“Here are three challenges I faced overseas.”
1. Loneliness: I was the only North American mom on our team. My teammates and community didn’t always understand or agree with the decisions I made concerning my kids.
2. Culture: Helping my kids to be a part of the local community without participating in all that the local community did was a challenge.
3. Manners: We live between three cultures. Which cultural norm would we follow? I always had a reason to think that we were the worst-mannered family in the world!
The fruit of these challenges: We learned to take everything to God. We prayed about everything with our kids. We all saw God’s powerful, faithful, and loving hand on a continuous basis.
Answer from Robin, who has served with AWM and Pioneers in North Africa and Spain.
“Moms may struggle with family management, time management, feelings of isolation, and finding a role.”
1. Family management: You may not have a degree in management, but you, the mom, are the hub in the wheel that holds all things together: preparing meals, homeschooling, planning activities for the children, keeping traditions like Thanksgiving and Christmas, maintaining a budget, and listening and encouraging.
Solutions? I have lived in three different African countries, and I had local house-help, mostly women. House-help can be a challenge, but if you find the right person, that person will be a valued partner. You may also have informal teaching opportunities with your house help.
2. Time management: It will depend to a degree where you live, but most moms have observed that it takes more time and energy to complete the daily tasks in another culture, especially when they have irregular electrical power and a sporadic water supply.
Solution? Flexibility. Lots of it!
3. Isolation: Whether you live an urban or a remote setting, all of the above activities can limit your mobility when you’re a mom. You may feel a bit claustrophobic, especially if you don’t know the local language and have limited interaction with the host people.
Solution? When you are living overseas, I would encourage you to find some outlet where you can interact or minister to others. I taught some women’s classes, fortunately in English, that helped me to interact with local people. One mother who didn’t have a work permit went house to house making friends with local women. She learned some of the language, and she was highly respected in the community for her “visitation.” Even if you have limited time, attempt to learn the basic greetings, foods, numbers, and bargaining techniques in the local language. Video conference with friends and family back home, but be careful this doesn’t become an escape for you.
4. Finding your role: You may feel some frustration with feeling that you’re ‘only a mom’ when others have a ministry outside the home.
Solution: Yes, you will be limited in amount of time and energy you can give, but once again look for ways that you can assist others. I remember one short-term worker came with her husband and she didn’t have any specific role, but she knew how to cut hair. She was a great blessing to many ladies.
Answer from Kay, who served with SIM for 22 years in Nigeria, Liberia and Eritrea.
“It can challenge your sense of identity.”
I found being a mom of “littles” overseas was about learning where to place my identity. So much of how I mothered was questioned by the culture… pacifiers=bad, diapers=bad, letting my kids play in the mud=bad. I had to learn when to pick my battles and when to let it go!
I had to often go back to Jesus and let him define my standard of what being a parent is meant to look like, not going by my own culture’s standard or the standards of those around me.
I also found my role shifting once I became a mother, because I used to be able to be involved full-time in hands-on ministry. Once I had children, my idea of what ministry looked like shifted. I would encourage you to find a way to stay involved in whatever capacity you can with the mission so that you find a purpose to being on the field as well.
And I agree with the above answers: Finding a local person who can help you at home or do errands is really an incredible grace, especially if you are new to that country.
Answer from Brooke who has been involved in missions since 2003 and served in East Asia, Cambodia, and Australia with YWAM and CMM.
“Challenges may include time management, isolation, and questions about ministry involvement.”
I would agree with a previous comment about loneliness/isolation. We have a large family and were without a car for about 1-1/2 years; since local transport in our village is motorbike, the children and I simply stayed home. This was a challenge compared to our previous life with a 15-passenger van and regular trips out, even if just to run errands or go to the library, museum, friends’ houses, etc. Getting a car helped, though I still don’t drive here. It was an issue of contentment that I worked through in prayer, and a valuable challenge to have faced.
I had to support my husband in entirely new ways on the mission field: taking on home management challenges, being ever-ready for social visits, writing reports and communicating with supporters, hosting short-term visitors from churches in our network or from abroad. These added a lot to my plate, in addition to having eight (now nine) children who we homeschool. It took me a while to admit that I could use some help in balancing it all. Eventually hiring a wash lady from our community was a big relief and saved me 2+ hours per day of time.
I also found it was necessary to examine ministry opportunities that came to me and evaluate their impact on home and family, as well as to determine if God wanted me to engage in the opportunity, or if the expectation to be involved came from elsewhere. I usually land on the side of Titus 2:4-5, which tells younger women to focus on the home and loving their husbands and children. However, I also want to be motivated by kindness and a willingness to serve, so taking time out to give food, provide basic medical care, or engage in conversation are ways that I try to stay involved in our ministry.
Answer from Cindy in Kenya, who has served with Kingdom Driven Ministries in Kenya and Uganda for four years.