What if my kids start resenting “the work?”

by Richelle Wright on April 5, 2013

 

This question must cross the mind of every missionary parent, at least at some point.

I know it has crossed mine… and more than just once.

First, I wonder- What would it look like, their resentment, I mean? Would my child become angry and act out? Would I see sullen and negative with constant complaining discouraging everyone around him? What if my child grew sad, depressed and began to withdraw from life in general? Could her resentment of my calling impact current or future desires to have a relationship with Jesus? Might one of them dislike missions and end up with a deep standing, negative attitude towards missionaries or others working internationally? What if they begrudge the opportunity to have normal childhood experiences? Will my kids feel I’ve somehow deprived them by my choices? Will the hours my husband and I have spent ministering to others spur jealousy and envy of missed afternoons by the pool or mornings spent playing alone in the sand because Mama was busy translating at the computer? What if they are convinced I’ve chosen God and my career over them?

I don’t like to think about those questions very much.

I have often heard it said: God first, spouse second, children next and then ministry and career after that. I’m also not so sure what I believe about that way of thinking and ordering priorities these days.

We like to put things in a hierarchical, linear fashion, don’t we? It makes sense and who does not want to have their priorities organized, and lined up correctly, right? Maybe my discomfort with this idea originates within – I know my own heart when I apply a ranking like this to my decision making process. If it is something I want to do, I pull the God-first trump card and I can hear myself saying –

  • “God has asked me to walk this path for this season…”
  • “God has deeply impressed in my heart that…”
  • “Look how God has opened up all these doors for me to…”
  • “I would have never sought this opportunity myself. God truly dropped it right into my lap and I know He wants…” or even
  • “I’m not so sure what He wants me to do, but I’m going to move forward and trust Him to shut the door if…”

What makes this doubly hard and so tempting is that I tend to be a “Yes-person.” Aren’t many of us involved in ministry or service to others, internationally or otherwise? I easily act as though I believe that if I don’t do a needed job, no one will and it won’t get done… which is no better than behaving as though I’m critical to eternal success.

On the other side, suppose I’m looking at the exact same situation, but instead of excitement or anticipation, ambivalence and reticence regarding some upcoming task, new responsibility or unexpected ministry opportunity overwhelm both my feelings and thinking process. I can just as easily approach any discussion with the “truth” that any ministry must always, under every circumstance, come after family responsibilities, claiming –

  • “My children really need me around more on Saturday afternoons. I don’t think I should give up any more family time already…”
  • “I’m so tired lately. I don’t know how I can be a godly wife, mama, chauffer, house help AND missionary all at the same time…”
  • God would never ask me to sacrifice my children and their needs for the sake of…”
  • “God expects me to take care of my husband, children and home before I get involved in other ministries…” or
  • “My bigger ones are starting to feel I care more about… than I do about them.”

This perspective is a huge temptation because I do love my family and I’m a perfectionist, another trait shared by many who have followed this calling and career path. After hearing about  a very simple, logical priority ladder to consult when making decisions explained, I know I can follow that flow chart, organize all my decisions so that they fit and thus “be” perfect.

Hmmmmmm…

Please don’t think that I think that any of the above statements are categorically wrong, or that any who might have said them or something similar are using high and haughty words to justify the desires of their own heart. In fact, for others, that may never be the case. I just know my own heart, its stealthy deceitfulness – and I know that it is a huge temptation… because when I say something along those lines, really… how CAN anyone else hold me accountable for my decisions and my corresponding courses of action? Either way, I’m obeying God, right? I’m either putting Him above all… or I’m keeping my priorities in line, all based on man’s wisdom… and what I want to do. Very few will dare to tread on a friend’s or a colleague’s or even a spouse’s (sometimes) toes asking hard questions and really seeking to help him/her evaluate those priorities and the decision making progress, spending time in passionate prayer for and with the other person regarding each step, each opportunity. I know I rarely willingly agree to be either one of those two people.

Maybe I’m also convinced of this ~

There may be times when it looks like I’m sacrificing my family or my children because of something I know I’m supposed to do. There may be moments when my children do resent the work or the fact that they don’t have some opportunity that they want to pursue. My husband may question my commitment to ministry when I tell him that our children really do need a break from Sunday school in a second language. There will probably also be seasons where our partners back home wonder what’s the point in sending all that support money just so I can be wife and Mama on the back side of the desert.

I guess I don’t think there exists a cut and dried answer to the question… I can’t reduce it to a simple, logical priority placement plan. I WISH it was that easy. I do know I need to find a place of sincerity, moderation and balance.

