Tag Archives: working mom

Dominique Coindre: Working Mom Stories

Dominique Coindre, a French Canadian with many degrees, chose to change careers so she could start a family by adopting her beautiful daughter. She wanted to explore the world and travel, giving her now 10-year-old daughter opportunities she could cherish. Being a translator and a single mom has given her the bases to pursue this dream of travel.  At times, it can be tough being a single mom in a new country, but she takes this with determination and passion. She continues to show her daughter that you can accomplish anything if you put your mind to it. Dominique’s story is an inspiration to many single moms out there who are trying to live their dream of building a life in Italy.

At the age of 44, Dominique became a single mom when she adopted her “snow girl”, from Kazakhstan, in 2009. Her life with her daughter is made of the usual child raising difficulties, as for all mothers out there, but “Seeing her smile, seeing her becoming her own person, how she is starting to think on her own with the right values, makes me proud of her, and what I have accomplished so far with her.” Dominique had always envisioned “”to share” the world with her daughter, and living in Italy became of the plan”. They arrived in Italy, with their two cats and entire household, two years ago, when her daughter was 8 years old.

Dominique states, “It is not easy to be a single mom, because the burden lies on just one pair of shoulders, being in Italy does not change that reality”.  She has no break from parenting and no network to help in raising her child, as many others have with parents and close family members.  “Between work and being a mother, there is not much space for being a woman. I sometimes long to have more time to nurture old interests and develop new ones, but at the same time, I know this is our only time together and is short-lived. Soon enough, perhaps even too soon, she will go off on her own path”.  It is a constant struggle to balance being a single mom, but there is a positive aspect: nothing gets in the way of Dominique’s own version of how to raise her daughter.

When Dominique moved here, she did not have the Italian husband or family to help with settling into life here. She recounts, “I was psychologically prepared for the bureaucratic hurdles, but still found it all very daunting. The language barrier, of course, did not help, though I had some proficiency with Italian prior to moving. Simple things such as transferring the phone line, water supply, electricity, gas, to my name, getting the Internet, became protracted exercises in patience (and in  frustration…)”  The astounding amount of paperwork to get permission for her and her daughter to stay in Italy was confounding.  She recalls, “It was very tiring, if not exhausting” and this tortuous bureaucracy might well be a major factor in her future decision on whether to stay or leave Italy.

However, because of the Italians’ love of children, Dominique and her daughter found it relatively easy to adapt to the way of life here in Italy. Her daughter goes to the International School of Florence, where her main schooling is in English, and learns Italian as a second language. However, the school does not really provide for a social network, and not being able to rely on one certainly would make it harder to adapt. She says this is because of the fact she works from home and lives outside of Florence and therefore it restricts their ability to make closer friends. However, this is well satisfied, by the pleasures of living in the Tuscan hills, among the olive trees, and enjoying that oh so priceless cool breeze in the summer!  No matter what, both mother and daughter are so very happy to discover the country and to learn about the “Italian way of life”.  “That is why we do these things: to learn other ways, see how other people live and think, and this way we broaden our experience and understanding of the world we live in.”

In order to succeed in being a single mom and provide an income, Dominique changed her career from tax lawyer to translator, this way gaining flexibility with her working hours for raising her daughter. She acquired a University degree in translation and slowly started to build her practice. She was fully self-employed by the time she adopted her daughter. “I am bilingual in French and English. I had always done some translation work at various work places, so it sort of fell into place. I started with technical and creative writing, and then naturally moved to translating, which proved to be the more practical way of earning a decent living. This is what I did, and still do, which allows me to have the lifestyle I want (that is, working from anywhere in the world).”

