Name: Shane Richmond (47)
Expat Partner/ Stay at home dad since: 2009
Postings: Syria, Nigeria, Abu Dhabi, Brunei
Wife: Claire, teacher at an international school
4 kids: 3 in Brunei and 1 in the UK
Shane Richmond has been an expat partner or “male trailing spouse” for 10 years. In this interview, he talks about his journey, the abrupt transition to being a Stay at Home dad, dealing with comments from others and why he is still enjoying living abroad.
How it all began
Originally British, Shane was a commercial diver and ran his own successful company. However, when he had a daughter with his first wife, he knew he wanted a career change. Shane: “Being a commercial diver is all work. You are on call 7 days a week, 12 hours a day.” They decided to move to Spain where Shane became a teacher. However, his then wife left him when their daughter was only 10 months old, which was devastating.
Ultimately, he decided to stay in Spain and later fell in love with Claire, who was a fellow teacher in Spain. After a while, they decided to start their own home tutoring school. Claire was responsible for the educational side and Shane ran the PE and sports department. Shane has a strong background in sports, having played Rugby professionally in Bermuda. However, when the economy in Spain went down a few years later, they temporarily moved back to the UK.
Making the change to expat partner
Shane: “I got a job in Nottingham teaching. We stayed at my mother in law’s house in the middle of winter with a toddler and a newborn. It wasn’t ideal. Then my wife Claire had a “eureka moment” when she saw an advert for a job in Syria. I told her to go for it, despite having no clue about Syria, apart from roughly knowing where it was.” [Note: this was before the conflict in Syria]
“We didn’t know what we were getting into, we just knew we wanted to get out of the UK and back to an international setting. Our daughter Lucy had just turned 3 and our son Tom was 9 months old.”
Moving to Syria
“I literally went from working full time to being a Stay at Home Dad in a new country. The only way I could process the change was to having a schedule for everything and setting a routine for the kids, sleeping, eating etc. We were in transit accommodation in the middle of nowhere and we were shown houses with bullet proof doors. I remember thinking “why would you want a house with bullet proof doors?”
Working or Staying at Home
Shane: “Because the kids were so young, I knew my ability to do anything was limited. Even options to study, for example, online studies were limited, as there was only a very slow, dial up internet connection at that time.
But I knew I would always find something to do.
I ended up managing a pre-school club or ‘toddler group’, hiring teaching assistants, doing the accounts etc. All that as a volunteer. By that time our son was 2.5 years old and in pre-school, which freed up some of my time. Rather than driving back home again after the school drop off, I decided to be proactive.”
“In the first year, there were no safety issues in Syria. In the second year, the Arab Spring broke out. The company started flying the families out for security reasons towards the end of that year. However, we decided that if it was safe enough for my wife to stay, our family would all stay. Even the people who decided to evacuate didn’t expect the situation to escalate. They thought they would be able to return after a while. Of course there were all sorts of contingency plans in place for us to get out when necessary, the company protected their employees safety at all times.
Protecting My Family
I still felt safe in Syria around that time. It got worse, but I never felt threatened. My whole job as a Dad is to protect my family. If anything threatens my kids or my wife or my friends, I will act, but it wasn’t necessary. However, things worsened and in the end, they gave us 2 weeks to pack our belongings and we had to leave Syria.
“We went back to the UK for a year. I looked after the kids that year as well, as my wife had to travel a lot for work. I used that time to get different swim qualifications, from babies all the way through to adult swimming. Initially, we were still hoping to go back to Syria and there was nothing like such swimming courses offered there at that time.”
Being a Stay at Home Dad
“I felt being the primary carer became easier and easier for me. When the kids cried at night they came to me. My role grew from relying on structure to cope to starting to know they were going to be ill before they were ill.
You could say that being a Stay at Home dad is similar to a job for me. Whatever job it is I set myself to do, I will do it well. I’m never half in or half out, I’m either all in or all out.”
Shane points out that as a Stay at Home dad, one of the things you have to have enough of is the ability to laugh. Particularly at yourself at times.
Shane: “When we moved to Nigeria, I had immigration officials laugh at me in my face for not having a job, and I would just laugh back. Because there is nothing you can do except know they haven’t got a clue about what they’re talking about.
In Brunei it is the same. No disrespect to all the intelligent engineers working here, but if you threw three kids at them for a whole day, they couldn’t handle it. I see dads walking around the supermarket with their kids and they’ve had it after half an hour. But they still don’t fully comprehend how hard it is.
A man told me the other day jokingly: you’re one of these cling-ons, you just cling onto your wife while she goes through her career path. I told him to try it out and that I give him one week. The guy had 4 kids, he had no idea what his wife was pulling off while he was at work.”
