My kid spends 8 hours a day away from home in first grade, as a barely 6-year-old. For our family, this is a huge change because she has never gone to school before. As an extrovert, she enjoys making friends and being around people but still gets very exhausted by the afternoon and sometimes cries for us. As much as I’m happy to have her start this journey, I really miss her throughout the day and worry about how she is doing in a strict school system I don’t know much about. Are the other kids kind to her? Will her teachers be using shaming tactics? How does she do in 106 degrees with no AC? Who will help her if she has to the bathroom in the squatty toilet holding up her big uniform skirt? Does she feel lost among her non-English-speaking classmates? How can we protect her from harm and disease when we’re not even there?
It is questions and worries like these that make me wonder if it was irresponsible to move to South Asia with two little ones. I see my son emotionally overwhelmed by the requirements of adjusting to the crowds, the language, people randomly touching his face, engaging with the culture. Then there is the extreme pollution, the disease-carrying mosquitoes, the heat, and many everyday frustrations. Our stress levels have been super high this year, which means that our marriage suffers and our parenting is far from perfect. We are often irritable, impatient and totally overcome by the lack of control in most areas of life, and it effects the kind of partners and parents we are.
Many days I wrestle inside: Was it a mistake to move here with small kids? Will they hate us for it? Will they be emotionally damaged or physically harmed? Will it be a disadvantage for them during childhood or as adults? I am sure a part of it is my own need to be a perfect mother. Coming from much brokenness, just the fact that my family is together can make me tear up. Sometimes I feel like their whole future happiness and emotional health depends on us giving them stability and being close-to-perfect parents. Which gives way to much anxiety when you live in this country and are often stressed and out of control.
As I’ve engaged with these worries, my Father has been quietly speaking to my heart.
He’s been giving me perspective. First of all, my children are with their mom and dad who deeply love them, care for them, and do their best in supporting and equipping them. They see our imperfections every single day, yet they also see us asking for forgiveness and growing. They see that we pray and we trust God and we want to love people around us. This is so much more than many children have!
There are so many kids around us living in terrible conditions, used, abused, not going to school, lacking love and care. All of us know this, but we actually get to see it daily. My heart hurts for them, and they help me realize that my children have it very good compared to so many. When I see kids living in a plastic tent on the side of the road, my worry about not having an air-conditioned school bus for my child shrinks a little.
Also, He’s been helping me understand that giving my kids a perfect childhood is not the goal here. As much as I would like to, that desire is not realistic on this side of heaven nor should it be our priority to aim for. So I am trying to see our role as being the most loving parents that we can be, who are examples of depending on God, who help their children face the hard things in life, and who point them most importantly to trust in their heavenly Father.
He’s also been teaching me about trust. Trusting that He sees us and sees our kids. Trusting that He deeply cares and wants things that are for our good. Trusting that we are His beloved children. Trusting that when I want to be in control but cannot, He is. He delights in us, He is concerned for us, He sings over us. Even when hard things are happening, these remain true.
He has never asked my husband and me to give our kids a perfect life. Of course we are to be wise, loving, caring, discerning parents. But we shouldn’t worship the comfort and safety of our kids. This is easy to see and easy to say, but in reality it looks like letting go daily. Opening my hands and loosening my hold on the most precious things I’ve ever been entrusted with. Having kids is an amazing opportunity for us to live out our trust and neediness towards God.
Lastly, He’s been reminding me of prayer. To turn all my anxieties and worries into honest petition. Walking with my kids as they face challenges here, I am brought to my knees. But in Him, my weakness becomes strength, it becomes an advantage.
So in the end, no, I don’t believe that following God here with small kids was irresponsible or a mistake. As a mother in South Asia, just like anywhere else in the world, I am mostly out of control and dependent on my Father. My prayer is that through this experience our kids would grow to utterly trust the Only One who has ever been perfectly capable and learn to care about not only themselves but the people around them.