One of our blog readers recently requested to hear Jennifer’s perspective on raising young children abroad, along with some tips she’s learned in the process. The following post is her reply.
Raising our young children abroad for the past three years has been more of a catalyst for learning than I ever would have imagined, and my expectations were already quite high to begin with. It’s been all about learning together in new and unfamiliar territory, expanding comfort zones, and exploring the wonders to be savored in foreign lands. Our journey has been downright messy, heartbreaking, and confusing, but it has also been awe-inspiring, empowering, and exhilarating.
The reality we identified with at the time we started out on our journey has been rocked to the core. There’s no turning back now. But the good news is, we wouldn’t want to. We have gained so much value from what we’ve learned and experienced in our travels. Actually, we can’t bear the thought of not having chosen this path.
Our experiences have led us to the clearing out of many long standing emotional issues, and to the discovery of quite a few of our own limiting beliefs. The exposure we have had during this time to so many new and interesting people, places, cultures, and ideas, has expanded our bubble of reality and understanding. Each time a difficult puzzle piece clicks into place in our lives, our happiness factor increases. The challenges are worth their rewards. I see our lives as an ever-changing, growing, and evolving process, that I have come to appreciate the beauty of.
In our short amount of time on this new path, we feel like we have gained the world. We’ve even had the good fortune to meet several other families in-person who are taking their own similar journeys. Every family has different personalities, strengths, relationship dynamics, decision-making processes, conflict-resolution methods, skill sets, desires, resources, etc., which all play their significant roles in creating an individual family culture. I would say our family culture centers largely around learning.
Learning As a Family
I work together with Brandon to help facilitate the education of our three girls. We each have our own strengths in that area, and we make the most of them. We use a child-led learning approach. Brandon acts mainly as the computer guru, piano expert, trip organizer, navigator, and financial provider. For my part, I mostly prepare the day-by-day learning format, learning activity ideas, learning assignments, and to-do items along with the girls. I help them with their questions along the way, gauging their progress in all areas as we go along. We also help organize any special activities they want to pursue, and set them up with other teachers, children, groups and classes that they show special interest in. The girls and I also read books out-loud together, which is one of our favorite things to do. We keep things flexible, remembering that one of our goals is to help preserve in them a love of learning.
Many times our children have a specific idea about how they would like to learn something and it ends up working exceptionally well, but we never would have thought of it for them. I’ve learned to give them lots of freedom and space to explore and dive into what excites them. They’ve come up with great results.
I love this opportunity to raise our young children abroad, and this family culture of learning we have created together.
I’m finding it’s really the small things that make the biggest difference for our family, such as tone of voice, a fun approach, smiles, hugs, patience, gentleness, respect, taking responsibility for ourselves, being willing to help out when needed, and lots of loving, positive attention and recognition. It’s about taking the time to tune into ourselves and each other in order to connect at those deeper levels. We are learning to trust and value the unique contributions of each family member, and to live in our strengths from a place of greater self-love and awareness.
Here are 12 tips I’ve found helpful in raising young children abroad.
1. Bring A Few Toys
We don’t travel with many toys in our family. The girls have had a least one familiar and well-loved stuffed animal to bring along with them in our travels, and we also make really good use of such things as an iPad and a Galaxy Note. There is a lot of sitting and waiting that comes along with traveling; we’ve found it can feel really great to have something fun to do at the same time. As they’ve become old enough to enjoy reading on their own, books have helped pass the time well, too.
2. Pack Light
We find that the fewer luggage items we are loaded down with, especially with young children in-tow, the happier we are. In fact, we try to stick to carry-ons only. It reduces stress at our arrival destination as well, since we can skip the baggage claim. There’s nothing we want more than to quickly check into our rooms, after the discomfort of planes and airports. We’ve also found many airports have special express lines for families with young children, which come in handy during long wait times at immigration.
The decision that has made the biggest difference to smoothing my travel experience with young children is breastfeeding. Aysia always has her milk ready and waiting for her anytime she wants it. There’s nothing to prepare in advance. It’s perfectly warm, free, delicious, and it greatly benefits her developing immune system. It’s given us both immeasurable convenience and comfort along our journey. In all countries we’ve visited, breastfeeding in public is perfectly acceptable, which I’ve found refreshing. I’ll also make a quick mention here that baby-wearing has been a great way to go for us. It’s hands-free, breast milk is easily accesible, the baby stays more secure and protected, and she also enjoys plenty of close time with mama.
4. Hire Household Help
We’ve appreciated living in places where we can afford basic househeld help. It’s made such a difference in our quality of life, allowing us more freedom in how we spend our time, especially with our young children. It also helps out the local economies of the places we stay, teaches us about local culture and customs, the local language, and of course, we’ve made many new friends in the process.