Everyone Will Judge You
When asked how he deals with derogatory comments about being a male “trailing spouse”, Shane laughs. “Luckily, I know what I am. As long as I look in the mirror and I’m happy with the person who looks back at me, I have no problem with what people think of me, judge of me. I can’t control what people think about me. I can do a million things right and 1 thing wrong, and people will only look at the wrong thing.
I guess my confidence comes from my sporting background. I was confident on the rugby pitch which gave me confidence in life, and that I built up my own commercial diving company from scratch. I always knew I could fight my way out of whatever I needed to fight my way out of if I had to.“
“My wife knows full well she has the easiest job. She doesn’t question what I’ve done in the day. If I get a day where I get to do stuff for myself, that’s great. However, most of the time I’m at exit points, entry points, ferrying the kids to their activities in the afternoon, doing the grocery shopping etc. At times it can make me feel like an unpaid amah (Filipino helper), but I know my wife appreciates what I do.
Without my support, Claire can’t do her job. She really works ridiculous hours. She will only produce the best.
However, not everyone gets that understanding from their partner. The role reversal is sometimes almost harder for the working partner, but both parties can struggle with it. Whether it is the husband not handling the fact that his wife is not working or the wife not being able to handle that the husband is not working. I’ve seen it happen that the wife can’t cope that the husband is playing golf while she is at work. Especially when the kids are not babies anymore but going to school, tensions can surface in the relationship.”
Moving to Nigeria
Shane and his family relocated to another hardship location: Nigeria. Shane: “If you go to somewhere like Nigeria in the hope it will give you that family unit bonding, it finds you out. It really does. It exposes the slightest crack in your relationship.
Nigeria wasn’t initially an option for us. However, the school convinced us it is good for young families. It didn’t start off well. The Pre Visit we did was terrible, there were gunshots outside, the lodgings were filthy. We had to look beyond the transit accommodation. On top of it all my Achilles tendon snapped during the move, so I was hobbling around on crutches, while malaria tablets were affecting all of our behavior.
It was the year I turned 40 and I remember saying to Claire- what have we done? But we ended up having a great time, and an unexpected extra baby.”
“I volunteered to the lead the school swimming in Nigeria. Volunteering, even if it is just 1 day a week, gives you some respect. A lot more respect than if you sit at home and watch Netflix all day.
If you don’t put yourself out there, you’re not going to get anything back. The kids in school know me as Mr Shane, because they see me running activities for them.”
To new expats, Shane advises to first get an overview of the activities in place. “If you commit to stuff and then let the other volunteers down, that’s a no -no in an expat community. People depend on you. Don’t overcommit if you can’t deliver. Find out what you’re best in, and focus on that.”
Moving on to Abu Dhabi
Shane: “We ended up having a great time in Nigeria, but after 4 years we left as my wife wanted to develop further professionally. I wasn’t too keen on leaving, but I wanted to support her.
On paper the new job she found in Abu Dhabi was perfect and we expected a quiet move. However, my dad passed away unexpectedly just before we moved. It was just a horrible time, and on arrival the job turned out to be nothing like the promises. We were planning to stay there until the kids had completed their A levels, but we ended up leaving after a year, despite the fact that I had also secured a job for myself in a secondary school then. “
Make Your Own Life
“You make your own life” has always been Shane’s philosophy. “There is no point in moaning or complaining that you can’t change your situation. We didn’t suddenly one day wake up in Syria or in Nigeria. It takes all sorts of commitment, forms to fill out, it costs time and money to do the application. You have to risk it. If you don’t want to risk it, don’t moan.”
Love About Living Abroad
After all these years, Shane still loves the mix of international, open minded and likeminded people he meets abroad. “It feels so positive in the morning. People do things abroad that they’ve never done before. You need to step out of your comfort zone. Otherwise you just export a little bit of the UK here- and what is the point of that?
I don’t want my kids to be narrow minded. My kids are internationally minded.
Challenge About Living Abroad
Shane and his family have dealt with many challenges abroad in the past decade. It included being evacuated in Syria, losing a parent, seeing their daughter being medically evacuated to another country and a cancer scare.
Shane: “It is like I tell my kids: You can run and hide, and find a little book of excuses with “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t. Or you get up and go again, get a backbone, and come out stronger.
Shane admits his real challenge has little to do with living abroad. “Being a dad is my biggest challenge. How do I keep my kids understanding how lucky they are? Lucky to lead this life and have a Mum and Dad that love them and support them in everything they do.”
Thank you so much Shane for your insights in this interview! There is more to add, so stay tuned for Shane’s tips for a male expat partner coming in a few weeks.