I didn't learn to be a mother in America, I learned to be a mother in Africa. My firstborn was only a few months old when we left the States, and those few months were a blur of sleepless nights, packing and sorting, goodbyes, trips, and everything that comes with such a major transition. TWO major transitions - the transition to motherhood and the transition to life overseas, both happening on top of each other. At first, my focus was on moving overseas, and not on learning to be a mother. As I look back on those days, I feel a little bit like my son was amost a year old before I adjusted to life in Africa enough to realize that I was really a mother.

That's not to say I wasn't caring for my son. I was . . . and it was stressful. He didn't sleep well, didn't eat well, had diarrhea for weeks at a time, and caused me no end of anxiety. I wasn't sure I knew how to take care of a baby, and I was definitely sure I didn't know how to take care of a baby in Africa. I was scared to death I would do something wrong and my son would suffer for it.

Two days before my firstborn turned two years old, my second son was born. His babyhood was a totally different experience . . . I was relaxed and enjoying being a mother, he was a happy, healthy baby, and I felt like I was finally figuring out this challenge called motherhood. And then we moved back to America when he was just over a year old . . . in December . . . and that winter he got every sickness that went around. Colds, flus, coughs, stomach bugs . . . he got them all. I was pregnant and stressed out and exhausted and anxious once again!

In the first couple weeks after we moved to West Africa, our field director's wife had me over for tea to share some tidbits of wisdom from her many years on the field. I wish I had taken notes that day . . . over four years later, I only remember two things she said. One of them related to marriage (maybe a topic for another post?) but the other one was this:

MOTHERHOOD IS HARD. It's hard in America. It's hard in Africa. When you find yourself exhausted and struggling as a mother, don't blame it on living in Africa. Being a mother is exhausting no matter where you live.

Some things are challenging about being a mother whether you're living overseas or living in your "home" country:

  • Sleepless nights - this is just part of the baby-package no matter where you live!
  • Sickness - my scariest time with a sick child was when my 18-mo-old became seriously dehydrated from the flu . . . in America.
  • Questions/anxiety - we don't know if we're making the right choices for our children
  • Guilt - a tool the enemy uses to cripple mothers everywhere
  • Sinful nature - your children's and your own!
  • Sacrificing your self, your time, your needs, your comfort - over and over again!

There are things about living in America that I've found more challenging than West Africa:

  • Potty training - my firstborn was potty-trained in a tiny apartment with tile floors and plastic chairs. It was a breeze. My second-born has yet to be potty-trained. My first attempt was a mess-on-the-carpet failure, and I haven't gotten brave enough to try again!
  • Snow clothes - I was a mom for 3.5 years before I had to deal with coats and hats and mittens and scarves and thermalwear and snow pants and boots and . . . I have always loved the snow, but as a mother, I'd be just as glad if I never had to bundle my kiddos up again!
  • Winter boredom - WHAT do you do with two energetic preschoolers when it's 14 degrees outside? No sandbox, no tricycle, no walks around the neighborhood . . . just a bad case of cabin fever for everyone.

Of course none of these are serious matters, but the struggle is real!! :-P  Yet I don't mean to take away from the very serious challenges of mothering overseas:

  • No family nearby - raising your children without the practical and emotional support of family is difficult. This is probably the single thing I struggled with the most while living in West Africa.
  • No "peers" - Maybe you have other mothers on your team who are in the same stage of parenting that you are. More likely, you don't. Or you rarely see each other. I remember many times wondering if what my boys were doing was normal for their stage - I simply had NO other children around to compare them to! It was such a relief to come back to the States and sit in the church nursery watching the other toddlers. I discovered that my boys are, in fact, quite normal! :-)
  • More exposure to more serious diseases. Yes, there are serious childhood sicknesses all over the world. But they tend to be more prevelant in the places we work. A lack of good medical care may also be a factor in this.
  • More pressure from the culture around us. Let's face it, there is tremendous pressure put on parents in the States! But mostly it's a pressure we understand and are used to. Most often when you live in another culture, your family is in a fishbowl and everything about the way you raise your children is open for critique. The pressure to conform to child-raising norms that you don't understand and/or don't agree with is a huge stress!