Yet there’s no guarantee. Even if I, by God’s grace, do land on a right priority balance between following God, caring for my family and devotion to ministry and others ~ my children might still resent “the work” or at least some aspect of this life. Maybe part of my job includes discipling them while modeling and living authentically before them this struggle to find balance and perspective?

****************************************

I’m curious. What do you, in general, think about all of this?

Do you find it difficult? Why or why not?

What do you think about the prioritization hierarchy I mentioned above? Is it helpful to you?

How do you keep right priorities and balance in your life?

 ****************************************

– Richelle Wright, missionary in Niger, W. Africa

blog:   Our Wright-ing Pad    ministry:   Wright’s Broadcasting Truth to Niger     facebook:  Richelle Wright

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About Richelle Wright

Disciple of Jesus, lover of God's Word, wife to one great guy, and mama of eight, Richelle has spent the past 13 years in Niger, West Africa. She and her family are currently in the throes of transition as they begin life and ministry (teaching, audio-visual production) in the Canadian province of Québec. |ourwrightingpad.blogspot.com|
  • As someone who has spent her entire life surrounded by missionary kids (having been one, having siblings marry MKs, birthing and raising MKs, working in youth ministry with MKs), I don’t think the importance of this issue can be overstated. While I agree that there is no black and white to this issue, I think at the end of the day, kids and teens need to feel that when push comes to shove, their parents will “choose them.” When a kid or teen is in crisis and feels that their parents are choosing work, God, or ministry “over” them, they will develop a resentment and an adversarial relationship toward those things. As parents, God calls us to raise our children up in the fear and knowledge of him, which I think overrides any other calling. I saw parents who had kids in boarding school choose to stay with their ministry projects in the villages rather than return to their kids in jeopardy. That choice irreparably damaged their children’s relationship with them AND with God. I’m not going to say it is a no brainer, but it might not be quite as complicated as we make it.

    • i think i agree with you, as a general practice. but i also wonder if there aren’t seasons, there aren’t times, when God asks us to do that which doesn’t make sense and isn’t logical or obvious – and our family may be asked to sacrifice as a part of that. and in those same sorts of situations you describe, was it the parental choice and location that made all the difference? or could it have been how that choice was communicated to the child and then carried out. sometimes i think we make it an either/or ultimatum when it shouldn’t be, if that makes sense.

  • kaybruner.com

    When we choose this life, we choose a particular set of wounds for our children. Grief and loss are inherent to the TCK experience. Be aware that your children are always part of the walking wounded. They have made enormous sacrifices, NONE OF WHICH THEY CHOSE. Treat them gently. Monitor their loss-load, and if they are starting to show signs of being unable to carry the burden, then let them be the one lost sheep that you are willing to go out after. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from a local man in the country where we were serving. He said, “This language has been here for thousands of years. It will still be here next year.” In other words, you missionaries need to stop thinking it’s your job to save the world this week, and chill your little martyr selves out. I’m a TCK, my husband is a TCK, we raised four TCK’s, and now I’m a therapist to TCK’s. With approximately 200 years of TCK experience to go on in our household, I would say this: you and your children are not the expendable crew member. If you’ve all been thrown under the bus, accidentally or on purpose, get yourselves to a beach and lie down for a couple of weeks. And then think about how you can do ministry in a way that honors the needs of everyone in the situation. But here’s the thing. If you persistently put your kids’ needs aside “for the ministry,” then don’t be shocked when they end up in my office in a few years. Don’t worry,my fees are reasonable, and we’ll work toward forgiveness 🙂

    • 🙂 oh… we wouldn’t head for a beach – we’ve had our fill of heat and sand. we’d be more likely to head north for mountain streams and forests! …which i probably why we are heading to scotland for a vacation on our way home this summer.

      seriously, those are some really wise words (and i don’t know if i need to clarify – but i will – my kids are all presently doing great and love this tck life on most fronts). i loved how you said that we’ve chosen “a particular set of wounds for our children.” we are wise to understand those wounds and how they affect each one of our children, on an individual level, as well as the corporate effect on our family.

      there is no way around it: our children will be wounded – no doubt. but choices we make as parents does influence the types of wounds they will experience – not as a matter of guilt or beating ourselves up, but more as an issue of awareness and addressing specific needs and issues that result.

      is there an expendable crew member? ever? really? i don’t believe there is…

      • kaybruner.com

        Yeah, I think my kids would say that this life is a gift, too, and I’m grateful for that. Some of the things that I remember as horribly traumatic (being evacuated from the country with 15 minutes’ notice, and spending 5 days on a troop transport ship), they recall as wonderful and amazing (a 5 day sleep over with all their friends, and endless Pringles). And no, there are no expendable crew members! But how many times, historically, did women and children bear the brunt in missions? We are not so far removed from those days, and I think, like Rosa Parks said, we have got to get tired of giving in.

