Dear Missionary Mom of Littles,
I see you.
I’m starting with that, because I know that often you don’t feel seen. You stay home with the kids while your husband goes out to teach the Bible study. You hang around the back of the church, trying to keep the baby quiet. You have to leave the team meeting early so that your toddler gets his nap.
Of course, every mom of littles, in any culture, is going to struggle with similar things. But I think that this particular season of life is even harder on missionary moms.
Quite likely, you are raising your kids in isolation. You don’t have your own parents or other relatives nearby to help out. There isn’t a Mommy-group at your church or a pee-wee soccer league in your city. There might not even be a McDonald’s Playland or a safe park to walk to. And you feel trapped.
Yes, there are other ladies in your host country with small children. But they may be parenting their children very differently from you. They might live in their mother-in-law’s house. They might put their kids in all-day preschool at two years old, or hire a full-time nanny, or be okay with letting their children freely roam the streets. They might criticize you for not keeping your child warm enough or spoiling them too much or not spoiling them enough or for giving your child a popsicle, even when it’s 90 degrees outside. And you feel very alone.
Maybe you’re remembering earlier days, when you worked right alongside your husband, or when your job felt significant. When your ministry was thriving and you could look back at the end of the day and feel satisfied with all you accomplished. Now you feel exhausted but have nothing to show for it. Your newsletters are full of your husband’s adventures, but you don’t have anything to contribute. And your life just feels….boring.
And you may wonder, What’s the point? Why am I here? You know the importance of spending these years with your little ones, but it feels like you could be doing the exact same job in your home country. Except there, your life would be less lonely and less difficult.
I was you for ten years. When I see you, I remember.
This is what I learned, and this is what I want you to know today.
Be creative. You get the opportunity to take the best parts of parenting from multiple cultures. You don’t have to do it exactly like they do, but you also don’t have to raise your children exactly the way you were raised. Work within your host culture’s expectations of raising children. Maybe that means hiring a part-time nanny or housekeeper. Maybe that means letting your kids play outside in much colder or hotter weather than your home country.
Find your ministry niche. This is so, so important for moms of littles. True, you probably won’t be able to engage in full-time ministry during this season. But find something. Something that will allow you to use your gifts and interests in your host culture. Maybe it’s hospitality. Maybe it’s doing accounting while your kids are napping. Maybe it’s teaching for a few hours a week. Maybe it’s connected to what your husband is doing, but maybe it’s not. Either way is okay.
Embrace the advantages of this season. Adorable small children are a great way to start relationships. Even better, people talk slower and more simply to children—which is exactly what you need as a language learner. And if the combination of your kids and your city restrict you to your house most of the time, then think of this as an excellent season for learning. Listen to language lessons during playtime. Read books on culture during nap time. Pepper your neighbor with questions about culture. You will learn a side of your host country that your husband or teammates won’t see, and that is an important contribution.
Be brave. Cross-cultural work is always hard, but it might be easier for your husband, who has a school or office or business to go off to every day. It can be a lot harder for a mom who needs to summon up the courage to knock on the neighbor’s door, initiate the conversation in a new language, get to know the woman who just criticized your baby’s sockless feet. Sometimes it feels easier to just stay home. Fight against that tendency.
Be faithful. This season will not last forever. It feels like it—trust me, I know. The days are endless and mind-numbing, but one day you will throw away your last diaper or brush your last set of teeth. Your kids will become more independent and you won’t have to watch them every waking second. Your life will not always be this restrictive or exhausting.
Hang in there, Mom of Littles. Take joy in their giggles, pray through the long nights, and get up in the morning. God will not waste your faithfulness.
If you live cross-culturally and are not a mom of littles, I encourage you: Show these missionary moms you see them. Hold the baby. Offer to baby-sit. Ask for their contributions in your strategic planning. Value their voices. Work around their schedules. Look for ways to use their gifts. You and your team will be stronger for it.
My littles from nine years ago. Seems like yesterday.