I'm sure I've missed some points, these are just a few that came to mind. The fact is, no matter where you are raising your children, motherhood is hard! Be encouraged - you are not alone in the struggle. That doesn't make it any easier, but maybe a little less lonely!

This article was written at 4:30am, after I had been awake for almost three hours in the middle of the night dealing with not one, not two, but THREE sick little boys! My purpose is not to complain, but to encourage my sisters in this challenging journey!  When we are in the middle of a difficult time, it feels like we're so alone and if we just had {a different living situation - you fill in the blank} it would be so much easier. The fact is, being a mother is just HARD no matter where you live and what your situation is!!

I am returning, yet again, to our reader's question from several weeks ago. How do we raise our children in a setting where no one around us shares our values? How do we help them develop and adopt the same convictions that are important to us? I sent this question to a vetran mother of nine, who has spent over 20 years raising her children on the field. Following is the advice she so graciously gave me to share with you.

Let us look at some of the advantages of being on a foreign field.
    1) Family (siblings and parents) become best friends. (That is if you take care to keep relationships strong and healthy!)
     2) Children are not facing constant peer pressure from other children/youth from their own culture because of living in a different culture.
     3) Children grow up with "being different" because they grow up in a culture different from their own..........this can aid them in being different for Christ!

It seems highly important to give much teaching to our children and impress upon our children to have a right attitude toward authority. This is something that has been trodden down sooo much in our day!
 
Above all we must pray for our children everyday! We can't keep our children but God can and will!!

Here are some things to teach our children while still young --
1) Teach the importance of obeying authority whether the child understands why or not. Help them understand the promises and blessings of obeying as stated in Eph. 6:1-3
*This is soo important! Parents have so much more wisdom since they have lived long enough to see the results of choices made. 

2) Be serious to teach the principles of Scripture that never change, though practical outworking may vary to some extent.
3) Teach the importance of " Daring to be a Daniel" or standing alone! Admit that we do some things differently than other Christians (one has this on the home front as well) but that is OK! II Cor. 10:12 What others do sometimes -- under God we cannot! This does not make us better than others...absolutely not! We believe that we are quite accountable before God for the values we have been taught by Godly parents and we may not lightly throw them aside! Others may not have had this advantage. Children can be helped to understand that there are reasons for the things we require of them and as they get older they can be taught the real reasons.

****For one example-- We simply want to keep away from all the distractions that this world has to offer to keep our feet on the holy highway and/or to have a single eye on the Lord and His Kingdom! Fathers are to teach their children under God and will stand accountable for this!

***God had a special blessing for the Rechabites in the OT. for their obedience to their father! This shows how important this is to God! Ross preached a message on our last furlough and he mentioned some about authority. He mentioned the blessing of God on the Rechabites! One of our daughters gave this testimony that really put a stamp on what he said. She mentioned that her Daddy gave them a "Rechabite law" to stop playing volley ball every Sun. and she is so glad! If he had not, she is not sure where she would be today?! Unknown to her Daddy, she was so taken up with sports....... but this "law" kept her.

Here is the story .... Our children/youth were playing volley ball regularly with the church and neighborhood youth on Sunday afternoons. It became a big deal every Sun.! Ross came to sense that he needs to put a stop to this...sensed it was taking our children's hearts and was not the best. It was a "big pill" for our youth to chew but they did bow their hearts to Daddy! PTL!
It seems like fathers sometimes sense the need to make "a law" and can not always explain all the reasons why?! God can and does lead an authority in this way at times as He seeks God's heart for the welfare of his family. It works out best if the subjects submit to this for their own spiritual well being.

 

Quiet time. We all need it. Some of us feel the need more strongly, or find that we need more of it than others. My husband loves hours of alone time to work on things. I, on the other hand, go crazy without someone to talk to after a while. :-) But we both find that our whole day goes better if we can have 30 minutes (or more) first thing in the morning to quiet our hearts before God, hear from His Word, and mentally/emotionally prepare for the day.

