I recently was touched by my photographer friend’s blog post which was about throwing her 1 year old daughter, who is visually impaired, a birthday party. She had done some research and learned that the contrast of black and white is very stimulating to the retina, so she was intentional in creating a birthday party just for her (to see the pictures go here). I began to tear up at the pure beauty of it all, of my sweet friend and the kind of intentional mom she is.
When I read her blog, I remembered something I once heard an international mom say a few months ago, “I just feel like I can’t be the best mom for my kids here.” I’ve also heard another international mom say, “Raising my kids is easier on the field than in the states.”
I resonate with both of those! When culture stress is lying dormant, and I’m not feeling too overwhelmed, I experience all the beautiful things about raising a child abroad! These are days when I’m integrating well and things are running smoothly! Then, other times as the many things I need to do pile up and the culture stress accumulates, I find it IS quite hard to operate at my best when I’m always playing catch up, surviving instead of thriving, being reactive instead of proactive. My mom friend in the mentioned blog post said how good it felt to DO something (instead of feeling helpless) in a positive way for her daughter. But some days I feel I can never quite get there, things that should have priority don’t, like bringing my son to the dentist for the first time a couple of weeks ago (I know…insert gasp here), or finding a pediatrician in the system for our daughter. I found myself putting out fires rather than preventing them from happening.
In my low point recently (that place where people sometimes find themselves but never want to talk about because they don’t want people to know they’re there), I realized I needed to assess the things I am in control of, prioritize, make adjustments, become more organized, ...and when I did those things, I began to breathe again.
I also decided to check in with my kid. I asked him what the things are that I need to work on as a mom (FYI: this is a dangerous thing to do). He listed 12 things. Yup, kids are usually really honest. The first few were: yell less, play with him more when I’m home, snuggle more at bed-time, etc… At the end of the conversation though, I was reassured that I am indeed a good mom, and I realized that, more importantly, I learned the things that he needs from me, and even if I sometimes get behind, I’m still loved.
And as I shared how I was feeling recently with some of my close friends (some here, some in the states), I realize I need to do that more often. One of my friend’s responded with, “You need to tell me next time. We’ve been there.” It was so encouraging to be reminded that I’m not alone.
So, while I can't avoid busy seasons, I can change the way I approach them. I think I've realized that having a good system and process going into one can help us maintain balance and help from getting too far behind. I also need to keep in mind the we live in another culture, and that means we are always a step behind: behind in a translation, probably behind in a payment of something, behind in applying for something simply because there are things we just don't know how to do, are too scared to do or are just plain difficult to do in another culture. I need to learn to give myself grace in the midst of these but also be brave and make the calls that are hard to make, push through cultural difficulties, and learn to be proactive even when it hurts.