"Don't touch your face!"
"You can't play in the dirt!"
"No running while in the village!"
"Please don't share your water!"
These are phrases that we have consistently said to our children. None of these are things we ever thought we would say - definitely not with the frequency we now say them. My six-year old is a typical boy and he loves to run and play in the dirt. He has probably scared more than his fair-share of women in the community by running around and playing in the dirt. He simply does not understand their concern. They see a boy running and their memory jumps back to some child who ran and fell, and the scratch got terribly infected, causing amputation or worse - death. They see a child playing in the dirt and remember a young child who played in the dirt and ended up with a serious infection or worms - perhaps this too resulted in death in the story that replays in their minds.
Parenting on the mission field just is not the same as parenting in your passport culture. You have to adapt to your surroundings, learn new cultural "no-no's," keep kids safe from totally new things that are often just as foreign to the parent! While you work to raise respectful young adults, you suddenly find yourself balancing and teetering between two worlds. It seems your family is always one step away from offending someone.
It is in these moments that you start to observe how others parent their children. Maybe you are blessed with a more experienced "veteran" missionary family to watch and model. Maybe you have met an incredible family on the mission field in your new home culture, and you can learn from them what is acceptable or not. Maybe you're pulling your hair out because you feel completely lost in this adventure and it is not quite what you imagined it would be. Praise God for His grace!
I remember in our first months in Haiti that I would change my responses to my children to match what the culture did. I realized this was not productive, as my kids did not know what was expected of them. We began to have lots of conversations about what is acceptable in each culture. Our kids will one day be masters at fitting into the crowd anywhere they go, because they can assess the situation and adapt to what is expected of them in order to avoid cultural mishaps. I pray that God uses this for His glory one day! Parents - it does not matter where you are raising your children - do not underestimate the importance of talking with them and sharing with them what your expectations are and why! If you do not have a good reason, you may want to re-think your expectations.
If you are at the beginning of your adventure, trust in God's Word! His Word will guide you, even if you have nobody else around you to tell you what to do.
Teach your children to love unconditionally, to be gracious and kind, to care about and for others, to respect their elders, and to listen well.
Teach your children to pray about everything, without ceasing.
Teach them to follow your example by being a good enough example for them to follow!
Teach your children to seek God's will first in their lives by modeling it for them, even on the hardest days.
Lastly - but definitely not least! - teach your children to be humble and ask forgiveness when they blunder, because they most definitely will.
Raising your children in a foreign culture is not an easy task, but God is faithful and will equip you. He will walk with you as you try to guide your children closer to Him.
This, my friends, is what parenting is all about.
Gami & Cathi Ortiz
Best friends; married for 17 years; parents of five wonderful children; living on mission in Haiti since 2013.