Parenting has been a hoot lately. My almost 4-year-old argues with me about most things. He wants to change the clock to make snack time sooner. He argues that Chewbacca probably doesn’t have to flush, so why should he? And why can’t he just eat fried tempeh or jam sandwiches for every meal? I don’t think there’s any parent of a four year old who hasn’t heard these things before, but I do think that being overseas definitely complicates things. During this past year, I think I’ve tied myself in knots a few times trying to figure out why parenting was so hard, but I forgot to take into account the extra complexities of our life, especially in regard to Finn.
For example, on home assignment, he thought we were going to leave him in sunday school at church and get on a plane without him. It took him months to realize that we would come back every time.
During our 9 months of home assignment we moved 7 different times. We also visited countless people’s houses. For Payton and I, we loved catching up with old friends. We’d tell him, “We’re going to visit friends” and thus, his definition of “friend” is people he doesn’t know, but mommy and daddy do. He has also asked when people come over if they were going to live with us—or if we were going to live with them. Not a normal question for a 3 year old.
When we returned to the field, we returned to a totally different city. Finn kept asking where the “real” Indo was. He was talking about all of the people and places he remembered from the videos and picture books I’d made him. Just this last week he was actually interested in looking at the memory books. Before he was angry and refused. As he looked through them, it was like he was rediscovering a part of him he’d lost. He kept saying things like, “This is the place, mommy!” as he pointed to certain pictures.
Another complexity is the language barrier. Before we went on home assignment, he could communicate, but when we came back, all of his language had disappeared. This is a pretty normal thing for kids below 5 years old, but it’s hard as a mom to watch him struggle to play with other kids. We are so thankful for the friends he has made!
Possessions get confusing too. He frequently asks me about certain toys that had to be left behind, and he loves hoarding paper crafts and drawings.
Another thing that points to his general confusion over “where/what is home?” was made clear by his question a few weeks ago. He asked me, “Where do our neighbors actually live?” You can imagine the confusion on my face. Then I realized I’ve been trying to explain to him how we’re in the big city while our house in Taliabo is being built, so he assumed that everyone also lives somewhere temporarily.
A couple of weeks ago, when we returned to our old city to get our visas processed, we we to some of our old stomping grounds, like the local pool. On the way there, he got really excited. He claimed he saw our old cat. When we arrived at the pool, he said, “This is it! This is it! This is the real Indo!” Finally it was something he remembered. When he played with old friends, he told me I could leave him at their house and come back later. He looked so comfortable on their couch just reminiscing.
All of this really made me realize how the last year of being in transition was impacting him. He totally doesn’t know where home is or what it feels like to be in a permanent place. I’ve really started to talk to him about heaven and how amazing it will be. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t pity him. I know that Finn is loved and living in a home where Jesus is hopefully being lived out everyday, which is more than most of the world has. He gets 3 square meals a day, plus snacks. But, it doesn’t change the fact that I have to help him learn to navigate his semi-chaotic world. I’ve felt really lost lately, but our faithful Father has answered through many of your prayers and sage advice from people all over the globe.
Some moms of other third culture kids have greatly helped me sort through personality, developmental stages, and how to meet him where he’s at.
Here are some things I’ve learned:
“Transition Finn” is a whole different ball game. If we’ve travelled, moved, or dad has gone on a trip, I can expect several days on either end to be chaotic, complete with terrible behavior, as we try to shift back into “normal.” He needs lots of loving, firm reassurance.
Finn needs to hear that he is loved a LOT more than I have been saying it. Sometimes the only thing that will calm him down is cuddling up to me and praying.
With discipline, I have to be discerning to know what I’m really dealing with: Is he hungry? Is he overheated? Is it a language barrier thing?
He seems to readily pick up on my personal chaos and mirror it. Any lack of faith or irritation on my part seems to exponentially translate into his behavior.
Development is important to understand. Neurological and biological factors shouldn’t be bypassed. It totally helped me to understand what tools I needed to use. I was expecting things out of him that probably weren’t really what he was capable of at the time. Kids who are constantly in transition also revert to younger behavior at times when things get unstable. I’ve seen some amazing changes in behavior by just knowing that Finn needs to practice doing the right thing over and over, rather than other forms of discipline. This has felt like a game-changer in the past month.
A few things I’ve had to come back to as my anchor points are:
> God chose this path for us and Finn and that gives us confidence that God will provide what we need to parent him.
> We have a God-given authority and right to parent. We also have the Holy Spirit to guide us. We’re not alone.
> It always takes more time, but we often have to look beyond behavior to figure out what’s really going on to get to the heart of the matter.
>Above all, Finn needs grace poured into his life every day. As we as his parents, are a source of that in his life right now. If we’re not full, we can’t overflow into his life.
In the past few weeks, I’ve also read several articles (How Free Do you really want to be?; Oh the Places we’ll stay!) that have helped my perspective on this idea of home. I don’t like the nomadic lifestyle; it wears on my soul. Yes, it points me to heaven, but I do believe that a lot of our future effectiveness will come from putting down roots in Taliabo. I’m really looking forward to that! I really do believe that our season of unsettledness is only temporary, for which I am grateful. I can’t wait to settle in and grow some new roots. Pray for us as a family through this season of transition and pray we will persevere!