We were visiting one of our churches in another country recently and in the post-service swarm we had made it only as far as the lobby. My mind was simultaneously trying to spot several friends I hadn’t seen yet, trying to figure out how to get away long enough to change my toddler, and wondering about the probable location of my disastrously extroverted four-year-old. My oldest daughter was beside me, until she was stopped by an older gentleman and his wife for a greeting. I tuned in just in time to hear him say, “This is all probably very strange to you. I don’t know if you realize it, but you are a [child of overseas workers]. You probably feel that that is pretty hard. I bet you don’t think it’s fair that you have to give things up.” My daughter’s eyes met mine in confusion. She wasn’t exactly sure what he was talking about—or how to respond to it.
“Can you believe me that what you are doing is all worth it?” He asked. Pinned between agreement and the back wall of the lobby, she solemnly agreed.
A minute later she asked me, suddenly, “What did he say, Mom? What did I do?”
“It’s okay,” I said. “I think it’s because we live in Indonesia.”
I could tell it still didn’t make sense to her. The thing is, our kids love our life. They take life overseas in their stride in the same childlike spirit with which they accept everything that simply is. I think they’d embrace life on Neptune if we moved there. I remember being told, before we moved, that this might well be the case—that the young ages of our children would help them to accept such a change in their circumstances. But I remember also that I didn’t believe it.
My perspective has changed so much that I have to make an intentional effort to recall the thoughts and feelings that were so heavy before we left. I remember worrying that what we were doing would be bad for the kids. I worried about their health, safety, and happiness being jeopardized. Will some day they resent us for doing this to them? was an oft-recurring thought.
Sometimes we have the opportunty to talk to people who are considering moving their families overseas. After a number of these conversations, I realize that the concerns I experienced about the children before setting off are typical. I just don’t know, they say, if I can do this to my kids.
I think as parents we are all acutely aware that our choices, whatever they are, establish the circumstances of our children’s lives. To a large extent, we make the bed and they lie in it. This is uncomfortable for us, even if it’s the way it’s supposed to be. Before our first child was born, Alex and I read (and were helped by, in some ways) the controversial book Babywise. One thing the authors sought to establish in the early chapters is the concept that the children are not and should not be the center of the family. In fact, the parents are the parents and the children are the children. The parents should not make the children and their development and desires their primary value or focus. Instead, the family stands strong on the stability of the marriage and the children are welcomed into and participate in this stability. We found this insight very helpful—but it does not mean that the children’s wellbeing is not considered or important. If anything, the temptation is probably still to make it the most important thing. (Please don’t think I am saying it is not important at all!)
Regardless of how important we make this question in our families, the question that I really want to raise is this one: need we assume that a life of overseas service is not in the best interest of our children? Can we scratch at that deep question of “how can I do this to my kids” for a minute?
Weigh in if you want to, more on this to come…