“Little by little, and make it fun!”
Expose them to things that seem foreign or different in small, positive doses. Stop at an ethnic store and let them each buy something they like; don’t critique their choice. Each week expose them to a new “mystery” food they will like. Discuss and enjoy the new foods and experiences, but don’t preach.
Support, pray for and encourage a missionary family who has kids the same ages as yours. Learn about the sights and sounds of that country. Learn some words and how to count in the language there. Skype them. Encourage natural ethnic friendships for your kids.
Go on a mission trip with your family. Involve them in service. Do something like turn the roll of toilet paper over for a week and laugh about how much it bugs you. Then offer to pay them a few dollars if they can survive a week doing the same.
Do it together and enjoy it. Enjoy is the key word. Start small and work up. Don’t expect all of you to enjoy the same things.
Usually, if you and your spouse enjoy “foreign” foods, contacts, places, your kids will too. They will mirror your comfortableness and sense of adventure, or lack of it.
Answer from David, who served with OC International for twenty years in Colombia, Guatemala, and the US and currently serves with Mission Data International.
“Understand third-culture kids.”
We attended a missionary care conference called Care Connexion. In this conference we heard adult missionary kids (MKs/TCKs) speak about the challenges and benefits of growing up between cultures.
Most won’t be able to make this kind of conference, BUT you can order the book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Between Worlds. I highly recommend the book. It has tons of ideas and information on developmental stages, etc.
Answer from Betsy in the United States.
“Children’s ages are key.”
The age of your children will factor significantly into their adaptation to the new culture:
Toddlers and younger elementary aged kids still tend to be so psychologically dependent upon their parents that they usually adjust more easily.
The middle years, roughly nine to thirteen, are the “imprint” years, when children are maturing and gaining a sense of self. How children in this age range will adjust to the new culture is difficult to predict, as some personalities lend themselves better than others to such dramatic lifestyle changes.
Older kids, fourteen or older, frequently struggle to acclimate because of leaving behind their “friends,” their identities and pretty much everything else they hold dear. Teenager issues represent one of the top reasons why missionary families leave the mission field earlier than planned.
Take full advantage of any and all resources that will help prepare your entire family (not just your kids) for life on the mission field. If Dad and Mom are constantly stressed out, the kids will be stressed out, too. If your mission agency doesn’t provide good pre-field training and post-assignment debriefing and counseling for families, insist upon it … even if it means going out and finding it on your own. If your agency still balks, find another agency. Missionary care is among an agency’s highest responsibilities, but not always among their highest priorities. Neglect this at your own peril!
While God may very well have called you to serve on the mission field, he doesn’t expect you to sacrifice your child on the altar of obedience.
Answer from Mike, who has served with various organizations in different parts of the world for sixteen years.
“It’s not easy but the rewards are great.”
Moving kids across cultures is not easy. Don’t let anyone tell you that they learn a new language instantly or that at certain ages it is no problem to move kids. All kids react to change, usually negatively.
That said, raising kids in another culture positions them to be global Christians, not just Christ-followers of a certain limited culture. They will forever view the world in many colors, be more sensitive to differences among peoples, and hopefully love the culture and people where you take them. They will understand that worship has many variations, and the scripture takes on new meanings when you are outside your home culture.
One of my daughters, now late 30’s, recently moved back overseas with two small children. She says it feels normal not to “fit in” and she’s OK with that. “If God grants that this journey of ours lasts any length of time, my kids will think the same. They will not fit into any specific place in this world. My prayer is that this fact simply strengthens their belonging in heaven, our true home, the only place where we truly belong.”
You can help prepare your children by first by helping them understand that this move is a whole family move, not just parents dragging their kids across the world. Recognize their age-appropriate questions and issues and get them help to work through those issues. There are great pre-field training programs for kids as well as adults. Mission Training International in Colorado Springs is one of those with a specific intercultural program for children.
Ask your agency how they help families moving into missions. What training and assistance do they provide. How do they help you figure out educational choices for your children?
Tune in to your children or teens now, before you go, so you are already talking deeply with them. You all will face hard transitions as you move into missions, but they can either grow your family character and bind you together or blow your family to pieces.
Answer from Elizabeth, who has served with SEND International in multiple Asian countries for thirty-seven years.
Speak praises and joys out loud, and take grumbles and frustrations quietly to the Lord! My children do not even realize that their peers back in the US would not consider their lives to be “normal”… in my children’s eyes, they are normal, because they are! This is how they have traveled, explored, laughed and lived. Gods grace and love will be sufficient.
Answer from Liz in Uganda, who has served with Sozo Ministries International in Uganda, Kenya for 4 years.