Dominique’s practice, which is still in Canada, is her main source of income while living here in Italy. She first got her clients through networking. “I leverage my previous training and experience, that is being a tax lawyer, and therefore specialize in financial, legal, tax, etc. translation. I research the market, finding potential clients both in Canada and internationally, by sending my CV, sometimes having an introduction, most of the times not. There is fortunately a lot of work out there for good translators. Especially in Canada, where French and English are both official languages.” In the near future, Dominique plans to develop her European clientele, enabling her to earn Euros instead of Canadian dollars.  This would help sustain the cost of living here. “I am not sure if it is the living in Italy as much as the living in Tuscany/Florence which makes it harder, financially. It might be easier in other parts of Italy, where the cost of living is not so high.”

Because of Dominique’s schedule being flexible, she is able to participate more in her daughter’s life. She is able to go to school meetings, pick her up and drop her off at school, go to afterschool events, medical visits etc. In order to do so, she has to work longer hours at night, which does limit the time she can interact with other adults.  Because of the conversion from Canadian dollars to Euros, she has to work harder and longer hours to obtain the financial support needed to stay in Italy.  At times, this has “led to overworking, lack of sleep and having very little time to devote to my daughter.  Achieving the opposite effect of my desired outcome. It is at those times that I reconsider this whole decision of self-employment: getting a “regular” job, with stable hours, medical insurance and a retirement fund would have its pluses!”

I asked if she plans to stay here in Italy. She responded, “I don’t think we will stay here for as long as I had initially thought. I wanted to stay here for the rest of my daughter’s primary and secondary schooling but I do not think this will happen. We are going to stay one more year for sure, until she gets to middle school. Then, we shall see. I do like it here, and consider ourselves very lucky indeed to be here. I am not prepared to leave yet. Work opportunities will likely dictate our next move, but I am not there yet. I am not done with Italy. Will I ever leave? Is one really ever ready to leave?”

Working Moms Stories: Danielle Jennings

Danielle Jennings is an interior designer from Toronto, Canada and the mother of a six-year-old girl. She first came to Florence seventeen years ago with a study abroad program when, she met her husband.

“How did you meet your husband?”

“I met him in Piazza Santa Croce on a Saturday night in August.” she answers smiling. “I was out having drinks and dinner with my roommate, when a group of locals came over. Among them was my husband. We dated for the rest of my stay here.”

After that encounter, Danielle went back to Toronto to finish her Design studies. They visited one another until December of 2001, when Danielle officially moved to Florence.

“My husband owns his own IT company.  He has a web agency and develops on-line software for the hotel industry. This would have made it very difficult for him to move to Canada” explains Danielle her decision to move to Florence.

“Did you encounter any cultural differences that you had to overcome?”

“I am Italian descent so the differences weren’t so obvious for me. My mother is Italian from Bari.” Danielle replies. “Maybe one of the differences was the approach of people and how to go about making friendships. I found relationships to be more open here. At the beginning, it seemed very odd for me that girls were friends with guys. I was also struck by the different way to celebrate the festivities. In Canada the festivities felt so much more alive whereas in Italy they are more modern. It wasn’t what I was expecting.”

The first few years, Danielle worked in Design, but her job didn’t meet her needs to be creative. After building a career in fashion, she recently became a self-employed interior designer.

“I was working in the showroom of an Italian company, doing projects and reaching out to clients. But I felt like I was working in sales and that didn’t meet my needs. In 2003 I had an opportunity to work in fashion. I started off as an assistant in the buying office. I was working for American firms selling stock and also private label development. Later I started working with leather goods and leather development. In 2009 I started working for Jimmy Choo. I started my career there. I moved my way up in the company, the back office to private development and leather development. Two years ago, I started working in Design again. Now I am a self-employed interior designer.  I went back to my first passion and I am doing what I always wanted to do.”

Danielle has a six-year-old daughter and she gave birth at the Careggi Hospital. She describes her experience as an at least interesting one.

“The obstetricians were great, but as a metaphor I felt primitive. When my daughter was born, it was a really hot month of May. They kept the windows open and there were no bug screens, the lights were always on. We had to stay for four days in the hospital. I didn’t have enough milk so my daughter wasn’t recuperating her weight loss fast enough.   My experience there was extremely impersonal. I understand that nurses and doctors are just doing their jobs. What they didn’t understand, was that she was our first child and we didn’t know what to do very well. The health system in Canada is different in terms of aesthetics and sanitation. As for the cost it was exceptional and everything was well organized.”