5. Focus On Appreciation Vs. Expectations
The realities we encounter in our travels are often different than what we’re used to. For example, showers that are designed to get the whole bathroom wet, including the toilet, or beans in the pillows instead of feathers, or traffic police who will lie to get a bribe from tourists. As much as I may prefer things to be different sometimes, I find that complaining only makes things worse. I’ve learned to focus more on what I appreciate about a place, instead. I’ve come to realize that a focus based on expectations and perceived lack obscures much of the good that exists. As we’ve helped teach our young children to see and appreciate the good, it has gone a long way toward helping them foster positive attitudes.
6. Seek Out Limiting Beliefs
We came into this one purely by accident, but have since discovered that traveling is an opportune time for seeing the different beliefs that are out there in the world. When we are back at home in our familiar bubble of reality, our limiting beliefs can blend just like camouflage into the common background of our community and our lives. Since discovering some of our own limiting beliefs, our lives have begun changing in many positive ways. A big part of the changes that have come as a result have to do with the way we are raising our children. We feel very fortunate to be using a much more healthy approach for that now, than we felt like we were using before.
7. Accept Relationship Loss
At times, our journey has stirred up relationship drama with one or more close family members and friends. We are all naturally drawn to people who we feel can offer us the acceptance, respect, support, and love that we desire. I’ve discovered that relationship dynamics can change, and some of these people drop out of our lives. If it becomes your unfortunate reality that you lose one or more dear relationships through this process, allow yourself adequate time to grieve. Then allow yourself to move on and appreciate more fully the people who are there for you now. They are amazing, too. Young children are especially sensitive to melancholy moods, so I find it’s important to also be mindful of their feelings during this process.
8. Mind Your Personal Independence and Responsibility
As we began traveling it became all too easy for us to rely on each other for everything, and we did almost everything together. These foreign lands felt unfamiliar and a little overwhelming sometimes, so we began clinging onto each other extra tightly. That led to a codependency problem in our family, because we began neglecting to take enough personal responsibility for our own needs. We’re currently working on undoing many of those undesirable habits we created together, by taking time for ourselves when we need it and encouraging each other in our own personal growth.
9. Try New Things
From simple things like eating an exotic piece of fruit, to something as life-changing as attending the breath-work sessions here in Ubud, we would be missing out on a lot in our travels if we didn’t seek out the new. It certainly keeps life more exciting for all of us. For example, Emily volunteered at an animal rescue center while we were living in Costa Rica, and she loved it. Lately, both Emily and Marie have participated in a couple of open-mic nights here in Ubud, even writing some of their own songs. What made the experience so special for them was how warm and receptive the audience was, despite the imperfections in their performance. It was heart-warming to be among such beautiful people, and it’s something we’ll always remember fondly.
10. Accept Kindnesses
As our family has accepted kindness from others, we’ve had some special experiences. For example, one woman we barely knew (we met her at our hotel pool) set us up in a really fancy hotel in Guatemala for one night at a vastly discounted rate, simply out of the kindness of her heart. There was also the Korean man at an airport in Vietnam who threw a shoe up into the rafters multiple times as we were waiting for our flight, in order to make Marie’s toy snake fall back down to her. Experiences like these help us want to take opportunities to serve others too. We’ve had more opportunities to receive kindness from others because we travel with our young children.
Smiles have helped open doors for our family. People have been more inclined to want to get to know our family through Marie’s smiles and sociable personality. Even the very intimidating-looking rows of armed guards in Cusco, Peru melted into smiles when they saw our little girls trooping on by them. A sweet smile and polite decline usually goes a long way when too many people are hounding the girls for photos. Once, when the girls were on the verge of tears because of too much picture taking attention at the Grand Palace in Thailand, Emily made it a fun game by taking a picture of everyone who tried to take her picture. That garnered quite a few smiles and laughs of its own.
12. Carry Essential Oils
Brandon’s Mom introduced me to essential oils at the beginning of our marriage almost eleven years ago. I have been using them ever since. Besides being small and portable, they are powerful natural medicines I have used daily for things as simple as emotional balance, relaxation, focus, and motion sickness, to larger things like bug bites/stings, immunity, wound healing, muscle aches/tension, respiratory health, hormone balancing, digestion, massage, stomachache, headaches, and minor infections.
Essential oils have brought our family a lot of relief, healing, and peace of mind. My favorite brand is doTERRA, and I have my own online store if you want to order some for yourself. You can also get them at wholesale prices if you click join in the top right corner. Some of my favorites are Lavender, On Guard Blend (immunity), Peppermint, Melaleuca, DigestZen Blend (digestion), Wild Orange, Cinnamon, and Ylang Ylang.
Raising our young children abroad these past few years has propelled us into the fast lane of expanding our life experiences, enjoyment, and learning. Our understanding has deepened and we’ve been forever changed.
12 Aug 2016
28 Apr 2016