Sorry kids, it’s not your best life

Sorry kids, it’s not your best life

A common caption for pictures on my Instagram feed is something along the lines of “she’s living her best life” accompanied by an adorable shot of a toddler cuddling her puppy or a little boy with an infectious grin covered head to toe in mud.

(NOT our dog)

Sometimes I can just smile at the cuteness, but other times I get a churning in my gut – a mix of envy, guilt and the ever lurking fear that the choices we’ve made for how we live our lives will somehow ruin our children.

If I was creating the perfect childhood for my kids, it would involve living close to family and having a clean, safe outside space to play in. There would be lots of opportunities to try out different sports and instruments and activities, and school would be fun. They’d have access to services when they were struggling with speech or reading, and a gaggle of neighborhood friends to shoot hoops with in the driveway. The air they were breathing would be clean and they wouldn’t catch salmonella from playing at the beach (or taking a shower – jury is still out on where that nasty bug came from.)

enjoying the green grass of Arizona!

Everyone tells you about the benefits of raising children overseas, and I love that my kids are growing up multilingual. I love that they are exposed to different cultures and the close bonds they have with one another because of our “never quite fitting in anywhere” lifestyle.

I don’t love when my kid comes home crying because some girls filled her desk and backpack and books with glitter… because she won her class math competition and they have to bring her down a notch because she’s a foreigner.

Are my kids “living their best life?” I can confidently answer that with a resounding no. Don’t get me wrong. They are happy. They have friends, they enjoy the activities they are involved in, they are doing well in school. But looking at it from a physical, emotional or psychological perspective, no, it’s not their best life. And yes, I often feel sad and sometimes guilty for this. We knew we would be making sacrifices on our kids’ behalf when we chose this life, but that doesn’t make it any easier when your children are bawling their eyes out because they miss their family or because apparently white people are ugly.

But all this begs the question: is that our primary responsibility as parents? To give our kids their best life?

When our kids were younger and they’d pine for life in America after a fun summer there, we could easily remind them that summertime anywhere is more fun. But as they are getting older, the reality of what they are missing out on is becoming clearer to them. So we let them talk about it. We grieve with them the loss of the life they think they’d enjoy having.

And then we try to teach them why we sacrifice so much. And ultimately it comes down to obedience. We felt like God called us to this life, and so we obeyed. It’s not always easy, it’s not always fun, it’s not always comfortable. My hope is that this is a truth we can pass on to our kids… that striving for our best life is less about the perfect environment and endless opportunities and comfortable relationships and more about just being obedient

It doesn’t mean I don’t ache with and for them when they are struggling because of this choice that we’ve made. The feelings of guilt are very real. But I have to believe that our obedience will bring blessing… even if that blessing doesn’t come in the form of the puppy my middle child desperately wants to have.

Vacationing with a TCK

Vacationing with a TCK

Every month we send out a picture of the month update.  Our August update about our vacation got a lot of responses from friends of ours who also live overseas and are raising Third Culture Kids.  I thought I’d share it here too, as it’s a better forum to dialogue and share ideas (though most of the conversation around my blog posts happens over on facebook :))


Lazy days on the beach, hours in the playhouse, riding horses, chasing dogs, books with grandparents and laughing with cousins.  Our time in the States was exactly what we needed.  We were able to put aside worries about finances, security, and the stress of every day life and just enjoy.  We returned to Beirut last week feeling rested and rejuvenated.  We were exhausted of course from the flights and the jet lag, but our souls felt so fresh and ready for another year of ministry in Beirut.

We played the part of the hermit really well on this trip.  One of the big reasons we decided to only spend time with our families this month was for our kids’ sake.  Our girls (and Luka eventually) are classic third culture kids (TCK).  They are being raised in a country different from where their passport says they are from, and they’ve never spent more than a few months at a time in that passport country.  They think they are Lebanese, but they don’t truly fit in, but they don’t fit in in the States either.

One characteristic of TCKs is they way they make friends and build relationships.  I’ve heard it illustrated well by thinking of a swimming pool.  Typically, when you meet someone new, you hang out in the shallow end.  You may be there for weeks or months, maybe venturing into the deep end for a brief moment before heading back to shallow waters.  After trust has been built, you might spend more and more time in the deep end with your new friend, but it takes time to get there.

That’s not the case for TCKs.  They intuitively know that time is short, so they jump right in deep end.  That can be awkward for people from one culture, but when TCKs get together it’s the most natural thing in the world to do.  It’s how they relate.

What does this have to do with our summer vacation?  Our girls go deep quickly.  A visit to a friend’s house results in a new best friend that they just can’t imagine their lives without. And as we drive away, the question inevitably gets asked, “when can we play with her again?”  The answer “in two years” or “when you are six” results in tears and a huge sense of loss for our tenderhearted children.