        • it is pretty amazing how a child’s eye view has a totally different perspective than an adult’s… and they both are true. my kids would consider an emergency evacuation a huge adventure while i’d consider it a nightmare on every front. 🙂

    • Hope

      I have to admit that the thought that I am wounding my children by bringing them to a place where we are all called by God to serve together, rubs me wrong. I guess, though, I can come to terms with it, if I think that all children are wounded, in some way. God calls us to be more than conquerers. If He calls us to love and serve the least of these in a foreign culture, then I believe he will pave the way with healing and understanding for each child. I get it that life can be difficult and hard things happen. I get it that the TCK has difficult issues to face. However, when I look around at the TCKs I know, many of them are doing quite well. They live abundant lives in Christ.
      There is wisdom here, and I like your comment. We need to compassionately parent and look to the needs of our children. We do need to look at our ministries with a long term perspective. I’m just not super comfortable with labeling my children as wounded by their TCK experience.

      • hey hope. i must admit that i bristled at the wounded comment my first read as well. but i think the key point to remember is that as mommies and daddies we make choices that result in consequences we not only bear but ones that affect our children as well. sometimes those choices result injury and other times they result in blessing. that truth, more than anything else, sobers me i those moments i’m tempted to take this parenting thing lightly. when i think of how many times i wound my children with my words or a glance or a glare – i think i’d be a bit naive not to recognize that this lifestyle tends to be prone to particular types of woundings… if that makes sense.

        maybe you’d prefer the image, rather than wounding, of choosing a particular type of baggage that our children are going to have to learn how to carry as a result of our lifestyle choices… because that lends itself immediately to learning to let Jesus carry our burdens but also the importance of bearing one another’s burdens?

      • kaybruner.com

        Yeah, being wounded is part of being human. It’s just that loss and grief are particularly inherent to the TCK life–these are our particular wounds. We’re guaranteed to get them while leaving behind all that we know and love on a regular basis. I think we can’t forget, ever, that our kids are carrying this burden of loss. As my kids grow into young adults, I’m seeing that the wounds translate into compassion. Our Redeemer lives.

      • Relevelerr Heidegger

        I’m 48 and resent the hell out of my parents for forcing me to be a missionary kid. I could never be myself, always had to represent the message. My life was put in hold for over 20 years before I started figuring things out.

        I know my parents meant well, and I’ve done my best to forgive them. But I doubt I’ll be able to forget what happened. Do gooders who think they know better disgust me, please forgive them lord forvyhey know not what they do.

    • Noni

      Yeah – but what if you have more than one kid and they need different things? I’ve seen families here struggle with that dilemma. What do you do when faced with a situation where finding one lost sheep-child will means losing the other? It’s so hard to know the right thing to do when the needs of each family member is so different! It’s a hard thing to parent TCKs 🙂

  • Tricia

    Richelle, thank you for so eloquently expressing those deep thoughts that a lot of us are thinking! I don’t have any answers, just the thought that this is why Paul wrote that it is “better” to stay as he was for the sake of the gospel. No worries about anyone coming first; spouse, children…

    • thank you for your kind words, tricia.

      families – spouse and children and aging parents and other family members with needs… or even friends who’ve become family – we are responsible for each other and we are interconnected. but we also serve an amazing God who meets needs better than we can… so when God calls us into this life as ones with a family, we must trust Him for guidance, but also to meet those needs we wish we could but sometimes can’t because of our ministry responsibilities. and the when, why, where – are simple variables that we place in a specific order and it always works out just perfectly…

  • Vicki

    We raised our three adult children on the mission field. I am humbly thankful to say that they love God and they love the Church. Our oldest two are planning to become missionaries. The other one is just starting college, but he also has a huge heart for ministry, I grew up in a very dysfunctional home like over 50% of US missionaries- so my tendency was to want to “rescue the world” so that I would feel worthwhile. (When I was single, I had convinced myself that it was the Lord calling me to do this. That’s how strong my emotions can be- and one reason for the high attrition rate of missionaries.) Gradually, I came to understand that my husband and children were my first ministry. Not everyone agreed, of course. From the beginning of our church planting ventures, we felt that the Lord called our FAMILY to serve Him in missions, not just my husband and me. Our kids were involved in helping -praying for people who were close to receiving Christ, setting up chairs, etc. We often thanked the Lord for the privilege of being part of HIs plan. I home schooled-which allowed me to give enough individual attention to my kids during the day. I felt free to minister in the late afternoons and early evenings if my husband could stay home with them. I have never regretted this decision. I never feel sorry for my kids because they are MKs. They never doubt that we love them. They have been part of seeing many people become transformed by Jesus Christ. They are bilingual and bicultural in a world that is paying lots of money to learn how to do this. There were sacrifices, of course, for all of us. Every decision we make involves sacrificing some things for something we value even more.

