I probably couldn’t build an actual raft to save my life. Not one that would actually float. But, as the mom of a third culture kid, I need to be able to build rafts quite often, albeit not a sea-worthy vessel, but a mental one. I need to be able to build Finn a mental/emotional raft to get from one place to the next–to get through from one transition to the next. I think most parents have to do this for their kids anyway during different stages and times of transition, but our situation is just more complex over the long run.
As we were preparing for home assignment. I had to think about what the 9 months might look like. I knew we were in for a big transition as Finn had never been to the US before. Words like preschool and kindergarten were floating around in the mix too, especially as we were looking beyond the 9 months of home assignment to returning to the field. We even brainstormed about sleeping arrangements with all of the travel we had planned. That was probably brought about by the fact that the last time we tried to randomly get Finn to sleep in the corner of a hotel room, he had night terrors. Plus, keeping a mobile three year old from getting out of bed is near impossible if you keep changing things up.
Needless to say, I have lots of things rolling around in my head, particularly as it pertains to parenting my little one while on the move. I’m sure I’ll think back to this first home assignment the next time and laugh at my confusion and expectations, but for now, I’m limited in my lack of experience, but I need to be okay with that.
Things that did not work well:
-Dropping him off at childcare on family vacation during our second week back and assuming he understood we were coming back. He thought we had left on a jet plane without him.
-Letting him try all of the fun American candies. Major meltdowns.
-Trying to do all the same things we used to do before we had kids.
-Putting ourselves in situations where we were forced to use the phone to pacify him and then having to walk him through screen time withdrawals.
Things that are working:
-Talking about where we’re going next and getting him excited about things we will do when we get there (aka raft-building). So, when we were planning to drive 8 hours from a family reunion in the desert up to Grandma Beth’s house, we talked about it so he knew it would be long, but we would end up at Grandma’s house and he would get to watch movies in the car.
-Explaining that we are not going to leave him. This only helped in a limited way until he saw it proved over and over. I can’t blame him, being 3 and all. It’s a hard concept to grasp.
-A pop up tent bed. Except for the time it got stuck somewhere in transit on the luggage conveyer belt and melted a bit, it has been a life-saver. He gets to sleep in the same place every night, and he is zipped in. He can’t escape without me hearing him.
-I scrapped any preschool ideas. He can’t say his alphabet nor does he know how to count to 20 yet. He did start counting with his fingers, but he started that by himself. We just read lots of books and stick to doing chores and projects with mom and dad. He’s learning fractions by helping me cut up cucumber slices anyway, right? I did have to plan ahead and buy things for his first year of school while we’re overseas, but for now, nature and playgrounds are our go-to.
-We focused on making memories with family and friends, laying a foundation for years to come. I can tell it’s helping him adjust and enjoy things in spite of the transitions.
Things we’re still working on:
-Consistency in discipline, but plenty of grace to go around. Jet lag, new places, new faces, new foods–they all can build up to an overwhelming amount very quickly. We’re learning to discern if something is direct defiance or just plain overload.
-Trying to instill a principle of trust. Finn needs to trust mom and dad. He also needs to trust God’s plan for our family.
-Yuck duck and yay duck. We learned about these from our debrief time. It’s okay to say some things are not nice or okay. You don’t have to polish over a lousy situation with cliches. It doesn’t mean we get to have a bad attitude about it, but we don’t have to call it something else.
-In general, not worrying about his development. When we arrived, he still wanted to be spoon-fed. This is not a problem where we came from. I’ve even seen 5 year olds being fed. Here it’s baby behavior. It made me look bad. Pushing him did nothing; it just frustrated both of us. But guess what, after a while, he just started feeding himself. And the same thing happened with him dressing himself. I tried forcing it. Didn’t work. Lots of fights and crying. Then one day, he told me to go away and he just wanted to do it by himself. Within a week he even did the buttons.
Reflecting back, I think making memories and experiencing things with other people have been the easiest and the best for all of us. Just the other day, he asked to facetime my mom to show her the picture he’d drawn. I’m so glad he’s got the beginnings of those relationships that he can keep building on! And I’m thankful for all of the people that have been willing to break through his tough little shell and love him.
Keep praying for us as we navigate life.