In the recent Reader Survey, this question came through. It’s one I get asked from time to time, given our history of having lived abroad, in 14 different homes in 14 years of marriage, and doing all of that as a young, growing family:
Q: You have been in various states of transition over the past 8(?) years, as well as intentionally raising littles during that time…maybe you have some wisdom to share? Specifically, I am wondering- how do you keep a schedule for kids when you are in different places, time zones, housing situations, etc.
Also, how do you stay steady for kids when you, yourself, don’t feel emotionally “sure” or “stable”? Sometimes in the waiting room of life the anxiety or demands of the upcoming season encroach on the current one.
A: I do have some thoughts about this. They may come out scatter-shot, but I pray they will be helpful.
FIRST, A FEW OVERARCHING THINGS:
- DO WHAT IS NECESSARY FOR SANE DAILY LIFE FIRST. — I wrote more about this here: 21 Ways to Help Your Family THRIVE Through Transition, but the main takeaway is this: Major on the majors. First things first, help your whole family (including you, mama) to eat well & get good sleep. Let other things fall by the wayside, but focus on good sleep & regular meals.
- DEAL WITH YOUR EMOTIONS PROACTIVELY. — One great piece of advice we got when preparing to move overseas was to say good “goodbyes.” There’s a larger application than merely how you hug and what you say at the airport. Namely: Don’t walk away without having dealt with what you’re walking away from. Or, if you can’t help it (say, you have to move on to a new job even though there’s still unfinished business related to the old one), deal with it as you are walking. Don’t walk away and “stuff” it down inside without being dealt with. Work through what’s “back there,” behind you. Deal with your past. Deal with difficult relationships. As far as it depends on you, leave things in a “peaceful” state.
- KEEP CURRENT. Ask forgiveness as soon as you realize you’ve botched it. Offer forgiveness freely. Don’t carry a long list of grudges and wounds along with you. You’ll feel a lot more emotionally at rest if you are only dealing with what’s right in front of you rather than also trying to stay mad about all the things that have happened since the dawn of time.
- DON’T BORROW TROUBLE. The Bible says “do not be anxious” about a gazillion times. So, Christian mama, don’t worry about more than what is right here in front of you. Part of what is so wonderful about going through difficult seasons is that I believe it is God’s way of teaching us to “STOP IT!” Stop gathering more manna than you need for this day. Stop worrying about whether or not you’ll have manna on the ground tomorrow. Just ask for your daily bread, gather it up, and be grateful. Do not take on stress from future things. Entrust your future to God– He’s the only One who can *REALLY* do anything about it anyhow.
OK, NOW FOR SPECIFICALLY DEALING WITH KIDS:
- ESTABLISH A FLEXIBLE ROUTINE AS SOON AS YOU CAN. Do what works for your family, but get into good habits from the get-go. Don’t let jet lag or time zone dictate whether or not there will be naps for the next three weeks. You might gently adjust the times at which they happen, but meals and sleep should happen with regularity and predictability. This allows everyone to embrace the new normal. Don’t let transition drag on too long. Jump in and help everyone feel more normal by establishing a routine. (Remember, I said “flexible” though- when you’re running to the grocery that stocks different ingredients, or cooking meals without all your pots, or your husband is adjusting to a new work routine with extra meetings and less-than-regular hours, flexibility is key!)
- BE IN AWE OF THE “NEW.” Try to find the joy in the little things. Notice what’s different, point it out to your children, and marvel at it together. Our first week overseas, we delighted by Chinese vehicles that were unlike what we’d ever seen in America. In Thailand, it was the tuk-tuks and bamboo tiki houses; in Hong Kong, high rises and double-decker buses. When we came back to America, things like clean water fountains, the varieties of skin color (all in one place, as opposed to the places we’d lived where skin was monochromatic), and all the pickup trucks (in Texas!) were what we noticed. When we came to Washington, the natural beauty has kept us all in awe. We still gawk at Mt. St. Helens every time we drive past it on the I-5. By encouraging our kids to “marvel,” we are fanning the flames of curiosity and wonder, lifting their eyes up to things bigger than they are, and teaching them to have gratitude in the midst of the unknown. It does wonder for our hearts as well, as we opt for awe over anxiety.
- TALK, TALK, TALK ABOUT EXPECTATIONS. Help them anticipate things rightly. Plans. What people will be like. Whether or not they’ll have their own bed and blanket and stuffed animals right away, or whether it’ll be more like a week before things start to feel normal for them. What we’ll do for breakfast. Communicate that it won’t always feel like this, that these new experiences/foods/plans/living arrangements/whatever will only be for X amount of time, and then we’ll be doing Y.
- KISS, SNUGGLE A LOT. Give your husband and your kiddos extra lovins.
- DO NOT STOP DISCIPLINING. Normal-ish rules apply. Sure, after getting off a 15-hour plane ride, a 2-year-old may have an extra meltdown, which will likely mean getting a nap and sleep and food more quickly, but hitting mom is never OK. Screaming with an ugly, angry attitude is never OK. A friend of mine, who had raised her own 4 children amidst plenty of transition and globe-trotting puts it this way: “some things are NEVER OK.” Don’t excuse what is inexcusable. Sure, everyone gets a little touchy when jet lag sets in, but touchiness and rudeness are two different things. Don’t put up with what you shouldn’t put up with. Help your kids adjust to the new place/schedule by helping them realize the same rules apply here, too. Rudeness, disobedience, defiance are not allowed, even in transition.
- EMPHASIZE GOD’S PRESENCE. Remind them where real security is– not in having a duplicate sippy cup that is exactly like the one they had “back home,” or in being able to carry their blanket everywhere they go, or in having friends that they like… remind them that God is always with us (Psalm 121 is a great one to read aloud together, as well as Ps. 139:1-10) and to derive comfort and peace from His faithful presence no matter where we go in life.
- EMPHASIZE GOD’S SOVEREIGN CARE– Look for every opportunity God gives you to point out that He GREATLY LOVES us, that He is providing each need along the way. Help them to feel secure by directing them toward the things that OUGHT to give them security– God’s Word & activity in their lives. THINGS are fleeting. PLACES are fleeting. RELATIONSHIPS don’t always last. But God’s Word lasts forever. His promises and plans are perfect. Even now, you are discipling them by helping them (and you) to focus on God’s sovereign care in life.
These are the things that come to mind for me as I think back to all the times we have helped our children through transition.
And to you, I say– Hang in there, Mama. Take care of the “boring,” daily things first. Make sure you’ve got realistic expectations. Remember it won’t always be this way. Smile & laugh! And don’t forget to notice God’s sovereign care!