A common caption for pictures on my Instagram feed is something along the lines of “she’s living her best life” accompanied by an adorable shot of a toddler cuddling her puppy or a little boy with an infectious grin covered head to toe in mud.
Sometimes I can just smile at the cuteness, but other times I get a churning in my gut – a mix of envy, guilt and the ever lurking fear that the choices we’ve made for how we live our lives will somehow ruin our children.
If I were creating the perfect childhood for my kids, it would involve living close to family and having a clean, safe outside space to play in. There would be lots of opportunities to try out different sports and instruments and activities, and school would be fun. They’d have access to services when they were struggling with speech or reading, and a gaggle of neighborhood friends to shoot hoops with in the driveway. The air they were breathing would be clean, and they wouldn’t catch salmonella from playing at the beach (or taking a shower – jury is still out on where that nasty bug came from.)
Everyone tells you about the benefits of raising children overseas, and I love that my kids are growing up multilingual. I love that they are exposed to different cultures and the close bonds they have with one another because of our “never quite fitting in anywhere” lifestyle.
I don’t love when my kid comes home crying because some girls filled her desk and backpack and books with glitter… because she won her class math competition and they have to bring her down a notch because she’s a foreigner.
Are my kids “living their best life?” I can confidently answer that with a resounding no. Don’t get me wrong. They are happy. They have friends, they enjoy the activities they are involved in, they are doing well in school. But looking at it from a physical, emotional or psychological perspective, no, it’s not their best life. And yes, I often feel sad and sometimes guilty for this. We knew we would be making sacrifices on our kids’ behalf when we chose this life, but that doesn’t make it any easier when your children are bawling their eyes out because they miss their family or because apparently white people are ugly.
But all this begs the question: is that our primary responsibility as parents? To give our kids their best life?
When our kids were younger and they’d pine for life in America after a fun summer there, we could easily remind them that summertime anywhere is more fun. But as they are getting older, the reality of what they are missing out on is becoming clearer to them. So we let them talk about it. We grieve with them the loss of the life they think they’d enjoy having.
And then we try to teach them why we sacrifice so much. And ultimately it comes down to obedience. We felt like God called us to this life, and so we obeyed. It’s not always easy, it’s not always fun, it’s not always comfortable. My hope is that this is a truth we can pass on to our kids: that striving for our best life is less about the perfect environment and endless opportunities and comfortable relationships and more about just being obedient.
It doesn’t mean I don’t ache with and for them when they are struggling because of this choice that we’ve made. The feelings of guilt are very real. But I have to believe that our obedience will bring blessing, even if that blessing doesn’t come in the form of the puppy my middle child desperately wants to have.
Nicolette grew up bouncing around the US and the world, but has finally settled in Beirut, Lebanon, where she and her family have been serving with WorldVenture for the past ten years. She is the director of Safe Haven, a home for abused and disadvantaged girls, and is involved with refugee ministry and community outreach through her church in Beirut. She’s passionate about creating spaces where everyone feels connected – whether the orphaned child, the homeless refugee, the lonely expat, or the mom of the new baby feeling cut off from the world around her. Nicolette blogs about life as an expat in the Middle East at www.calebandnicolette.wordpress.com.