When asked if she is comfortable with the Italian way of raising children, Danielle smiles, nodding in approval.

“I love it. I think the Italian way of raising children is more towards the needs of the child and more open. When we started the weaning process, we went for a visit in Canada. I would make the broth from scratch the way my pediatrician explained to me. My friends and family members were surprised that I am not using homogenized foods. I also found helpful the fact that you have your own personal pediatrician whom you can call and can help you. Everything is more industrialized in Canada. It makes it easier for the parents, but health wise the Italian way is better.

“On the other hand there are a lot of opinionated people here. It was hard at the beginning until I gained enough self-confidence. Everyone was trying to tell me what to do and I became frustrated.

“I was also pleased with the daycare system here. My daughter didn’t go to public school because we were among the last on the waiting list. I ended up opting for the private. I think that extra money we had to pay was worth it because I felt she was well taken care off where she is. This year she will start school and we chose a private school. We want her to have access to excellent development in English. The school she will be going to has an English section, Italian and bilingual sections. It was one of the reasons we chose it.”

As an expat mom, Danielle felt it was hard to make friends with other moms. Being a working mom, made interacting with other parents difficult. The only other moms she knew were work colleagues. Now, as a self-employed mom, she feels she has to juggle even more than before.

“I couldn’t wait to be self-employed and then when it happened it was different than I imagined. You think you know what the worries are going to be. You have to do everything. You are no longer a working mom. You have to be a mom and you also have to be a businesswoman every day. To juggle that in 24 hours is quite a challenge. Before when I had that 9 to 6 job and I could have weekends off and the paycheck was still coming in. However, when you are a self-employed mom everything happens seven days a week, nonstop. After I got my Partita Iva, I had bills coming in after the first three weeks.

There are also advantages of course. If I need to take a day off, if I need to be creative or if I have to do research, I get to decide what to do and when.”

Danielle believes that one of the biggest advantages of living in Italy is the quality of life and food. On the other side, she thinks that not having grocery stores or pharmacies opened 24 hours a day is a minus.

“It’s the small, everyday things that bother me; like going to the postal office or pay bills. But Italy has changed a lot in the past 15 years, Florence in particular.”

She never excluded the possibility of moving back to Canada.

“For now Florence is the right size. If I were to move to Canada it would be for my daughter and her future. Her living her childhood in Italy is great. I think she would profit better from Canadian schooling in the future though. Here a lot of people depend on what is passed to them. They don’t teach children the responsibility of being self-sustainable. They don’t teach them about the value of money and earning everything. That is not as valued here. I think kids need to learn the way the world works and the responsibilities that come with that. I feel that the system here for teaching life values is chaotic and without any structure.” states Danielle.

Towards the end of our talk, Danielle offers some advice for other expats who plan on moving here and start a family.

“You need to be able to communicate with your partner very well, because it takes a while to make friends. You need a good support system at the beginning. Also don’t to give up when it gets hard, because there are some days when you want to go back home. Italy has a lot to offer, you just have to find your space and it’s possible, especially in Florence.”

You can follow Danielle at www.dnj.design.

Author and journalist Ela Vasilescu

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Working Mom Stories: Kate Whalen

Kate Whalen, an Australian expatriate from Melbourne, living now in Prato with her husband and toddler son, has overcame the dilemmas that many face in finding a job in Italy. After arriving in Firenze, 7 years ago on a holiday trip, she met her Italian husband one night at a pub in Santa Croce, which would be changing her life forever.  Like for most Italian families, a dual income is the standard for family living and for Kate’s family there is no exception.  Through the 7 years of living in Italy, Kate, an aspiring woman, has attained a job she loves and is also in the process of creating a new startup business adventure.