I have read articles or books that encourage parents to get up before their children, even if that means setting the alarm for 4am, so that you have quiet time in the morning. I'd love to, but that just doesn't work for me. When I'm up in the night with a nursing baby or pregnancy insomnia, I have to get what sleep I can - even if it means rising with my toddler at the late morning hour of 6am.

Yes, I said 6 am. Unfortunately, my boys have always been early risers. I suppose it's probably our fault for making sure they're in bed by 8pm every night. But we value those quiet moments in the evening, too! :-) So they're up with the sun - or even before sunrise - and that means Daddy and Mommy don't often have quiet time before there are little people awake and demanding attention.

So what do you do? How do you have the quiet time you need to get your day started right when you have children - especially very young children?

Here are a few ideas that have helped us. Not all of these can (or should) be incorporated at once - there are different ideas for different stages of life, and you need to do what works for your family. But hopefully something here can be helpful to you!

1) Realize that there are seasons . . . Right now I have a 3-month-old baby. He wakes up when he's hungry. Some mornings he wakes up at 5 and then goes back to sleep til 8. Other mornings he wakes up at 6 and doesn't go back to sleep. I have to feed him when he needs to eat. I have to change his diaper when it's messy. But this is a season - I know from experience that he will grow so fast, and very soon he won't need my constant and immediate attention (even if he still thinks he does!).

2) It's good for children to wait and respect your needs too. . . . Obviously I'm not talking about constantly pushing your children away and ignoring valid, urgent needs that they have. Our children need to know that they are a priority to us. But they also need to know that they aren't the center of the universe. And what better way to instill a respect for God's Word than for them to see you put a high value and priority on it in your own life?

 

3) Make your children stay in bed until you're ready for them to be awake. Right now my 2 year old consistently awakens at 6:30, but he is not allowed to get up until 7am. He has learned to quietly stay in bed, sometimes talking or singing to himself, until it's time to get up. But our little people can't read a clock yet. So how do they know when it's 7am? There are some really nifty alarm clocks you can purchase that change colors at set times, so preschoolers know when it's time to get up. What we did, rather than spend money on a special clock, was hook up the nightlight they already used to a timer such as this one. We set the timer to keep the light on all night and also during their naptime. When the nightlight turns off, they can get out of bed. It works great! It allows me to have a more peaceful morning, and be ready to greet the boys with a smile when they come down the stairs. Gone are the days of being frustrated at interrupted quiet times!

4) Have "blanket time". What we used to do, when our boys were younger, (we started when they were 6 months and 2.5yrs) was to allow them to get out of bed, but then require that they have a quiet time as well. As soon as they got up, I set them each on their own blanket on the floor with a bottle of milk, two books, and a small toy. They were not allowed to get off their blanket until Mommy was done reading her Bible. This was a wonderful respite at that stage of motherhood, and sometimes we did it again in the late afternoon if they needed to settle down from wild play. We also found this to be a wonderful habit when we were in strange places or traveling - it provided security and a quick way to settle down to just pull out their blankets and give them a couple books!

5) Teach them to have devotions too. When I was a child, we had a morning "tea time". All of us were old enough to read, but under age 14 or so. We all woke up with an alarm at the same time and came downstairs immediately for tea. Mom would have the water hot, and we'd all sit around the kitchen table sipping herbal tea while we read our Bibles. I still have really good memories of those mornings - the whole family (except Dad, who left early for work) sitting around the table in cozy early morning stillness. The only sounds were turning pages and sipping tea. I think we tried every flavor of herbal tea we could find in those days! It helped instill the habit of spending some quiet time before starting the days' chores - a habit I'm still thankful for!

6) Be willing to let things wait.  If you get started on your day's to-do list before you take time out with the Lord, you'll find it harder to make that time fit in. I try to make my devotional time the first thing I do every morning, even if it means that breakfast is a bit later, or the children don't get dressed right away.

