in which a question is raised

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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…

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2 Responses to in which a question is raised

  1. Emily Walker says:

    As someone who seriously considered “doing that to my kids,” I view the TCK as an incredibly rich life. Relatively effortlessly, they can be bilingual and invested in and understanding of more than one culture. So cool.

  2. Laurie says:

    First, I’m sure you might be able to put yourself into the shoes of the man who said those things. He may have children who resented what he did, or he himself may have been raised cross-culturally and carries some wounds. The truth is, worker families haven’t/aren’t always good about including their children in the work that they have been called to. They’ve fallen short as parents there in the same ways we fall short here. He was obviously speaking out of some experience that can’t (and shouldn’t) be denied.

    However, what he said can’t (and shouldn’t) also necessarily be applied to all workers’ children. Your kids are not his kids and your family is not his family.

    I think you’re right in your assessment about your kids’ perspectives now. Your kids don’t know any difference right now – how could they? They know where they live, they know that mommy and daddy are there, can be depended upon, and love them dearly. They know their home and their friends and their neighborhood. They are growing up, in those ways, exactly the same as they would no matter where they might live. And you are doing an incredibly good job of loving them, dicipling them, and giving them all that they need to grow into healthy, well-adjusted, men and women who will (God willing) have a good impact on the world. Your work here or there doesn’t change how that happens much and doesn’t change that it happens at all.

    But it would also be naive to think that your kids will not be affected by being American children raised in another culture. There are differences in what they’re experiencing there from what life would be like here. It’s definitely not “worse” or “bad” (I agree that it’s rich and good), but it is different. As they get older, they will realize the differences more and more. They may even grieve over some of the things they realize they’ve “missed out on” not growing up here. You will need to be honestly prepared for that and help them face those things with grace and humility.

    But it will also be your job (now and continuously) to teach them to see all that God has given them by being there. Rather than an “I HAD to grow up in another culture” you have the opportunity to teach an “I GOT to grow up in another culture!” It’s not something you’re doing “to” them as much as it is something you’re doing “for” them (and with them!). What a rich heritage! Not everyone gets to have it! They will need to appreciate it for what it is – not for what it isn’t. But kids appreciating what their parents have done for them takes a long, LONG time no matter where (or how) they’ve been raised. 🙂 You’ll get them there. It might be easy to see them there in the younger years and think they will not have to struggle through any of it. But it will be better to be prepared for them to struggle some and need your wise and loving help through it eventually.

    Using the growing body of TCK materials available to navigate through that will help you and will also help them to see their struggles as normal and manageable. That, in and of itself, will be extremely helpful.

    I would suggest that you help your kids see those kinds of comments as sad and indicating that someone has pain in their life somewhere that leaks out sometimes in the things they say. You can help them to have empathy for people who have suffered losses. But that does not mean that his comments (or others like them) will be true for them.

    Just my thoughts… 🙂 Love you, Laurie

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