Which then drives behavior like feeling bad for my kids or being frustrated at my husband or worrying all the time or feeling, you know, all of these things. Those are behaviors, and that drives a relationship with my kids and my spouse and myself.possible this life could be [:
Jennie: And me immediately feeling worried, guilty and sad. And they were like, oh sweetie, I'm so sorry. That's so hard. You know? And then trying to figure out how to solve it. I was like, oh, that sounds really tough. What do you think you're gonna do about that? And she is brilliant. She thought of an idea, she thought of, she could take a kind note to this person, try to be kind to them, you know?
Jennie: And surprise, surprise, they were able to become friends. Obviously that's not the solution to all bullying, but in this case it worked. But the difference is, rather than me feeling sad for them and victimizing them and then not perpetuating whatever's going on. I can empower them. So that behavior's so powerful.your brain is like a camera, [:
Jennie: And that's what we can do with our brain and it changes everything. The way we change, the way we look at it changes the experience of that picture.
Rhoda: Hmm. Putting that lens. And saying, I'm gonna put the lens of, let's focus on what we can do about it. And this shift from this life is bringing us misery to this life could potentially be a blessing.
Rhoda: How do you go from one to the other because you cannot force yourself.allenges in mental health is [:
Jennie: At least I am, you know, have a partner. You know, we try to Pollyanna our way, and that is actually one of the worst ways to improve your mental, emotional health. It's like slapping a bandaid on a gushing wound. It actually makes it worse. It doesn't help. There's actually all sorts of amazing ways to shift this, but one of the most important things is to actually identify what it even is that you believe Most of us mix up facts.
Jennie: And what we think about the facts or you know, what actually happened and how we perceive it, we confuse them and think they're the same thing. One example I like to use is somebody might say to somebody else, Hey, you look nice today. And one person receives that as that person is trying to butter me up.the other person thinks, oh, [:
Jennie: It comes from our value system. It comes from what we've seen, modeled, it comes from our cultural influences. It comes from all sorts of things. We don't even need to worry about all of that. All we need to do is identify what it is we believe. The very first step of this is even just identifying. What are those sentences in your mind?
Jennie: What? What are they? One of the tools that I like to use with people is something called a thought download. So we're all familiar with you open your email, there's an attachment, you press the download button, and this document downloads with all this information. We have, our brains are just like these complex computers, and I don't know about you, but it's so much easier for me to read a printed document than to read it on the screen.ally get out our thoughts on [:
Jennie: And so what I do is a thought download, so like the other day, My family had been home for the weekend and we had just watched a show together and we got up and I noticed I was feeling really irritated and I don't even know why I was irritated. We just had this lovely weekend and I started snapping like, everyone pick up your stuff.
Jennie: And I was like, what is going on with me? Right? And I just went in the bathroom, I took a couple deep breaths and I like grabbed a piece of paper and I was like, what is going on? And started writing these down like the house is mess. Like we didn't get done this accomplished. I'm worried about this deadline, whatever it was.s you see what your thoughts [:
Rhoda: That is brilliant. So what did you do after you've written down? So after
Jennie: you've written down, then you want to question your thoughts. So there's a difference between facts and thoughts. For example, the fact was, I had had this.
Jennie: Weekend with my family. It was 3:00 PM on a Saturday afternoon and there were things lying on the floor. Those were the facts, right? But my brain, me made it mean I have to do all the work around here. Nobody cleans up after themselves. Everybody's fighting, right? These were the things my brain was making it mean in the moment.
Jennie: Those are thoughts, and thoughts are always optional. Always. And so when we realize the difference between the facts and the thoughts, then we can go in and we can challenge those thoughts. And there's all sorts of tools that we can use to do that. And I actually have a great webinar that I'll send you the link, which teaches you some of the tools to do that.use with any thought is, is [:
Jennie: My husband's actually fantastic. He will do a lot. My brain was offering me that in that moment because I felt overwhelmed, right? The answer is it's not really true that I have to do all the work,
Rhoda: and if the answer is. Actually, I am doing most of the work here. Is that right? Mm. Yes. Maybe I could do something about that and ask someone to do it.
