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The Emotional Labour of Relocation for Women

Updated: Jan 3, 2019

Dr Sarah Whyte writes about the impact of relocation and why it's not simply a matter of packing and unpacking boxes

The True Definition of Relocation

Relocation is defined as ‘the act of moving to a new place and establishing one’s home there.’ What this definition does not mention is that relocation is a stressful process for the entire family. One source of stress is the logistics: packing, shipping, renting or selling your home, deciding on new schools, obtaining visas, understanding foreign tax, finding appropriate medical insurance… there’s a long to-do list. However, it’s also important to realise that establishing one’s home in a new location is more than just logistics.

Home is also an emotional concept: feeling happy, settled, safe and comfortable in your new location. The intense emotions associated with relocation start as soon as people know they’re leaving, and they don’t just stop once the boxes are unpacked. Families often don’t realise the emotional aspect of relocation is a problem until they hit an emotional speedbump. The reality is relocation is an emotionally stressful process and it can take many months to feel at home in a new place.

I was discussing the challenges of relocation with a woman working full time in a regional role who was also married with three school-age children. She described her experience of relocation as “being in the aftermath of the move.” In the first few weeks of the family’s arrival, her focus was on unpacking and setting up their new house so it felt like home, responding to children’s anxieties and worries about new schools and new friendships, and establishing new routines, all in addition to continuing her high-level career. It was only when her family were more settled that she felt able to focus on her own wellbeing

Her relocation experience clearly illustrates the concept of ‘emotional labour,’ which is defined below:

Many women bear the weight of not only managing their feelings but also their partners’ in order to accomplish the daily tasks that need to be accomplished. This is often referred to as ‘emotional labour’ or the invisible work necessary to manage households, often in spite of working outside the home as much as their partnersFatherly article (2018)

Emotional Labour of Relocation

Relocation demands an increase in emotional labour, simply because there is so much to do throughout the relocation process, both logistically and emotionally. This increase in emotional labour typically falls to the woman in the family, resulting in more stress, exhaustion and anxiety, which can negatively impact performance at work.

To promote equality throughout the relocation process, both parents need to consider how to share the increased emotional labour. This can be done in a number of ways. Take a look at the examples below for inspiration.

1. To better address the emotional labour caused by the logistics of a move, make the emotional labour of relocation visible. For example, listing all the necessary logistics creates visibility and allows you to decide as a family how you will tackle each item and who will take ultimate responsibility for each task.

2. When it comes to the emotional aspect of moving, book in short but regular check-in conversations about the relocation, both as a couple and as a family. Topics for these conversations might include your current feelings, stress levels and your hopes and fears for the move.

3. To support children with their emotional stress, create a plan well in advance of the move to ensure consistency between both parents in response to their children’s emotions. Planning in advance enables parents to share the emotional labour of working through the feelings involved in relocation.

Contact Dr Sarah Whyte if you’d like to know more about practical strategies to support emotional wellbeing for relocation.

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