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.

 

Love is an important character trait to teach no matter what the time of year. But what better time to do it than February when America is full of hearts and candy and roses? :-) Let's teach our children what love is REALLY all about.

There are so many verses on love that it is going to be hard to decide which ones to use. Here are my favorites that I picked out as most appropriate for children's memory verses. Note that I'm focusing this study on showing love to each other, not on God's love for us - although that would be a great study too!

Memory/Study Verses:

 1 Corinthians 13

1 John 4:7-12 and 20&21

Romans 13:8-10

John 15:12&13

1 Peter 4:8

Colossians 3:14

Mark 12:30 & 31

Matthew 5:43 & 44

John 13:35

Galatians 5:14

 

Bible stories that teach LOVE:

The Good Samaritan

Ruth & Naomi

David & Jonathon

Joseph & Reuben (Reuben's love for his father, Genesis 44:31-33)

Jacob & Rachel

Jesus' death on the cross

 

Songs: there are so many hymns that talk about God's love and there are also several Scripture songs that have put some of the verses above to music. Here is a little ditty that I think is great for young children -

 

If You Want to Show Your Love
(to the tune of "If You're Happy and You Know It")

If you want to show your love, share a smile.
If you want to show your love, share a smile.
If you want to show your love, if you want to show your love,
If you want to show your love, share a smile.

If you want to show your love, lend a hand.
If you want to show your love, lend a hand.
If you want to show your love, if you want to show your love,
If you want to show your love, lend a hand.

If you want to show your love, use kind words.
If you want to show your love, use kind words.
If you want to show your love, if you want to show your love,
If you want to show your love, use kind words.

 

Ways to Show Love

If you've read Gary Chapman's book The Five Love Languages (if you haven't read it, I really recommend it! It could completely change your marriage and parenting!), you can introduce some of those concepts at a child's level. Obviously the idea of "discovering" each other's love language is a little advanced, but you can talk about the five ways that we show love to each other. Maybe have a different day (or a couple days) assigned to practicing each way of showing love.

  1. Helping & serving each other
  2. Speaking kind words and encouraging each other
  3. Giving gifts to each other (doesn't have to be expensive or fancy - let them make simple gifts)
  4. Showing affection through physical touch (this one will have to be done carefully and appropriately but is important!)
  5. Spending quality time together

You can turn this into a game with the idea from this website:

"Play “Loving Actions.”  - Take turns coming up with creative ways to show love (such as greeting someone, opening the door for someone, kissing boo boos, or offering a drink) which you can do as a game of silent charades.  Basically this means you should act out your “Loving Action” without words so that the other people can guess what you are doing.  You may like to use photographs to inspire ideas for showing love to different people such as grandparents, friends, teachers, and strangers. Sometimes we show love to different people in different ways and it is important to know the appropriate way for each person."

 

 

And finally, here are a couple of simple craft/activity ideas that go along with love . . .

1 Corinthians 13 clothesline - A "bulletin board" wall decor idea: Hang a piece of rope or twine on the wall. Make paper hearts and use clothespins to pin them on the twine. Above the rope write "LOVE IS:" or "CHARITY" if you prefer, and then on each heart, write one characteristic from 1 Cor 13, e.g. "long-suffering", "kind".  I got the idea from this coloring page.

 

Discover the Bible Verse: An activity for children who can read. 

1. Cut out hearts from construction paper, one for each word of your memory verse (plus the reference!)

2. Write one word of the verse and the verse reference on the hearts.

3. Encourage them to help each other put the hearts in the right order to make the memory verse.

4. If they can't figure out the verse, let them look it up in their Bibles.

You can make a very simple heart paper chain by starting with strips like a regular paper chain. Instead of taping or gluing into a circle, staple the ends face-together to make a heart shape. Check out this photo if those instructions don't make sense. :-) There's also a more complicated and beautiful paper chain idea here.

 

Most importantly, make sure YOU leave your children without a doubt of your love this month! :-)

 

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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?