Loss is a part of life, we know, and our kids will need to learn to navigate it.  When we are back in the US next summer for Home Assignment, they are going to gain and lose a lot of new friends. But we decided that for this vacation, we were going to limit that for them.  So we sequestered ourselves with our families, letting the girls really go deep with people that they could wake up and see again and again.  Of course it was hard when we left.  Isla bawled her way through security lines in multiple airports and Ruby whined her way halfway across the Atlantic Ocean. But they know that we’ll skype soon, family will come visit, and we’ll be back to see everyone “after Ruby turns 4.”  :)

We are so grateful to you all for understanding, for the way you cared so well for us from afar while we were visiting and for your continued prayers and support!

Fail proof potty training

Fail proof potty training

There is not an aspect of parenting that I dread more than potty training.  It stresses me out and frustrates me more than growth spurts, nightmares, separation anxiety and cluster feeding all put together.  And really I can’t complain… I’ve had it pretty easy when it comes to potty training.  But it still makes me crazy.

I think a big part of it is, your kids are finally to a stage where they have a little independence… they can play alone while you take a shower, get their own water when they are thirsty every 3 minutes, and get themselves dressed in the morning.  Then all of a sudden you have to be hyper-vigilant again, watching the clock (it’s been an hour, surely she has to go!), analyzing their every move (why are you so quiet, are you peeing!?), and lugging four thousand changes of clothes with you everywhere you go just months after you finally got to the stage where you could leave the house with just your keys and wallet and be just fine.

But I guess it’s an inevitable stop on this journey called parenthood, and now that I’ve (hopefully!!!!) got number two well on her way to being trained, I thought I’d share my best tips for potty training your toddler:

1.  Don’t.  I mean, at some point, they’ll just know what to do right???

2.  If that isn’t your cup of tea, and you do want to actually be proactive about helping your child learn to use the toilet on her own, wait until the last possible minute.  For nearly 8 months, Isla was asking me if she could go in the toilet.  I kept telling her she didn’t need to because she had a diaper on.  (I know, I know, mother of the year here!)  But when I finally did take the diaper off after 8 months of her begging me too, she was more than ready!

3.  Food rules go out the window.  So what if your two year old has 3 juice boxes before lunch?  You gotta fill her bladder so she can pee!  Which leads me to number four…

4.  If the bribe works, use it.  If a chocolate chip makes your daughter pee in the proper place, give her a chocolate chip (or ten!).  If the toddler who doesn’t watch any TV during the week will sit still on the toilet and “try” if you let her watch Rapunzel on your phone, you let the child watch the whole movie if that’s what it takes!

Yeah, that’s all I’ve got.  Good luck.  Haha.

An open letter

An open letter

Dear friends, acquaintances and random strangers,

I am really trying to adapt to the culture here.  Which means, when you didn’t know I was pregnant and told me I was fat, I tried my hardest to just smile.  And when you asked me why I still had a belly when my baby was “already three months old,” I tried my hardest to respond graciously.

When you give me (wrong) advice about how I’m raising my children, I’ve stopped defending myself, I’ve stopped trying to educate you.  Instead I just nod and smile and say “thank you” even though I know I am not going to put hard liquor on my baby’s gums to help her teething pain.

I think I’m making good progress.

But.  When you tell me – in front of my children – that one of my girls is more beautiful than the other, well, don’t be surprised when I argue, when I loudly defend their unique beauty, and when I tell you that you are wrong and shame on you for saying such a thing.  Honestly, I don’t care how culturally inappropriate it is for me to disagree loudly with you about this.  Okay fine, gossip with your friends about which of my girls you think is prettier, smarter, nicer, whatever.  But shame on you for telling me what you think.  And an even bigger shame on you for telling my children what you think.

I will not take it.  Consider this fair warning.


Mama to TWO amazing girls

On Motherhood

On Motherhood

I was reading an article in The Daily Star, one of Lebanon’s online news sites, about unlicensed day cares in Lebanon.  Apparently there are quite a few of them and they were all given six months to get a permit to operate legally.  The point of the article was that even though the six month grace period has passed, no unlicensed day cares have actually been shut down, but this quote caught my eye.. I thought it gave interesting insight into a view of motherhood/child raising here in Beirut… granted, her interests lie in more children attending day care, but the way she words her perspective is interesting:

The closure of nurseries, she {president of the Association of Nursery Owners in Lebanon} said, results in parents having to keep the child at home, with either a maid or a grandparent. She added that being under the supervision of just one person was not advisable for young children who require social interaction. A lack of child care options can also result in “the performance of the working mother suffering, or she might even have to leave her job to return home to be with her baby.”

(full article here)

*for the record, I’m not against day care in theory – I know some moms really do need to work outside the home, whether that be for financial or personal reasons, it’s not my place to judge what is best for each family.  But, we have been told many times that our 2 year old should be in nursery because it’s not good for her to be just with her mom all day, so this perspective is not limited just to the director of the nursery association!



