8 Practices That Are Revolutionizing My Parenting

by Elizabeth

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The speaker at church was encouraging us to look to God for mercy and healing, and then when God has healed you, to remember to thank Him. And suddenly I stopped, because I thought about all the things I’ve asked God for in the past, and I realized that I’m currently in a season where I’m living into some long-awaited dreams and receiving help for some long-asked-for requests.

Most of those prayers have to do with my parenting. I’m always praying to be a better mother — because I so often feel like a failure of a mother. Looking back that day, I started seeing that I am a different Mom than I used to be. And I’m a different wife. Not in every way and not in every moment, but I’m a person much more at peace in myself and in my circumstances. This is the fruition of long-awaited prayers.

The changes were slow and imperceptible, and I didn’t even know it was happening at the time. I didn’t even set out for it, I don’t think. But I think I know some of the ways it was birthed. Many of the changes I’m going to talk about relate to homeschooling, but much of what I’m learning could probably apply to all parenting if you change some of the verbiage.

 

1. I started listening to different voices, and slowly I started thinking differently. I used to keep up on a lot of post-fundamentalist news like the falls of Bill Gothard, Doug Phillips (of Vision Forum), and the oldest Duggar son. I was obsessed with needing to know, after having read a book on fundamentalist home school cults several years ago. I feared being part of the same “machine” that created these home school disasters. I got lost in cyberspace any time I had the chance. I would fall down an endless rabbit hole of meaningless blog posts and podcasts.

I don’t do that anymore. Not that I don’t occasionally get lost in cyberspace, but that I am much more selective with my influencers. I don’t need knowledge of the most recent evangelical disasters in order to mother my children well, to nourish my own spiritual life, to connect with my husband, or to serve in local community. Instead I need encouragement and inspiration for the day at hand.

Now I listen to Sarah Mackenzie (of the Read Aloud Revival podcast and the book Teaching From Rest, which continues to do its work on me), Brandy Vencel (of Afterthoughts blog and the Schole Sisters podcast), Cindy Rollins (of the Mason Jar podcast and the book Mere Motherhood), and their influencers: the speakers and writers at the CiRCE Institute (my favorites are Angelina Stanford, Christopher Perrin, and Andrew Pudewa).

They’ve changed my thinking on education, its purpose, and its practical implications. They’ve stirred in me a hunger for discovery that I used to have, that got lost along the box-checking, high-performing, competitive way. They’ve inspired me to start reading poetry again.

And I listen to the artists and makers at the Rabbit Room (my favorites are Rebecca Reynolds and Andrew Peterson). They have pressed me further into the reality that I’m an image-bearer of God, and they’ve fortified my understanding of creativity and art. I’ve followed their lead in embracing the physical world, and as I’ve done so, I’ve become more fully human — and a more complete human makes a better mother.

 

2. I’m wrestling my perfectionism even more heavily than before. It pops up in the unlikeliest of places, doesn’t it? You think you’ve conquered it, but then you realize you are still drowning in lies. I was trapped in lies about what it meant to be a successful mother. I was trapped in lies about what it meant to send well-educated young people off into the world. I thought it had to be perfect. I thought there had to be zero educational gaps. I thought I had to prove my intellectual worth through my children’s performance. That’s a lot of pressure to live under.

I’m understanding more fully that we are not looking for perfection – in ourselves or our children. We’re looking for progress. For growth. My husband likes to say, “All learning happens one step at a time.” It’s plastered on the wall of our home school, in fact. But though we had pounded that fact into our children’s heads (with varying degrees of success), it had not yet reached down into mine.

I’m trying to put school in its proper place by giving it neither too much mental weight nor too little time. A bad day doesn’t bother me as much anymore. (A bad week, yes. But a bad day or two, no.) So what if the math assignment bombed? So what if the writing assignment took half the day? We’re not looking for perfection here, just steady work and steady improvement over time – and that means accepting setbacks with calm and patience.

Even if a child “loses it,” I don’t think the day is a bust. I know every day is a learning opportunity, and the days stack up to years, and there’s always tomorrow to try again. I’m staying calmer and speaking more gently so I can look back at the end of a hard day with less dissatisfaction and fewer regrets. But I remember that even if I lose it, I can acknowledge it, seek forgiveness, and start again tomorrow.