Rhoda: Get the kids involved. Then there's the other pathway if you are doing all the work, and that's what happens to me often is I'm taking it somehow that's, I'm like, why am I taking on all this work by myself and then getting overwhelmed and then having that thought, right? So, Very good. Yes, I like it.
Jennie: And that's, that's actually kind of the next follow up after asking yourself, is it true now what?Jennie: Right now what do I [:
Jennie: The truth is we choose to do what we do every day. We tell ourselves we have to. But the truth is we don't. And when we can take back the ownership of that, we lose the victim mentality, and that is really powerful.
Rhoda: Yes, I can see how this is so applicable to somebody who is at home potentially with children, potentially also working part-time or full-time a lot on their plate.oda: Their partner is in and [:
Jennie: That's a great thought download. Exactly.
Rhoda: So tell me, you know,
Jennie: h how can they apply? Like you said, I mean that's, those are very common thoughts. That we have in this situation. Let me just address some of those thoughts directly and let's talk a little bit about once you've identified them right in your thought, download how you might.right? Like it's all on me. [:
Jennie: And it's almost said like a victim, kinda like we talked about just a minute ago. So when we were living in China a few years ago, when Covid broke out, we were required to evacuate to the United States within about two or three days. So we packed a suitcase, moved to the United States. We didn't have anywhere to go, so we were staying in this very tiny apartment, a two bedroom apartment.
Jennie: We had four children in one bedroom. We were doing online school with four different children at four different levels. I'm trying to manage my business. My husband is working from home. And you couldn't imagine. We had people in the bathroom recording things. We had people telling each other to sh, you know, we have wailing and crying and all these things.by. It was really stressful. [:
Jennie: After several months, we do get the notification that yes, it's time to return. Well guess who's left after eight months there with all of the packing, the cleaning out, the figuring out how to get everything where it needs to go. You know, like I don't have a car like I. I'm, I'm feeling a little bit resentful here, thinking the thought I have to carry all of this right?
Jennie: And my husband's fantastic and amazing, but he's over in China on a completely different time zone. I'm feeling pretty righteous, thinking the thought I have to carry most of the load, right? But when I stopped and looked at that thought, what is it creating for me? Resentment, irritation, victimization, and then how am I showing up in my life?out. As I thought about it, [:
Jennie: I don't have to do all of this. I could tell my husband to quit his job. I could choose to leave my family. I could walk out of this apartment right now and never come back. I could decide to pack up my bags with my kids and go back to China and not do anything with the apartment. I could decide to move in with my family in Colorado right now.
Jennie: These are all. Extreme choices, none of which obviously I wanted to make, but I had to show myself that those were options to prove to myself I did not have to do those things. Now, there would be consequences for all those things if I asked my husband to quit his job, well, he's the sole breadwinner in our family.dren. And, you know, I could [:
Jennie: And it's a terrible model to my kids of how to be a good citizen. Right? I mean, so you get the idea, right, is just reminding myself, look, I don't have to do this. But even though I don't want to, I kind of do. I kind of do wanna do this stuff. And just that shift in orientation and deciding I actually do wanna do this, me choosing it shifted everything
Rhoda: because you look at the other choices, you said, actually this is not the only choice.
Rhoda: There are other choices and I don't want the other choices, therefore I choose this one, therefore it's my choice.at we have because we forget [:
Jennie: I think
Rhoda: it can also throw up options we hadn't thought of. Like, I could just take the stuff that I want. I could leave the apartment and pay the cleaning fee Totally. Or get a company to come in. Right. I don't actually need to clean it all out. I could find an alternative middle ground and actually pay a consequence that I'm prepared to pay.
Jennie: a hundred percent. Exactly. Yes. So that's one tool we can use then is to compare it to other circumstances, right? Yeah. Other options that we have, this one is
Rhoda: a biggie. A lot of people who are holding the foot feel this.