The way that children are treated here in Lebanon is much different than back in the States.  Our parenting style often feels completely opposite to the way children are raised here.  Ultimately we all have the same goals… we just seem to go about it in very different ways.  The way people interact with children who are not their own here is also very different.  The hugs and kisses Isla get from boys and men here would raise eyebrows back in the States… here it seems to be a normal way of interacting with children.

It’s not just people that we know.  Ever since she was born, she’s been pinched, picked up, kissed, patted on the head and photographed by strangers.  In the hospital when she was born, one of the nurses brought her friend by to see the baby.  We’d be walking on one side of the street and people would literally run across the road to greet Isla.  A few weeks ago, she tripped while we were walking and a man came rushing over out of nowhere with a piece of chocolate for her tears.  We were doing some sightseeing this past weekend with my sister and a group of teenagers begged to get their picture taken with her.

For some kids, this would be like hitting the jackpot.  Attention galore!  Isla hates it though.  We’ve tolerated it up until this point because we sort of thought, well, this is the culture we live in, she needs to get used to it.

But I had an aha-moment the other day.  Isla, Ruby and I were out to lunch with some friends when I noticed out of the corner of my eye that a girl at a table across the way was taking pictures of us.  I didn’t think anything of it really, as we were quite the sight.  Me with my blond toddler and Ruby in a wrap (which is totally weird to people here), my friend who wears a veil with her two kids, and her Ethiopian maid.  We were a random group that personifies the diversity of Lebanon, so I figured that’s what this girl was taking pictures of.  It’s something I would probably take a picture of and post on the blog, haha!

But when my friend noticed, she told me that she thought the girl was taking pictures of Isla.  So I started paying more attention and realized that she was.  Not only that, but at least a dozen people stopped by our table to say hi to Isla and not a single one of them greeted my friend’s daughter – who is the same age as Isla and was sitting just across the table from her.

All of sudden, it was so clear to me.  It’s not the way people treat children here.  It’s the way people treat OUR child.  Because she looks different.  I don’t know why it hit me just then, but it did and it made me angry.  And frustrated for Isla.  Frustrated that we can’t go to the playground if there are other kids there because they will all want to carry her and crowd her so much that she doesn’t have fun.  Frustrated that we can’t just sit and have lunch without someone taking her picture.  Frustrated that she isn’t allowed to just be a kid, but will always be seen differently and will be given attention that she doesn’t actually want.

I decided then and there that it was the last time I’d allow strangers to take her picture, hug or kiss her, or anything else that she is not comfortable with.  We’ve been trying so hard to teach her that she can’t be rude to people, but I think it’s time we help others realize that they can’t be rude to her just because of the color of her hair!


no more pictures, please!

The Mommy Wars

The Mommy Wars

I breastfed Isla for nearly two years and hope to go at least as long with Ruby.  We use disposable diapers.  I make our own baby food and we don’t start solids until six months old.  Isla had ice cream for lunch the other day.  I baby wear.  Our babies sleep in their own beds in our room until they sleep through the night.  We sleep trained Isla when she was six months, and will do the same with Ruby if we need to.  Isla is still rear-facing in her car seat at 2.5 years.  Sometimes we give her the iPod to play with just so we can make her be quiet.

Have you labeled me yet?  Judged me for any of those choices?

If you have spent any time with any other moms lately, you know that most of these are hot-topic issues.  And if you’ve spent any time in any kind of online parenting forum, group, website or blog, you know these issues can bring out some terrible name-calling, judgments and just a lot of junk.

I’m in a breastfeeding support group on facebook.  The ladies are amazingly kind and supportive.  When I was discouraged with some feeding issues Ruby was having, they were quick to jump to my aide and encourage the mess out of me.  And yet at the same time, other posts pop up that are so judgmental and mean, tearing down other parents for the decisions that they make.

I’ll admit, I’ve made my fair share of judgments.  Even though it’s only in my mind and not something I would ever say out loud, I’ve judged.  But deep down, I know that these parents I’m secretly judging really love their kids and are doing their darndest to make the best decisions that they can for their families.  Formula vs. breast, sleep training and parenting styles are definitely not something I am willing to fight with other mamas about.  Being a mom is hard enough without having to feel like you have to defend every choice you make.

I’m sure many of you have seen this blog post already… as it currently has 29,000 likes on facebook (mine included! :))… but I wanted to post it here because it is awesome.  Powerful.  And so very true.  It’s one of those posts that you read and you go, “yes, that is exactly what I’ve been thinking but didn’t quite know it and never could have said it so well.”  If you haven’t read it yet, read it now:

“When it comes to issues of motherhood, there is one issue I care about: some kids don’t have one.”

And then I hope you seriously consider what you can do about it.  If you are interested in an organization to support that helps at-risk kids, I have a long list of people/orgs that I am personally aware besides our own girls’ home that I’m happy to pass along! :)