Kate left behind her job as a restaurant manager, working for a celebrity Australian chef. Though she really enjoyed that job, she was not able to continue that type of work here in Italy. Those similar jobs require extensive Italian language, something that Kate did not have at the time. Kate earned a Bachelor’s Degree in English and Archaeology, but focused more on her Bachelor in English in her search for a Job in Italy. It was not long after she completed a TEFL course at a learning center in Firenze, that she was hired by the same center to teach English to local students. After 2 years at this teaching job, she developed enough experience to go out on her own and teach courses in Isolotto at a community center and elementary schools.   Three more years later, Kate started a freelance business with partita iva teaching Business English. She only works for companies on a contract-based salary conducted through a training agency or the company itself.  Because of bad work experiences with schools, Kate strictly conducts all her work for companies. Concerning her contracts, she has her “commercialista” draw-up the documents between the hiring companies and her. She states the terms of the contract and having this kind of document gives her a sense of security needed when dealing with an independent owned business.  Sometimes she gets a “lettera d’incarico” from a training agency where she has her commercialista check over its legitimacy.  How does INPS affect her contracts?

“INPS HURTS…..it’s expensive and I honestly hate paying it. Having said that, I did receive five months of maternity payments plus three months of half-maternity payments because I had paid so much in INPS the previous year. That’s the only positive thing I can say about my relationship with INPS at this point.”

She claims it is easy to get a Partita IVA, but the hardest part is paying the INPS and taxes associated with having a freelance type business.  She started with the ‘regime minime’, so she only paid 5% in tax the first 4 years, but that was when her yearly income had to remain under a certain amount. She states, “The problem is, people with the partita IVA don’t only have to pay taxes and INPS in June, but also another payment in November which is an estimated part payment of what you will be paying for the following year….. Confusing and annoying and sometimes a shock to receive.”   Though she has these contracts, most invoices are paid after 60 or 90 days, so budgeting and planning is important. With more ups than downs in her freelance business, she claims: “It’s the best decision I made regarding my teaching career here, and I haven’t looked back.”

I was curious as to how working has affected her family life.  Kate considers it as one of the best jobs in the world for my family, as it has flexible hours, no weekends, and no evenings.   Kate and her husband decided to place their child in “Asilo” at 5 months for two mornings a week.  She states her infant son benefits from going to the Asilo, “He loves it. He plays, learns and socialises, plus he eats incredibly well. And now that he is 17 months, he is happy to go every day.”

She might have her career of choice, but that has not stopped her from pursuing other business type adventures.  Kate is in the process of designing and implementing another wonderful startup business, created from her expat experience living and giving birth here in Italy. Kate had to go around and collect special items to have when she was going to be in the hospital and at home after delivery.  She says, “pads, nipple balm etc….the things no one really wants to buy and no one really talks about!”  She realized that it was many trips around to get the right items instead of a one stop bag with all the items needed. Kate states, “So I came up with the idea to create a pre packed hospital kit for mums to be. They exist in Australia, the UK and the US, so I’ve decided to give it a shot here. It isn’t a baby kit, this is just for mums and I think it could make a nice baby shower gift from friends or family.  Many of the products I have chosen are certified organic, biodegradable and recyclable. Much of the packaging has been recycled and has low C02s, so are more friendly on the environment than other products on the market. From my research, most people would prefer to throw away the items they use in the hospital, rather than bring them home, therefore it became apparent to me that I needed to create something with as little negative impact on the environment as possible.  In addition, most of the products are produced in Italy. So I’m going to give it a try! Watch this space!”

Kate Whalen came to Italy on a getaway vacation not realizing she would find the love of her life and start to raise a family all while being a motivated woman enjoying her career and creating another one with hopes to help other moms with their births in Italy.  She is a woman many expat moms could learn a lot from in their search to expand their career here in Italy. Just reach out your hands and go for it, it will happen.

Author: Kimberly Vanzi

 

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