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Talking to the Parents of Boarding School Kids, Do’s and Don’ts

Quick link: What Not to Say to the Parents of Boarding School Kids

I’m nervous. I talked to other parents, wrote this essay, and Brain Child published it today and I’m nervous. It is a topic that really sits on the ledge and could topple over quickly into snark, bitterness, anger, and misunderstanding. I really tried to avoid going there but am not my own best editor.

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We all can get defensive when it comes to parenting choices. Mommy Wars, anyone? Like I wrote in the piece in the mommy war link, none of us is sufficient on our own, none of us makes perfect choices that will guarantee a certain outcome. We’re fumbling in the dark, learning to trust, and leaning on each other.

Its just that sometimes when I need to lean a little, with our particular choice of boarding school, it can seem like the support I thought would be there isn’t. Not intentionally, not always. Most people don’t intend to cause offense or hurt feelings. But there are ways of phrasing things that, quite simply, sting.

A flight attendant on our five-day flight fiasco asked why I was leaving my kids in Kenya and what we did in Djibouti. I told her and she said, “Well, you just meet the most interesting people, don’t you?”

I guess you do. And here are some suggestions on talking with those interesting people (who, by the way, don’t feel they are all that interesting).

Thank you to everyone who loves our family, our kids, and who blesses us with friendship and curiosity about our lives, even when you might not agree with our choices. Thank you for letting me lean, for asking sincere questions, for the evident care and affection you shower on my family.

There are few responses to our decision to send our 12-year old children to boarding school that are harder to hear than, “I could never do that.” Especially when that response comes from people I care too much about to offend by saying out loud what runs through my mind in the moments following this declaration.

I could never raise my kids in a country that sells five-pound gummy bears. I could never raise my kids in a culturally isolated, world-view restricted, familiar but uninspiring location.

It is a good thing I don’t respond like this because not only are these responses cruel and snarky, they are lies.

They are lies because I could raise my kids in America, I even daydream about it sometimes. I have good friends who are excellent parents raising kids in America. There are kids with healthy palates, culturally diverse worlds, wide-open world-views, living creative and inspired lives in the American suburbs.

The reason these answers are what initially rise to the surface when someone says I could never do boarding school is because those words imply a refusal to step into my world for even a second, an inability to see anything beyond the four walls of their own choices so I knee-jerk back with the same attitude. They also subtly (and not so subtly sometimes) communicate a, “You don’t love your kids as much as I do,” kind of attitude that is equally false and I want to belittle the speaker just because I can be mean like that at times.

I compiled a list of things to never say to the parents of boarding school kids as well as the responses that go through that parent’s mind when we hear them. I have personally heard each of these, and more…

Click here to read the rest of What Not to Say to the Parents of Boarding School Kids

*image via Wikipedia

A History of Choices

We’ve hit a small pause in the Painting Pictures Third Culture Kid series, to be continued. There are two incredible posts in the works but due to various other commitments, they are put on hold. So for now, I quickly pulled a journal entry I’d written a few weeks ago, updated to blog-appropriate, and voila. Here is a peek into what I write for myself.

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Lucy has been putting a song on repeat in the car so that all the way to school, home from school, to the grocery store and home, the beach and home, we listen to the same song.

“Do you remember when Maggie used to put A Mighty Good Leader by Audio Adrenaline on repeat?” I said to Tom.

He nodded, we laughed, and instantly a flood of memory paralyzed me from further conversation. I almost couldn’t breathe. Driving down Rue de Venice with Maggie and Henry in the backseat. They wore white judo uniforms, yellow belts that almost hung to their feet because we never mastered the tying technique. Two water bottles rolled around at their feet. I would run while they were at practice, then we would buy fresh, steaming, baguettes from the patisserie next door to the outdoor community center where judo practice was held. The three of us would scarf one entire baguette on the drive home, rolling the fluffy middle between our fingers and leaving seats full of crusty crumbs.

A Mighty Good Leader rattled the windows. Maggie wanted it louder and louder. She reached over the console to hit repeat. I turned repeat off. She turned it back on and smiled and turned up the volume again. Every Sunday and Tuesday night for a year. Two years? Three? Until they grew tired of year-round judo and started playingfootball (soccer) instead, until they outgrew what we felt Djibouti had to offer an English-speaking kid academically and they went to boarding school. Until their younger sister gained full control over the music in the car.

judo in djibouti

The memory of those drives was hot and dusty, smelled like dirt and the diesel exhaust of Ethiopian lorries hauling goods from the port of Djibouti to Addis Ababa. Smelled like post-run sweat and baguettes and muddy feet from the dust-covered judo mats. And I wanted to cry. Was this nostalgia? For the years when the kids were home with us? The years of judo and learning how to tie judo belts and tennis shoes, the years when the kids were young and I was still their hero?

I think it was that, and something else, and not some kind of simplistic realization that I love Africa. Which I don’t. It was the realization, obvious and yet I was oblivious to it, that almost all of our family memories smell like Djibouti, look like Djibouti, are framed by desert and ocean and camels and the Islamic call to prayer.

This international life is more than the present choice of being an expatriate, it is the trail of memories left in our wake. No matter when or if we leave, Djibouti is what will forever hold our memories of pregnancy and potty training and toddlers and the first day of school and losing teeth. Djibouti is what will frame and color and scent my mind’s picture of the Christmas morning ritual of wrestling. Kids learning to walk up uneven tile steps, the backdrop of headscarves flapping in the wind during football games. The idea that a green fuzzy carpet-like decoration is just what our Jeep needs. For better or worse (and I choose to believe for better) Djibouti has changed us from the kind of people and family we might have been.

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All future memories will be formed in reference to this past, this Djibouti past. I don’t know why this thought shook me so deeply that I couldn’t speak or why writing about it makes tears bubble in my eyes. Perhaps it is because in that moment, in that memory, with A Mighty Good Leader playing in my mind while Lucy’s repetitive song rattled the car windows, I recognized the profound effect Djibouti has had on my family at a new level.

I often think of our choice to live in the Horn of Africa as the current choice, the present reality. And it is. But it is also the choice we made last year and the year before that. It is a history of choices, it is how we have decided to remember our past, live our present, and shape our future.

What choices have shaped your future and has that surprised you?

A Word from Expat Dads to Expat Dads on Father’s Day

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Today I’m writing at A Life Overseas about Father’s Day.

Last week my husband changed the oil on our car. Then he helped our seven-year old daughter sew a dress because I am worthless with anything remotely craft related. Then the two of them went outside and shot water bottles with a BB gun. This is one seriously rockin’ dad.

Over the years I have met other seriously rockin’ dads and for Father’s Day, I wanted to write about being a father overseas. Alas…I’m not one. So I enlisted the words and wisdom of wise, fun, creative, deep, spiritual dads, men I admire for even more than their dad-ing. These are men committed to serving God and their local communities but I am convinced that one of the greatest gifts they are giving the world is their children, because of how they have lived and loved and parented.

They have over 50 years cumulative experience in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. In honor and celebration of these dads and with the aim of encouraging and inspiring other dads, here are fourteen things expatriate dads do well, in their own words (condensed and combined by me).

Head on over to Fourteen Things Expat Dads Want to Tell Expat Dads on A Life Overseas to read their wise words.

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