    • this is such a beautiful testimony, vicki. thank you for sharing how the Lord directed your family and how it worked for you. i’m so glad you commented. 🙂

      we’ve chosen a similar path with our children and they’ve invested significantly in our ministries in many different ways. at first, it was because it was something the whole family did – it fills my heart with joy when i see older ones choosing today because God has impressed it in their hearts and it is what they want, with all of their heart.

  • Once again, Richelle, you have sparked a deeply good conversation in this space. I love your honesty, and I do think that (as others have said) there are “issues” with all kids and all parenting choices. And I just think it does take a close walking with Spirit to see what’s best for each kid, when. And heaven’s sake, this could change.

    For us, honestly, one of the reasons we did come home from the field was to fight for the heart of our son. We really failed him in our first year overseas by unintentionally “throwing him to the wolves” and expecting him to be able to handle being the only boy hanging out at a children’s home for girls, without the language. It really caused damage to his self esteem, his confidence, etc. I really missed his heart and expected too much. This was our lack of wisdom in parenting and i think in many could have been avoided had we landed in different circumstances with better training.

    And there were lots of reasons we relocated to States, but giving him a breather from something that proved traumatic was def. one of them.

    And maybe people will say “you gave up too quickly” but honestly, I don’t really care what they say or think.:) I just feel confident in our Christ-following for our family, and there comes times when as a parent, that’s what you have to rest in.

    Anyway– THANK YOU for bravely asking the hard questions. I love your insights, as ALWAYS!!

    • oh Laura – thanks for sharing so openly – i think this is another beautiful testimony of how God led your family – you and your husband as the parents of your little guy.

      we made a similar type of mistake with our most timid combined with introverted one in the bunch. in our desire for her to get the language and give her a bit of experience just for a few months, we enrolled her in a summer day school/camp program. she went with her sister, so she wasn’t alone; it was a limited duration and the aunties that ran the program truly doted on our girls and were wonderful with them. but SHE wasn’t ready and now, 8 years later, we are till working at overcoming some of the repercussions from that choice. SHE is the one most excited about our imminent and probably extended return to the States for a period of time. when I ask her what she’ll miss, it never has anything to do with the people… she’s going to miss the horses she rides each week. thankfully, God has been so gently gracious with us and with her, she is growing and presently making good choices and wants to follow the Lord. it is exciting to see what He’s done, in spite of our mistakes, in her life.

      i love how you can say you rest in the decisions God compelled you to make and don’t care what others say/think when you know you’ve done right in Christ-following in your family. i’m to the point where i usually do obey in those circumstances, but i fight those demons of others expectations and approval the entire time.

      and – i LOVE that particular pic of my big girlies as well… for so many reasons!

  • And can I say I LOVE this pic of your girls?!!

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  • Dave Lewis

    Looks like no one has touched on the hierarchy thing. I had to move away from that paradigm early on in my missions career. No matter how I rearranged the order, the stuff on bottom always seemed to be second-class somehow. I have chosen a new model of concentric circles, with God/Jesus and my relationship with him at the core. What radiates out of that affects every other aspect of my life. The other aspects are like equal spokes in a wheel, so I don’t have to juggle my hierarchy anymore or feel guilty about giving short shrift to something important.

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  • Meadow Zanatelli

    Thanks for these good thoughts. I am a TCK via the military and have just returned to the mission field after having my first baby in the States. He is only 10 months old but I have been realizing how much even being a baby overseas affected me so am trying to analyze his experiences.
    I think maybe the “foreign country” experience and “ministry” burdens need to be looked at separately. A pastors kid may grow up with resentment towards God/church/etc without living in a foreign place. I want my son to enjoy the benefits of a second culture as I did as a child, without feeling forced to participate. And that is a different thing than my desire to do ministry I love and feel called to, while balancing the calling to be his mom. I guess i will see what happens as i pray thru each moment! 🙂
    I have been a missionary for 10 years now so it’s a big transition but its great to hear the wisdom of others. Thanks!

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