I don’t know if there are studies about this or if it is purely anecdotal, but I have heard over and over that how kids respond to a life overseas is directly related to how parents, especially moms, respond to it.
No pressure, moms.
Seriously, no pressure. All is Grace.
But also, seriously, how ya doin’?
Some days are so full of purpose, language success, and cultural deepening that our joy overflows and we dance around the kitchen with our kids.
Some days are so lonely, breaking, hot, dusty, disappointing, and frustrating that if we had our first choice, we would be on the way to the airport right.now.
I absolutely think it is valuable to be honest and vulnerable about our struggles, but what we choose to emphasis around our children matters.
Especially when kids are little. As they grow and become teenagers, are able to see more nuance and are facing their own struggles, we can become more transparent about ours. But when kids are young, if we want them to thrive and enjoy living in our new location, we need to help them.
When grandparents are far away, when we feel hopelessly isolated in our career, when food tastes weird, when the market doesn’t have what is on our shopping list, when money is tight, when friends move away, when we sweat through our clothing simply while sitting down, when you can’t see the sky because of all the dust in the air, when conversation never digs deep because you don’t know the vocabulary yet, when you haven’t laughed, really laughed, in weeks…
How do we pass on a positive perspective to our kids? Here are just a few suggestions. I’m sure you can think of many more.
Lift up your eyes. At street level maybe all you can see is garbage, road kill, traffic jams, brown dirt and rocks instead of grass. What rises above the street? Mountains in the distance? The ocean? Incredible buildings? Beautiful mosques? Church steeples? Puffy clouds? Brilliant sunsets? Fix your eyes there.
Notice nature. Brown, dirt, rocks. That’s the main sense of where I live. But those rocks have crystals embedded in them. And there are basalt, volcanic, obsidian rocks. They are green, blue, red, white, gray, black, orange, yellow, and brown. As the temperature climbs, jasmine blooms. From thorn trees, wild parakeets call to one another.
Appreciate, out loud, small gestures of kindness. You may deal with corruption, injustice, poverty. But you may also encounter a kind man who gives you correct and clear directions to a shop. A coworker might see you walking and offer you a ride. You might be short a few coins in the market and the vendor waves it off and throws in a bonus banana.
Speak truth. And hope. There is always something hopeful to see, comment on, or pay attention to. Even when you have hard conversations with your kids about injustice or disease or loneliness, which are also all true, include the beautiful and good as well.
Turn on music. Worship music, dance music, goofy songs.
Say the good things out loud, intentionally, to your kids. What you talk about, they will talk about, especially when they are young. What you notice and call out, they will notice and call out.
We used to drive past the port and the ocean on the way to school every morning. Off and on, I would say, “I am so thankful we get to drive past the water every day.” We also drove past homeless people and wide swaths of burning garbage. A few years later, my kids changed schools. One day I asked how they liked the junior high school. They said, “School is fine. But we really miss driving past the ocean.”
Yes, give them words for the hard things, for the homelessness and the diseases and their fears and stressers. But also give them words for the beauty. It takes extra effort and sometimes the words come out through gritted teeth, but saying it is good for our own souls, too. And, as a parent who has spent 15 years raising kids abroad, about to launch twins back to the United States for university, I’m asking you to trust me. The effort pays off in ways you cannot imagine when they are young.
Help your kids discover the beauty where you live. None of you will regret it.