Jennie: Yeah. And it's justified and, and that's what I'm saying is it's not that it's not a lie that you're doing a lot of it, you probably are.whenever we're talking about [:
Jennie: We have in many countries, places you can buy pre-prepared meals. There is cold cereal that you can pour in a bowl with milk. You know, like you don't have to make dinner. You may want to make dinner because maybe you value that, but you don't have to. And I think just stepping back and reminding ourselves that allows to own our choices.
Jennie: Totally. Yes. I think another really common, um, belief or thought that we have, I don't have time to pursue the things that are important to me, or a version of that that's similar is I shouldn't pursue the things that are important to me because it will just add stress to my family. There's not bandwidth enough to do it.el this way, It's based in a [:
Jennie: I need to be the one who's consistent for the kids, who's showing up, who's pulling everything together? Who's looping in the partner who's away. So there's no question that. There is reality in this belief. Another way we can shift our emotional health, right? Our mindset is to shift what we're focusing on.launch a podcast as part of [:
Jennie: I'm thinking this is for sure not the right time. Like this is a crazy time. And it would've been fine if I decided. I didn't want to, but there was something, I wanted to do this, and I found myself feeling a little sorry for myself. I decided I'm gonna make this happen. Well, in the evenings, my husband and I used to spend time together.
Jennie: We would chat, we would watch a show together, whatever. And I realized, you know what? I have these evenings when my husband's not here. I have time, and in fact I have more time than I used to have because my husband's not here. But because our time zones were different, I wasn't even talking to him in the evening.
Jennie: So once I got my kids down, I had time. I had to shift the idea in my brain that I shouldn't do it to. Maybe this can be a benefit for my family. So I went ahead and launched my podcast. I now, a few years later, have like over a hundred episodes. It's going great. The other day, I asked my daughter, What has it been like for you?ing all these things and you [:
Jennie: It's so much better having you work. And I was like, what? What do you mean? And she's like, mom, when you work, you're so much happier and you focus in on our family so much more when, when you are like, Not working. You're like a hundred percent on the family before you were kind of like distracted, like doing your projects like Ah-huh, okay, sounds good.
Jennie: You know? And of course I had good focus moments before, but she's like, mom, it's so much better. Isn't that fascinating? We often do not predict, well the impact of these kinds of things on our family. So I would invite any of these partners who. Question the idea of A, I don't have time cuz my partner's gone, or B, I'm gonna add strain to my family.in any way minimizing that, [:
Jennie: About this lifestyle and as my resentment's gone down, my excitement about this lifestyle has gone way up. And my husband's and my connection has improved because suddenly he's pursuing his dream and I'm pursuing my dream and they work together. Yeah. And it's so exciting. We want to support each other.
Jennie: So I would just really question that belief. I don't have time to in pursue things that are important to me. It's gonna into my family to what if this is the perfect time to pursue it, and maybe not only. Might it not add strain, but this might be the very thing that helps my family right now.Rhoda: I love that.[:
Rhoda: So good. So good. Have you got
Jennie: more? I've got more. If you want me to keep going. I have more.
Rhoda: What are the other thoughts? Yeah, go ahead. And then I, I've thought of one. Let's see if, if, um, if it's, if it's on your list.
Jennie: So this one is my partner and I can't be as connected as we could if my partner was here.
Jennie: Right. That's a big deal. Let's be honest, like when our partner is physically there, we have the gift of physical touch. We get to see them in all these different moments. We're having a hard day. They can give us a hug, we can support. I mean, there's just so many things. They can actually physically make the lunches for the kids.
