I missed last weeks post. Sorry. Life kind of got away on me.
This week I want to talk about what it’s like to raise kids cross culturally. When Chris and I got married, we knew we would be bringing kids into the picture at some point, and I’ll admit that I had some reservations about it. Most of that stemmed from the fact that I was still living with a foot in both worlds, so to speak. I was in Haiti, but I hadn’t quite let go of Canada either. I still haven’t and won’t, but it’s different now. While I miss and love Canada because it will always be home and the place that I grew up, I love Haiti too and this is our home, the place that we’ve established our marriage, our family, our lives, our routines – everything. We go “home” to visit, and then miss “home” and can’t wait to come back and get into our norm again.
Bringing kids into the picture makes you think about the choices you make when you live the kind of life that we do. You question if you’re making the right decision to be here and wonder if your kids will suffer for it. Will they end up being freakish and not able to relate to people from your home culture? What about safety? Schooling? Cultural issues. It’s hard and mind boggling, and I’ve realized over the last 5+ years that there is little that I have control over, that we have control over, and that God has called us and placed us here. We need to use wisdom, the wisdom that he provides, as well as trust in the fact that he has entrusted these kids to us and will help us to raise them while being obedient to the call he’s put on our lives.
So how does it play out in all the day to day stuff? What do we like about raising kids cross-culturally? What’s hard? What do we worry about?
What I Love About It:
I love that Chris and I get to truly be partners. Because we live and work on the mission site, he’s around throughout the day. He may go out to run errands, or spend time in the work yard, but he’ll pop in the house and get Alex from his nap or change a diaper or things like that. On days when he’s gone for the day, it’s just that – he’s gone for the day. He’ll be around the next day, and we try to balance that so that I can still have time to get my work done while he might take on more of the household/childcare stuff for a few hours. Before Olivia’s adoption was done I took a few trips out of Haiti while Chris stayed in country with her. Frequently people would ask me how Chris was going to handle the “extra responsibility” of being on his own with her. Truthfully, we never looked at it that way because we shared all aspects of parenting and child rearing. He had been doing everything that I did right alongside me from the time we brought her home that there was no issue. I LOVE THAT.
I also love what Chris being around all the time has done for our kids. When we go “home” on vacation people frequently tell us how confident and settled our kids seem. Chris and I know that a large part of that is that they have two parents that provide consistent leading. My daughter knows her Daddy loves her – he gets to reinforce that every day, repeatedly. I know my son looks up to his Dad because I see him wanting to do the things Chris does, whether it’s putting on shoes and socks to go outside and work, or hanging out to read a story – and he’s like that because he can follow his Dad around all day and learn from him. We can present a united front, rather than one of us carrying the discipline burden simply because we’re the parent that’s there more. That consistency is so important.
I love that our kids are going to grow up with a wider world view than I grew up with. I grew up in a small community, which I still love to this day, but I didn’t really think about the world at large. I assumed that what I was living in was normal for the majority of the world. It wasn’t until I got into my late high school years and early college years that I started to pay attention to things outside of North America, yet it was limited. It wasn’t until I came to Haiti for the first time in 2003 that my eyes were opened. Still, though, it wasn’t until I moved here that I realized what I had grown up in wasn’t the norm – it was the exception. We want something different for our kids. I’m happy that they’ll be growing up in a way where they’ll understand from an early age that not everyone eats a good meal every day, and that people all around the world get sick and can’t afford to go get medical help. Those are hard lessons – but they are reality. As parents, we also hope that by growing up in this kind of life our kids will want to devote their lives to something that is bigger than themselves, wherever that might be. Maybe it’ll be back in Canada or the US, but they would be doing it with a very different perspective than if they grew up in the culture of comfort that I did.
I like that the pace of life and expectations for raising children here are very different from what we would be experiencing back home. While there might be a lot of things that I disagree with in Haitian culture as far as child rearing goes, there are some valuable things too. The family is important and children are considered a blessing. I think my North American upbringing emphasized that, but I see my home culture moving away from that gradually and becoming more self-centered. I’m not being critical – just sharing an observation after stepping out of it. I like that there is an expectation that parents discipline, even if we may have different views on what that looks like. Respect is important. Being in community with people is important. Sometimes these are hard things because they’re uncomfortable, and we have to filter through them and pick and choose what works for us as a family. Other times I’m so grateful that we can sit deeply in it and that our kids will have the opportunity to learn about things like giving and hospitality in a way that we may not be able to teach them back home.
