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!!

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  • Guest - Vallerie

    Amen. Motherhood is hard. It is hard work. It is a spiritual, emotional, and physical challenge no matter where you live. Women may be the weaker vessels, as described in the Bible, but the Lord didn't give us an easy job because of it. Actually, there is not a more important job in the entire world than raising children, and He gave us a large part of the responsibility for that task. Oh, if we could only keep things in perspective when the little things and even the not-so-little things feel so taxing and overwhelming. Take heart. Be encouraged. As unable and inept and discouraged as you may FEEL at times, and as exhausted and over-extended as you may BE at times, God created motherhood. And He created you. And He chose YOU to mother your children and He chose your children to be mothered by you. And God knows all about Africa, all about Asia, all about... wherever. There are no unknowns or surprises to Him. And He knew when and where you would be raising these little ones of yours, before they ever came to be yours. Every sleepless night, every worried moment, every taxed emotion... is under His supervision, and WAY worth it! There is no more important job in the world! You have been entrusted with a living soul, or several of them, and the God who created them, and loves them, is there to help you take care of the souls He has entrusted to you. And He isn't thousands of miles away, or limited by lack of communication, or stumbled by cultural differences... You have a big job, but your co-worker is out of this world! :-)

    I am a momma "on the other side" of the sleepless nights and sick babies. I had my worried moments, my failures, and my moments of feeling like anyone anywhere could do a better job than I was doing at raising my children. But, in the long run, I am blessed... with my children, and with how my God has blessed my feeble, failing efforts. Bless you each as you work 24/7 at the great task that has been entrusted to your care. By His grace, YOU CAN.

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  • "The God who created them . . . is there to help you . . . He isn't thousands of miles away . . ." YES! He's nearby when we feel so far from family, He's our confidence when we're so uncertain if we're doing right, He's never weary when we're so exhausted by the 24/7! Thanks for the reminder.

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  • Guest - Lysanne

    That's a great post and i was blessed by Valerie's comment! Hope your kids are better by now....

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