[BONUS TIP: Their education will have holes. Yours does. Mine does. Everyone’s does, no matter where or how their education took place.]

 

3. I’ve stopped putting my educational trust in curriculum. I used to want to find a curriculum that was “perfect” (see the pattern here?). And I wanted that curriculum to basically be the teacher. I wanted to leave it alone and let my children become educated by it. I was saving my brain space for writing, you see. It was all about checking boxes so I could get away and get alone and fulfill my “real” calling.

But over and over again, I became frustrated by published resources. They’re never exactly what I want, so I go looking elsewhere for perfection. It has taken me the greater part of 8 years to figure out that not only can I adapt a resource, but I must. I must tailor my children’s education to them. They are individuals. I have to use my brain. I can’t “save” it for later. I can’t get lazy.

I have to engage with where my children are at that moment, both scholastically and emotionally. Where they are is the only place to begin, the only place to build from. And in truth, my children are my real calling. Not writing. They, and any human being placed in my path. [Note: this also explains why I publish much less frequently than I used to.]

How I teach now is much more akin to coaching or tutoring — which is always what I said I enjoyed more anyway. And it’s much more satisfying. I see the struggle; I see the progress. I see the child. I’ve learned I don’t even need curricula for some subjects – I can make them up myself (like writing), be a more hands-on teacher, and even get to experience the joy of better results. I’m leaning into these ways and gaining confidence that I can do these things. I don’t have to trust a boxed curriculum.

[BONUS TIP: I had to stop thinking of my children en masse. They are not a herd. My family is a collection of individuals with differing temperaments and abilities. It’s easy to think of children as a group when they’re young, but as they grow, it becomes more and more important to see each child as an individual.]

 

4. I’m broadening my understanding of education. I touched on this in #1, the voices I’m listening to. I used to put my children’s education – or at least my contribution to it – in a box. Education equaled core work only. Education wasn’t art or creativity or movement or theology or finances or health or real life. I didn’t “do” real life. I did academics. But I’m realizing that these things are part of organic family life, part of all life.

If I’m engaged and not locked in a corner, I will naturally teach these things (alongside my husband who is already a natural teacher). I will encourage their creativity in art and architecture and storytelling. I will not think of these things as adjunct or auxiliary. They are central to becoming a fully human being. I don’t need to be afraid that art or sports or relationship will steal from my children’s robust-enough education. I can welcome them into our home and into our life.

 

5. I’m beginning to embrace assessment, and we’ve sought outside help for certain difficulties. I used to despise standardized testing as I thought it unnecessarily stressed students out. And I still believe it does, for young students. But for older students, it can be a learning experience in which they learn how to take a test that can give some reassurance to both parent and child for work well done.

Separately, we reached a point with certain issues where we needed some outside perspective. Reaching out for help was the beginning of a journey to accept my children for who God created them to be, not who I imagined they would be. These assessments have given me the grace to accept my children as they are, while also gently stretching their capacities. And armed with new knowledge, I have better strategies for teaching my students.

The testing gave me the courage to take a long, hard look at myself and see my own difficulties reflected in my children. It allowed me to embrace differences between how I assumed my children would behave, and how they actually behave. It’s helped me to better accept children who are the same as me as well as those who are different from me. And we have a lot more joy and connection.

 

6. I’ve purified the schedule, and I continually work to keep it that way. As is my custom, I chose a word for the year. This year the word was “Purify.” After last year, in which I “flirted with burnout,” I wanted to purify my schedule. And I did. What I didn’t realize was that God would also work to purify my beliefs, challenging me to confront and remove those lies of perfectionism I was still clinging to (see point #2). Believe me, that purification did not happen without intense times of prayer and many, many tears.

But anyway, back to the schedule. I’ve simplified my own schedule and commitments, along with our school schedule. I’m combining subjects, chucking some altogether, and giving ourselves much more manageable weekly assignments. We have more time to rest, relax, renew, and reconnect. And to ensure that this happens, I’m learning better how to unplug from the internet.

