Yaniece Gentles - Mothering away from the motherland

All Woman

SIX months before the declaration of the novel coronavirus pandemic, Yaniece Gentles embarked on the career opportunity of a lifetime. A short-term assignment had taken her from Red Stripe's brewery in Kingston to HEINEKEN Europe's regional office in Amsterdam as a finance business controller. It's an opportunity she had dreamed about and planned for, long before marriage and family.

“I really wanted this opportunity for my career, but when it presented itself later than planned and at a time when my circumstances had changed, I resolved that it was not one I wanted to pass up; but it was no longer just me to think about. I had a small family now who would also be greatly impacted by the move. It needed to be a family decision,” said Gentles.

So after discussions with her entrepreneur spouse, Richard, the next hurdle was convincing her daughter Kailee, then nine years old, to move away from her school friends and family. The couple's baby Solae was too young to have an input at the time, but moving with an infant halfway across the world was a herculean task in and of itself.

Fast forward to 2021, and Gentles is 8,000km from home, with a toddler that speaks Dutch, a second language picked up at daycare. The career mom now has a deeper appreciation for the adage, 'it takes a village to raise a child'.

“The transition made me realise how reliant I was on my village, my close-knit family structure, who provided well-needed support in balancing career and family. With the move away from Jamaica, I lost the convenience of the physical proximity of my mother and friends who supported us at home. I've learned the true meaning of resilience,” she said.

Describing her spouse as very supportive, Gentles says they have now learnt to feed off each other's energy. “There's no other family here to turn to, so we have to be here for each other, providing what each of us needs to take us through.”

The 38-year-old finance whiz shared that the new environment has also tested her emotional and mental agility to navigate and succeed at an international assignment, while maintaining her relationship, being a full-time mom and living through a global pandemic.

COVID aside, almost any woman will tell you that under normal circumstances, juggling a career, a relationship, parenting, and sustaining friendships can be rather taxing.

“It makes prioritising that much more important. I focus on the things I have control of, like using technology to ensure we keep in touch with family. Zoom parties are now a staple family event,” she shared.

Gentles also credits her cultural training and openness to meeting new people for her successful immersion into Dutch life. She's also found great value in making connections with other families facing a similar reality and building relationships with colleagues at work.

Navigating culture and communication

Structured family time and having open communication with her 10-year-old, who is seemingly the most impacted by the move, have truly helped her keep the family together and happy, while not losing sight of her career aspirations.

Her major parenting challenges thus far have come mainly from certain cultural differences between the Dutch and Jamaican societies.

“The use of expletives is not frowned upon in the Netherlands like it is in Jamaica. The Dutch are also very direct and this way of communicating is also encouraged in children, regardless of age. So you find that children openly challenge adult direction if it is not in line with what they are learning in school,” explained Gentles.

Confessing that though this took some adjusting, 'being direct' also helped her to be more emotionally in tune with Kailee who is actively learning about inclusion and diversity at the international school she attends – a very topical issue now that she initially thought would be reserved for adults and the workplace, but seeing that she attends an international school it makes complete sense.

Gentles believes that while it comes with its own set of unique challenges, having a family should never impede a woman from making the most of her professional opportunities, whether locally or abroad.

“If you have international career aspirations, it is probably best to pursue them when you are single or childless as it is less complicated. But having a family should never preclude you from capitalising on career prospects and reaching your highest potential. In fact, having a family with you has many benefits that are critical to navigating a whole new world, that is diametrically opposed to your cultural norms and values. You get the benefit of the familiarity of home and a feeling of community that you miss being alone.”

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