7) Don't be legalistic about mornings. Personally, I'm a morning person and I think it just starts the day out right to have a few minutes with the Lord before I start my work. But if that's just not working for you, find another time. Can you do it while the toddler naps? Or in the evening? Try to chose a time that you can consistently set aside almost every day.

What are your ideas? How have you managed to keep your "quiet time" quiet? Let us know in the comments!


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We haven't had a reader question for a while . . . and I really need your help on this one, ladies!

 

"I'm feeling just a little at sea in dealing with the beginnings of homesickness and "noticing what we're missing" with our 9 year old. We're also facing a lot of decisions that affect the children in how we relate with the ministry we're working in connection with here. We want them to be "narrowed up" to reflect the convictions we value... what a challenge when no one else around you shares those values. I'd love to have some input on these questions... =)"

 

Please share your thoughts and experiences!  What have you done? How do you raise your children in a place where no one has the same values that you do?

Several years ago, I heard a sermon preached on parenting according to Psalm 23. I did not take notes, and do not remember the details well, but it made a strong impact on my parenting, and also on how I looked at this Psalm. So I started writing this article several weeks ago, and since then a similar article came out on another blog that I follow. I considered deleting my writing, so that it didn't look like plagurism . . . but the way we applied the Psalm was very different, so I decided to go ahead and publish my article after all.

Psalm 23 for Parents

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. Are we meeting the needs of our children? Life overseas can make even meeting physical needs more challenging, but as parents we are pretty good at making sure our children are fed, clothed, warm, and healthy. What about their emotional needs? Do they feel 'want' in their souls? Or are their love-tanks full? It's so easy as parents to focus on the physical needs but neglect the emotional wants of our children. Try to see the world through your little one's eyes and consider what is important to them. When our children know that their needs - both physical and emotional - will be a priority to their parents, it gives them peace and security in spite of other circumstances.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. Is your home a peaceful place? Especially in the chaos of living overseas - transitions, new friends, new culture - your family needs the home to be a place of peace. What does this mean?

  • Find a routine that works for your family, so that your days are peaceful. When children know what to expect and what's expected of them, it brings peace to their hearts.
  • Teach your children to resolve conflict in a peaceful manner.
  • Notice when there is unrest in your children's hearts or actions, and help them resolve it.
  • Keep your heart peaceful (this is the hardest one, right?!) because your children take their cues from you.

He restoreth my soul: Provide soul-food for your children. I don't think this just means have family devotion time or make them read their Bibles (isn't that feeding their spirits?) Consider what ministers to their hearts - good books, creative activities, special family traditions, bedtime cuddles with Mommy or Daddy. Make sure you're feeding their souls.

He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Lead,guide, show the way, lead by example. One of the struggles that adults, as well as children, face in moving overseas is discerning between good and evil. Things in your home culture that you never questioned suddenly look wrong . . . and you are faced with new things in your host culture that might seem wrong to our American mindset, but are actually not evil. Help your children learn to recognize good and evil seperate from the cultural trappings around them - whether at home or abroad.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; In a very real way, fighting sicknesses like malaria or typhoid, our children may walk through the valley of the shadow of death. But I think this can also apply to the countless losses, and the often unresolved greif that children deal with in moving overseas. It is impossible to keep our children from expereincing these things. But we can give them the support and direction and comfort and understanding that they need to get through it. Be WITH them in their valley.

Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. The rod and the staff were for protection, although also for direction and chastening. Are we protecting our children from the evil around them? This doesn't always mean sheltering them - but sometimes it does. Are we aware of the dangers, the temptations, the wrong influences, even the potential for abuse? Do our children have the comfort and security of our protection?

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.  Do you abundantly bless your children? Do they feel like their lives are full and overflowing with love and security? Do you give them things to be excited about, things to look forward to? Is your home a place of joy and abundance? This will look different in each family, but again, this is a focus on the emotional and spiritual needs of our children. Let's make sure their little lives are overflowing with peace and joy.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. What a promise! When we shepherd our children in the ways of God as described here, goodness and mercy will surround them, and they will dwell in God's house forever! What more could we want for our children?

Did any of these verses speak to you? What wisdom can you add from shepherding your children? Please share!