I like that we are away from the pressures to perform. There is so much of this back “home” in the sense that parents these days feel like their kids need to be in so many activities and making top grades and excelling and being pushed and having all the right stuff that I think most parents feel like they’re constantly running, and sadly I think most kids are not learning how to just “be”. While our work day starts early, I love that Olivia is home from school and our work day is over by 2:30 pm. We have time to do other things, or nothing at all. Yes, now that Olivia is older I wish we could put her in something like a dance class, but the motivation isn’t because that’s what’s expected of us as parents in order to actually be considered a good parent – but because I know she would LOVE it. I don’t want us to ever be one of those families that is running from one thing to the next. Thankfully, Haitian culture moves on Caribbean time, so the expectation that things happen quickly only comes from outside pressures. This means that we move slower here and our lives just sort of meander along. Yes, there are times that get busy, but there is always a calm time following where we can recuperate. We can eat breakfast together each morning, and we eat supper together each night. We have routines through the week and yet we still have lots of time to do things on a whim. As parents, we have the time to let our kids be who they are. They have time to learn how to have an imagination. Olivia will spend hours coloring and playing outside, and we hear things like, “Someone was chasing me!” only to look around and remind her that she’s in a fenced yard to be met with a giggle and, “They were chasing me in my head!” I think being removed from a lot of those pressures to perform or doing the “right” thing also makes Chris and I better parents. We can see the areas that really need our attention, we can step back when we need to, we can rest, we can spend more time with our kids in the ways that they need – and not be feeling like any of that is hard or extra work because life is so busy.
What Is Hard?
Raising kids in another culture IS hard! For so many reasons.
First, I think our support network is a lot different. If we were back “home” we would have family, friends, a church community, other community resources etc. Here, we’re away from family and friends. We can tell them bits and pieces of life here, but they don’t see all the ins and outs and often the challenges are hard to explain or have understood. It’s not that people don’t care – quite the opposite – it’s just harder. Our support network is made up of other missionaries and even locals like Yonese, but it’s different from what we would have back home. That can be hard and I miss it.
We don’t get much time away. I think it’s healthy for a marriage to have time away together, whether it’s a few hours or a few days. Because of where we live we don’t have people that can jump in and give us a “date night” who live close by. Driving at night here isn’t often recommended, so a lot of people are hesitant to go more than across town. That leaves us with few options for child care. Ryan has been a blessing in this area since September and has watched the kids a few times so we could go out, and we’ve started asking Yonese in from time to time, but it’s hard. I’ll admit it, we look forward to being “home” because we know our kids can be at the grandparents and we can do something as simple as going out for coffee together just to get a break.
In general, life is just harder. It’s more emotionally taxing and it can suck up a lot of your time too. You don’t have the same conveniences available (which can be a really good thing!) so you have to do things from scratch, or you have to put a lot more time into planning things out. Having these drains on you day in and day out depletes your energy. Energy that we might otherwise be happy to pour into our kids. It doesn’t mean our kids are neglected – quite the opposite. It does mean that parenting often feels harder than it does for us when we’re “home” because everything else is sucking your time too. I remember being back in Canada on sabbatical after O’s adoption was done, and how much easier it was to parent her because we could give her more time and energy and didn’t feel exhausted all the time. Knowing that has helped Chris and I to make decisions and set boundaries that give us more balance as a missionary family, but it’s still hard, especially while the kids are young.
What Worries Me?
We have different worries than we would in our home culture. Here we worry about things like what we will do if there’s every a major health issue, to the point of having to talk through a plan of action, which hospital we’d go to etc. We’ve had to have conversations about what to do in a kidnapping situation and how to avoid it.
We don’t worry about “baby proofing” because our house is concrete from top to bottom. Instead we worry about not leaving machetes and tools laying where Alex can find them, and sometimes we really fail at this because no matter how ahead of the game we try to be, he’s always one step ahead of that.
We’ve had to learn to be less worried about certain things, like the fact that our son climbs onto everything, and accept the fact that God will provide what we need when we need it – if we need it (and we hope we don’t!). There is only so much we have control over here, so we’re trying to teach our kids from an early age what they can do, what they can’t and to deal with whatever lands in the middle.
I worry about things like how my adopted daughter will get treated by her friends at school because she has white parents, and I wonder how my white son will do in a school where he will be one of the few non-Haitian students. Will that be hard for him, or will he do okay because he’ll have absorbed more of the culture than any of us by the time he starts? None of these things are things I can control, but rather will have to navigate as they come.
I worry about the conversations my kids will overhear and the skin they will have to develop because of this life we’re called to live. Haitians can be verbally brutal to each other and to foreigners and I’m not going to pretend that this won’t affect us and our kids. It already has. We can only have open, honest conversations with our kids about the fact that people are broken and that brokenness can come out in ways that cause others hurt.
I worry about how our kids will adjust to life when they go off to college or university. How do you transition into a world you’ve only visited? We’re going to need to talk to parents of third culture kids who have gone before us and learn from them. Again, nothing I can control right now.
I worry about the relationships my kids will have here. In general, it’s difficult for kids or expats here to have genuine friendships with Haitian kids simply because of the cultural and economic differences. They can establish friendships on many levels, but it can be challenging to be the “haves” in the relationship and it throws typical peer dynamics off. We’re hoping and praying that our move to Kan Marie and living in the community will afford our kids ample opportunity to grow up in a community where they aren’t just known as the kids of the “blan”.
I know I’m only scratching the surface here and I could blog about this for days, but it’s raining for the first time in weeks, it’s cool, and I have a head pushing up under my elbow so it’s time to go.