We’re coming up on 3 years living in Thailand.
Anyone doing…. well…..just about A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G in life knows that offspring make E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G……. more. More challenging. More beautiful. More mind-boggling. More gut-wretching.
We’ve experienced a lot of “MORE” since starting our life overseas.
Our heart at filled2bless is to make the mystery of life overseas for missionaries, become a little more clear to those living in their home country. More honest. More realistic. More authentic. More brave.
I’m not positive, but I’ve gathered that a popular thought about raising kids overseas is that it is pretty much in the benefit of the child. This idea generally comes from those who haven’t done it. Or those who haven’t engaged deeply with kids who have lived this upside-down life. It makes sense, that at first glance, a surface level assessment of it would be positive: adventure, new language, culture and excitement to experience. I get it. I had similar thoughts before when I considered missions and kids.
Ironically, doing this work here of facilitating our kids integration into their new life has made me feel MORE and LESS this way. How is it possible to have such contradictory beliefs? Not sure. But I’d love to share some of the ways that this life has been so incredibly beneficial for our kids, AND some of the ways in which it has brought a lot of hard in their lives.
The Hard Side of the Coin.
1- Stability. Largely our kids lack stability. We don’t travel around the world, but we live in a place that is not really our home. We change schedules and schools and routines and roles often. We gain and loose new friends regularly.
2- Family. This isn’t unique to growing up overseas necessarily, but living oceans away seriously limits travel, so seeing family every few years is all most of us can do. That makes the natural community we desire our family to live with and learn from, much more tricky. There is definite loss there.
3- Being an outsider. Ah. Hard to write about this, being part of majority culture in our home country, as well as the realities of white supremacy around the world. However, even while acknowledging those things, there is a very real tension of living as an outsider in a very homogenous culture. A culture that really values sameness, tradition and their people’s identity. A place that doesn’t really value welcoming the stranger or making space for the differences of others. Reading adults sharing how much confusion and discomfort that this brought them when they were cross-cultural children (or TCK’s) has helped us try and picture better what this is like for a kid who are still forming so many of their views of themselves and the world at large. It’s huge and significant and we are just beginning to appreciate the implications of it.
4- Health. We aren’t in the bush, boiling river water to drink (although we can’t drink the tap water here), however there are several things that we know are negatively affecting our kids (and our) physical health. The smog issue is a massive challenge in the Northern part of Thailand that we live in, so much so that some move to another area or country to avoid it’s harmful affects. While we are SO thankful we have access to a lot of local produce, we have limited access to some healthy foods, vitamins and other self-care items that we would utilize if we lived in America. There are a TON of kids snacks in Thailand, but unfortunately they are all LOADED with sugar, dye and MSG….and just like in the States, people love to give kids snacks here on every possible occassion.
5- Opportunity. Whether it be access to schools, sports, specialists, therapies, holiday fun, programs or the various opportunities that a country like America offers, our kids have less access to many opportunities that may be really beneficial for them. We make best with what we have available, but this is sometimes part of the “hard” side of the coin of living overseas.
The Beneficial Side of the Coin. (They don’t erase the other side, but neither should they be ignored!)
1- Stability. While we don’t have the traditional stability + identity that children often have when they live in their own country, we are hoping our kids find a deeper solace and comfort in our immediate family. One of my closest friends grew up in the Philipines and the connection that her family shared, and continues to share into adulthood is so special + meaningful. When you go through a lot of unique experiences together, it often binds you in ways that “typical” life doesn’t always.
2- Family. The Divine continually lives in community, and as we are image-bearers of this triune God, we are very deliberately designed to live + thrive in community. Often times, and in many countries this is your genetic family, but when God asks you to leave your family and move, you begin redefining what family will be for you. Our new family has become this big, beautiful, diverse group of people from many nations, demographics, family types and values. We enjoy the richness of these growing relationships, while simultaneously grieve the loss of being able to live life traditionally with our biological families.
3- Being an outsider. Being a transracial family is already a complicated way to navigate the world. And living as an outsider, while already being a minority in your own country, can compound the challenge. This is two of our family members experience. However, living as an outsider, for those of us in our family that only have ever known what it’s like to belong ethinically + culturally, this experience provides us rich insights and a better understanding of what those living in minority categorizations in America experience. The caveat to this is while we have lost our majority status when we moved to Thailand, we haven’t lost the privileges that being white affords us in most parts of the world. So while we know much more about what it’s like to be an outsider, we would never claim to understand what it is like to be viewed in such a negative, “less than” light.
4- Health. Nothing can mitigate the effects of breathing some of the world’s most toxic air for almost half of each year, however there are some neat health benefits to living here. Lots of sun, loads of juicy fresh produce, super cheap foot massages, doctors visits and medicine that practically costs pennies, and being in a tourist town with really reasonable hotels to escape to for a brief retreat from life. We try and remind ourselves of these perks when we feel closed in on during the intensely smokey part of the year.
5- Opportunity. While we’ve lost access to a lot of opportunities, we’ve also gained access to many different opportunities. Driving 30 minutes so our kids can splash around in a waterfall, or our whole family eating at an outdoor Thai restaurant with a playground for $15…these things that feel so normal and mundane now, are really such gifts that we hope will be good memories for our kids to cherish regarding their childhoods. While 3 out of 4 of our kids don’t speak Thai that well, they all have had amazing exposure to language and culture that will forever change their worldview. Not to mention the opportunity to come to know + love another people group so deeply. What a truly beautiful gift.
Doesn’t it seem like humans have this inward urge to categorize everything as good or bad….beneficial or not. Maybe the more nuanced life you experience, you come to realize most things don’t neatly fit into those rigid categories. This life that God has invited us to is loaded with truly opposing realities…that exists TOGETHER, with all the beautiful, frustrating tension that brings. Scripture is infused with this truth. Maybe eventually we will stop forgetting that we can’t actually have the coin, without embracing both sides of it.
Joy and pain, they are but two arteries of the one heart that pumps through all those who don’t numb themselves to really living. Ann Voskamp
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Matt 5:4
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under the sun. Ecc 3
Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning. Psalm 30:5