2003 WMAC, Inc., WORKING MOTHER
We're Moving When?
Carolyn Moncel dreamed of living in Paris—someday. Her husband
had more immediate plans.
Moving into a two-bedroom flat with an Eiffel Tower view should
have been très romantique, but Carolyn Moncel was hardly in
the mood for love. She knew no one in Paris, didn't speak French,
and her consulting business was on hold. Every day, she moped
around the apartment, muttering about how much she hated France
and wishing she were back home in Chicago. Then she heard her
5-year-old daughter, Chloe, mimicking her complaints—and realized
she needed to change her attitude. "That's when I knew I had
to stop the finger-pointing," she says.
Moncel's turnabout was several long months in coming. Last
October, just two weeks after their second child, Jillian, was
born, Moncel and her husband, Philippe, boarded a plane for
Paris with their kids. It was a sudden move, prompted by something
that forces many people to pack up and go: work. The experience
shook the foundation of Moncel's marriage and, in the end, redefined
her relationship with her husband.
The couple had met in Chicago in 1997, fallen in love and married
just four months later. They talked about living in France—Philippe's
home country—someday, but for Carolyn the operative word was
"someday." She thought about learning French, she says, but
what was the rush? "There were always more pressing things to
take care of first."
Among those priorities was a new direction for her career.
In 2001, Moncel quit her marketing post at a public relations
firm and started MotionTemps, a business she planned to run
from home that handled marketing and back-office duties for
Philippe, meanwhile, lost his job during the dot-com bust and
enrolled in graduate school to study computer science and ride
out the economic downturn.
Moncel outside the entrance to the Louvre in Paris. Courtesy
of Working Mother Magazine. Photo by Mark Arbeit.
Preoccupied with running her business, Moncel figured
her husband was sending out resumés to local companies
as he neared graduation in June 2002.
Then one day I overheard him doing a phone interview
and he started talking about a face-to-face meeting—in
Paris!" Stunned, Moncel confronted him as soon as he hung
up the phone. He was shocked as well: Hadn't they discussed
moving to Paris? Granted, admits Philippe, he never talked
explicitly about the timing: "I was thinking in terms
of weeks and months, and she was thinking months or years."
They agreed that Philippe should go through with the
interview-given the tight job market, they figured, he
couldn't afford not to pursue every lead. He came back
from Paris with a job offer and a request that he start
in two weeks.
Carolyn, by this time seven months pregnant with Jillian,
had a quick reply: No way. How could she pack up her family
and business so quickly? Philippe turned down the job, but he
made it clear that he would be less willing to refuse the chance
a second time if another position he had applied for in Paris
came through. Moncel consented: What were the odds of another
overseas job offer?
To her surprise, one came a month later. This time, Philippe's
mind was made up: "It was the right offer. And Chloe had seen
her grandparents just two times in five years. I didn't want
her to grow up thinking she had only half a family." Carolyn
gave in with great reluctance. "I felt he was giving me an ultimatum.
And I really resented it."
That resentment escalated when Moncel arrived in Paris. She
had hurriedly notified her clients that she was moving and now
wondered how she'd get her business going again. She and Philippe
fought nonstop. "I cried all the time. When I couldn't find
the paperwork for our taxes, I'd say, 'See? This is because
we moved too quickly.' "
In fact, the Moncels' predicament isn't uncommon, says Robin
Pascoe, author of a new book on expatriate relationships called
A Moveable Marriage (Expatriate Press Limited). Couples who
relocate for one spouse's job often "focus on the externals:
Where will the kids go to school? Where will we live?" she says.
"They don't think about the relationship. They're afraid to."
Talking about how a move will affect your marriage, your career
and your sense of self-worth is critical to making it work,
For the Moncels, that difficult conversation came after yet
another heated exchange last winter. It was Philippe who finally
called a cease-fire. What could he do to make things better?
His question cut to the core of the problem, says Carolyn: "I
realized that I didn't trust him anymore because he hadn't told
me he was looking for this job. I was waiting for him to say,
'I'm sorry.' " She also recognized that nothing good could come
from more complaining. "I'd been in a funk for months. It had
The first step was small: hiring a babysitter so the couple
could explore Paris together. Carolyn vowed to express her needs
directly. Philippe agreed to share his plans explicitly. They're
also seeing a marriage counselor to help deal with lingering
issues of trust and resentment.
Carolyn, meanwhile, has settled into life in her new country.
She joined a group for women in culturally mixed marriages,
and, with a little help from technology, she's working again
with several of her Chicago-based clients. And thanks to weekly
lessons, her French is coming along nicely.
Alison Overholt is a staff writer at Fast Company.