Jennie: They can go pick up child A when they need help with whatever, while we're helping child be at home, right? Like, There's a lot of things that help us feel connected when we're in person, so I'm not minimizing that. And there's so much that happens. You know, you make pancakes together and you have fun and you laugh, and it just feels like, how could it possibly be as good?Jennie: And [:
Jennie: Yeah. And let me offer a few evidence points of why. One is John Gottman, who is a well, a very renowned researcher on marriages, teaches a very powerful principle, which is that. Couples who turn toward each other. And what he means by turning towards is do you respond when your partner says something, do you listen?
Jennie: Do you remember things about their life? Do you turn toward them when they talk to you, when they reach out to you, when they, you know, whatever. And what is so fascinating is so many couples when they're in person, they get so used to being together. One couple's like, oh my gosh, look how nice it's outside.ther couple doesn't even say [:
Jennie: Couples who turn towards each other at least 80% of the time, stay married almost a hundred percent of the time.
Rhoda: Yeah, that's, um, that's incredible. And that is something that distance cannot stop. No, that is totally
Jennie: feasible. Even enhance is what I'm saying. It, it almost forces us to connect in a different way.hese new neural pathways and [:
Jennie: Often part of our experience, your partner may be having a different experience and you're learning from that. You're having different experiences. You may meet up in a new city. There's all, you're learning new ways to interact. When my husband and I, um, during the time that we were dating, he lived in Spain and I lived in the United States, and it was during that communication that we built so much emotional intimacy.
Jennie: In totally different ways than we had when we were in person, or even did when he came back. Writing creates a very different emotional experience. Being separate from each other allows that in different ways than you know. How's your day? Oh, it's good. One thing my husband and I did when we were separated is we would watch a movie together.Jennie: And we're sitting [:
Rhoda: I think it comes back to this mindset.
Rhoda: Yes, exactly. Saying, Hey, Let's make this fun. Let's use the distance to ex and explore what we can do and how we can get closer despite it. And I think that comes back to what you were saying about the mindset. Exactly. So it's, you're not suggesting an alternative thought that's completely impossible.'t have talked about if we'd [:
Jennie: That's so interesting. But if you're telling yourself the story over and over again, oh, we're so disconnected cause we live far away, your brain isn't looking for those and you don't actually even receive the same impact of those exchanges that could be connecting because you've already decided time.
Jennie: It's not gonna work. So the next one is, my partner's the lucky one, and I'm stuck with the lame end of the deal. Oh yes. So right. So. I remember, I'm sorry
Rhoda: I'm laughing, but it's because I think a lot of us, this is what we think. Yeah, of course. Very
Jennie: genuinely. Yeah, and, and it's not because we don't love our partner or want them to have a good experience, it's just when you're the one who's stuck with the kids melting down and all of the stress, and your partner sends a picture of some amazing dinner that they went to with a colleague, that looks delicious.So when I was in. This tiny [:
Jennie: And of course I am so happy for him. I want him to do this. And that same night while I'm looking at this text, one daughter is sobbing. They've just had this big fight. We're all over each other. It's covid is at its height. We're feeling like we can't go out into the apartment. We're all stir crazy. You know, like I have a client who's having a really difficult time and wanting to get extra sessions and like, you know, like I'm exhausted and I'm seeing all this and I'm just like, Well, I got the lame end of the deal, right?
Jennie: Like that's what I'm thinking.
Rhoda: So how did you, what did you think?s with his best part, and we [:
Jennie: He doesn't have the kids there. He's not getting to see them grow. I mean, it's now been, what, three or four months and the kids are growing and he's not getting to see them. He loves being with our family. He's in China. It's crazy. Everything's locked down. He's getting covid tests every day. You know, like it's not like it's fun.
Jennie: The stress, the envi stress at his work is so high. Although when I see that picture I'm thinking, oh, his life's amazing. And I'm comparing my terrible moment. Yeah, to his amazing moment. It the night my kids and I all snuggled on the couch and ordered pizza and had a wonderful movie night. And that, I mean, I could also compare my best moment with his crappy time of coming home to an empty house, having an empty refrigerator, and nobody's delivering food because of Covid, so he's gotta somehow go and forge for food.t like. In a camera, you can [:
Rhoda: That is beautiful. Thank you for sharing that because I think that that, that's it. That's spot on. You put the needle on the head or whatever the expression is. These are wonderful. These are wonderful. I think you, you've got two more.
