A Mother of Four Overseas...

Posted by  | Wednesday, December 3, 2008  at 3:16 AM  
A good friend of mine agreed to post for us this week and give us her nuggets of wisdom for raising kids overseas. She is a mother of 3 and one on the way in just a few weeks! She and her family also just had a major life change by moving to a new country...whew...what trying times! She is a great mom and is so creative I know you will enjoy her post:

It is a humbling, challenging, and a privileged time of motherhood for any amount of time a mother raises her children overseas.When we moved overseas, I never thought of all of the implications that decision would have upon my mothering. We just took our toddler daughter (15 months) "along for the ride." Six years later, after much stripping and molding, I have a different perspective than the day we arrived.

Within this time period we have had two more children overseas, and soon to have our fourth. The toddler who came with us is now 7 years old, and she, along with her 3 ½ and 1 ½ year old sisters, have known little else than her overseas home.

These are a few things that we have learned in raising our children overseas:

1.“The children play the tape of the parents.”

These were some great words of wisdom given to us before we left. We have experienced this in our own family, and it can be a scary mirror to the parents. Children will tend to elephant the emotions that the parents are feeling. We, as parents, think we may be hiding our true feelings, but our children pick up on them like little radars.

For example, if we like the nationals, our children love the nationals and believe they are a part of them. If we dislike riding in taxis, our children hate taxis and complain about not having a “real” car. If we are happy to receive goodies from the States, our children think everything is substandard and not worth value unless it comes in a package from the States. If we give to our friends, then our children will sacrifice their favorite toy so that the neighbor child will be happy.


2. Childhood overseas is different, but it does not mean it is inferior. It is just different.

We found a tendency to overindulge our children as a way to deal with parental guilt and hurting. After all, we are the reason they are suffering so. Get that thought out of your head - their childhood is different, but it is no less amazing and memory-filled. We tend to believe that they are missing out on something in someway, and they will be scarred for it. Yet, this is their life, and it is normal to them. We have learned to put energy into creating memories in our country, instead of attempting to recreate our own childhood memories with them.

3. Instill the sovereignty of God in your children.

He is mightier, greater, and stronger than anything we encounter, no matter what the situation looks like. He loves us, and He always does good. There are more uncontrolled transitions and more obvious sufferings encountered overseas. Our children can be confronted daily with situations that generate very hard questions, and to understand God’s sovereignty is a crucial foundation.

One way we have tried to communicate this to our children is by making a "Grace Book" for each one. This is a book where we record how God has given His grace to them. It can be recorded in multiple ways, a story, a specific instance, a verse, a picture. It is to be a running reminder how God has walked with them throughout their lives. For instance, a verse chosen for them when they were born, a story of God saving them in a physical way, or how they were used for God’s glory in some way. It is now our daughters’ favorite book to read.

4. Live life.

No matter the duration you live in a different country, live life there! Throw a fun birthday party, don't wait until you get back to have a "real party." Go on vacation and live it up! (Even if it isn’t where you would actually like to be.) Enjoy making your house a home from the beginning. Paint rooms and decorate. Be proactive in starting new things. For example, I wanted our girls to experience Girl Scouts, but there wasn't a troop where I lived, so I started one. Start new family traditions and continue old ones. No matter the length of time you are there, this is not a blip on the screen of life. This is your life, so live it.

5. Learn the language and have your children learn the language. It’s just easier all around.

6. Allow your child to grieve.

One difficulty is that life overseas is always a "Good-bye." Whether you leave your overseas country or the States during trips, it is always a leaving and a good-bye to friends and family. As children begin moving out of the toddler stage, they are becoming more aware of this constant transition and sadness displayed by the people they love. Allowing our children to grieve is hard for us as parents, but needed by our children. Even at the young age of 5, our daughter needed us to walk her through grief. Instead of trying to smoothing things over by saying, “But this country has such and such, you should be happy. Look at all of your friends here or isn't it fun to be here because of such and such.” We learned to allow her to cry, or be angry or confused, or say negative things, all along gently reconfirming to her the positive blessings around her. “It's okay to miss Grandma and Grandpa, I do too. I cry about not being with them, too. Let's write them a letter and tell them how we feel. If they came and visited, where would you like to take them? What would be something special to show them about this country?”

7. Hand your children back to God over and over again.

It is heartbreaking to see your children hurting because of your decision to move overseas. Whether it be physical hurt, emotional hurt, loneliness, or frustration. This is a time to hand them back to God.
I remember our first year overseas and our young daughter having a different illness every month. I had finally ran out of my supply of USA infant medications. She had severe vomiting, diarrhea and fever. I was to wake her every hour to give her fluids. It was 3 am and I sat at her bed and cried over the helplessness that I felt. I realized then how much I had depended on my own knowledge, my own prideful protection of her from germs, and upon the abundance of resources available to me in the States. But here, I had nothing. Just as the rich centurion went to Christ and said, "Help me, my child is dying." He had exhausted all he had available to him. His riches, his nationality, his resources, etc were not enough. So, he finally went to Christ. Christ told him that his child was healed, and to go. It took him more than a day to get home. All he had with him in the dark night was Christ's words. In the middle of my own dark night, I realized how much I "talked" in the States about my prayers for my children, but I really was putting my trust into my resources. He stripped all things away to show me that His words were all I really had to make it through the night. At that point, I gave my children to Him. As Charles Spurgeon said, "As for His failing you, never dream of it—hate the thought. The God who has been sufficient until now, should be trusted to the end.”

8. Include your children as much as possible so that they see your lifestyle and understand why you have chosen to live overseas. For example, to show the importance of giving, my husband has a date day with one child a week. They walk crowded, busy, and narrow streets looking for people to give to. The items vary according to the need of the person. It might be a piece of bread, money, a book, or a prayer. Then they always eat at a local street place and talk about who they see. It can be humbling as our children see with such pure eyes. As they were walking one day, my husband pushed pass a beggar because the sight is so normal, and they usually take advantage of foreigners. Our daughter said, "Daddy, I will give him my money and some of my chips. He is hungry." She was giving such mercy, and he gave a mood of annoyance.

9. Create a home of peace.

Not only is it important for others who come into your home to feel peace, but it is vital for your children. A constant pouring of truth into their lives may only come from your home. Our children are inundated with untruths in our friends homes, on the street, from the culture. Their daddy must play a more frontline role as they do not have grandparents, family or many other role models in their lives.

10. Pray, and pray and pray some more.

If you move overseas, you were chosen to be an overseas mother. God will give you the wisdom, strength and endurance to run that race. Pray with your husband about your feelings and circumstances. Join other mothers in your country and pray for you children together. Live with no guilt or regrets as you strive for your daily closure to be, “I have obeyed Him today in my mothering.” – no matter which continent that is on.

2 comments:

Krista said...

Thanks so much for sharing this post - what wisdom and what truth! I really, really enjoyed reading what you've said. It's all so true. . . and so challenging.

Shannon said...

Wow, what an amazing, truth-filled post. My husband and I lived overseas before we had children, and I know you've addresses some really important subject matter. And so full of grace and truth. Thank you so much.

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