Jennie: Well, I have one, one more. And that is the idea that this is hard. This is gonna be hard to be separate.have to work harder to keep [:
Jennie: When you think the thought, this is so hard. What happens is, We suddenly see all the things that are hard. Our brains are like magnets. The minute we decide something is true, we see all of those things and we see the heart, and we feel the heart, and we notice all the things we're doing, and we see how the kids are struggling because the partner's not here.
Jennie: It drains our mental health. When we believe that we make it a self-fulfilling prophecy, that it will be hard because what we do is we see the hardest, and when we're able to shift the filter and think to ourselves, This is gonna be fun. This is gonna be the exact thing to help me change my mental health, right?town. And I was like, what? [:
Jennie: Right? And she's like, oh no, it's so great. I feel totally less stressed about dinner. And she's like, my husband doesn't even care if I have dinner, but I feel pressure to have some amazing family dinner when my husband's home. And she's like, when he's gone, the kids and I, we just eat cereal, or we just order pizza or we go to McDonald's.
Jennie: It's so much easier. I love it. And I was like, that is so interesting. I've never thought that before. And it doesn't even mean that has to be your priority, but hey, this is a fun chance for me to connect with the kids. So when my husband's gone, I'm like, Girls night, let's do nails. My husband's so darling, but like that's not gonna be fun for him.
Jennie: This is a great chance to have fun with my kids in a different way. Or, Hey, you know what? The thing that my partner and I kind of have friction over with the kids' parenting, guess what? Don't have to worry about that, right? My brain can just as easily focus on all the ways that this is fun, this is easy, this is helpful.is is gonna totally drain my [:
Jennie: To take care of your mental health. So most of us, when we have a partner around, we can kind of hobble along and do stuff. We don't have to ask for help. But you know what? When you're by yourself, you either sink or swim. And one of the best things is when you are in a position, you have to ask for help.
Jennie: You ask for help. And what if this is a perfect opportunity to practice asking for help? People are gonna feel a lot more willing to help too when they know you're on your own. Like this is a perfect chance to exercise those skills. Mm-hmm. This is the perfect chance to practice self-care. Right? So you could say to yourself, oh, I don't have time.. It may look like getting a [:
Jennie: You know what I'm saying? Yeah. So, yeah. Yeah. But take what you believe and question it and put a different filter on. Could the opposite be true and look for evidence that it could, and what's so amazing is when I put my magnitude, this is gonna be fun. I can't wait for this, my brain immediately finds evidence of that.
Jennie: And it's, it's, I love this quote by Sarah Ben Breathen, knock, she says, We always have two secret gardens that we contend. A garden of lack and a garden of abundance. Yeah. And whichever one we spend our time in is the one that grows. It's not that it's, it's not that either one isn't real. It's totally true.
Jennie: There are things lacking. Yes. Things are. It can be harder, but it's also true that things can be easier and more fun and it can be the perfect time. Yeah, that's a greatd, and if you are habitually [:
Rhoda: So I think that's also a warning you have given us so much to think about. I think that's a pun. Um,
Rhoda: but I. Definitely it's an encouragement to notice what we think about, to write it down and to question it. Is this actually true or is it just what I'm thinking is happening? And to really question that within, and you've given us some five or six really important ones that that come up for a lot of us, and I think it's could be really useful for people who are listening.Uh, so thank you so much for [:
Rhoda: And then you mentioned the webinar.
Jennie: In the webinar, I actually teach you three specific tools of how to shift those thoughts. And that is what I do in coaching, is I help people examine what's in their minds. And h is, is it useful? And sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't. And how do we shift that to be more useful and help them accomplish their goals?
Rhoda: I love that. Thank you so much, Jenny, for being with us. That was lovely. Thank you so, so much.