 

7. I’m remembering the importance of pre-teaching and review. Why I neglected this before, I’ll never know. One of my professors in college used the entire first 15 minutes of a 75 minute class to review the last class. Why didn’t I catch on to his tactic? We humans, we forget so easily. Minds need to be prepared to remember, to function, and to learn. I don’t need to get so frustrated by forgetfulness. I should expect forgetfulness. Why else would God tell us so often in His word to Remember?

Forgetfulness is in me, and I seem to be able to live with myself just fine. It makes me think I can learn to live with my children’s forgetfulness, too. I can work to reinforce their memory through review. Not rushed, exasperated review, but easy-going, happy review. I forget. You forget. Our children forget. It’s part of our nature, so take a deep breath and remember it will be OK.

I now allow more time for new concepts to sink in before I get frustrated with a child. Of course they don’t know understand the concept yet. It’s a tricky concept. And of course they can’t perform those operations yet. They can’t do it with ease yet; they haven’t been doing it for decades like I have. They’re not robots. They can’t look at or hear a concept once and understand it. Most people can’t. Rather, we must be exposed to it in different ways and at different times, preferably with a calm and unworried teacher. It’s my job to be that kind of teacher.

I give more encouragement over progress than I used to. I used to desire perfection and quick mastery and treat anything less as unsatisfactory. Now I see the mental effort and praise it. Now I see the improvement and point it out. I’m also more attentive to their signs of distress, and I don’t always push through. Tears, anxiety, hunger, fatigue, it’s more at the front than at the back.

[BONUS TIP:  I do more emotion coaching too. If someone had a poor night’s sleep, or the power is out, or it’s hot, or the work is just plain hard, I might say, “I know we feel like being cranky today. I feel like being cranky today. But let’s try not to.” I might repeat an old camp director’s saying: “Make it a good day.” I might tell them to switch subjects or get a snack or take a shower or do something creative or active for a while.]

 

8. And finally, I’ve started sharing and confessing in real life community. I see how other people deal with their issues, and they see how I deal with mine. I know what other people’s struggles are, and they know mine. And we don’t judge each other. In fact we are here to remind each other of all these things that I’ve talked about so far.

Looking back, I think partaking of closer-knit community probably predates these other changes. Being with other women who are on the same journey (cross-cultural living, ministry life, and homeschooling) has been the impetus I needed to make other changes in my life and in my outlook. I can’t speak highly enough about this. Parenting and homeschooling should be community efforts. We don’t need to fly solo.

 

I am by no means done learning how to be a better mother. And I will never, ever be perfect. I’ve called these 8 points “practices” precisely because I am not done learning how to walk in these ways. They are most certainly directional changes for me, paths I must choose to walk over and over again; I must keep practicing them. And I say they are “revolutionizing” my life because although the changes happened slowly over time, family life is markedly different for all of us now. It feels like a revolution, especially when I slip back into old habits and immediately know they are not how I want to live, because I’ve tasted the fruit of a different tree and felt the light of a different sun.

This is what happens when you take your children to church

by Elizabeth

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When you take your children to church, they’ll listen to the sermon. (Yes, even the little ones.) They will hear the Word of God being preached. Even when it doesn’t look like it, even when they fidget and squirm. But just wait, because after you take your children to church, you’ll take them home again. You’ll be sitting around the dinner table discussing life together, and they’ll bring up the sermon. And you will realize they were listening, and on their level, they understood.

When you take your children to church, you’ll be able to make theological connections and fill in missing pieces. Phrases and stories that you may know and understand but that you hadn’t gotten around to explaining, you’ll have the opportunity to talk about. Because they’ll whisper to you during the service, asking questions about sermon. They’ll bring up all sorts of topics you might not have addressed on your own. And you’ll have the opportunity not to shush them in the moment, but to answer their questions in brief and then dive deeply into them later.

When you take your children to church, they’ll pay attention to the songs you sing. They’ll ask you about the song lyrics they don’t understand, and right then and there, you can answer with the biblical truth for why we sing that part. And when they encounter God in worship, they’ll encounter their humanity too. The congregational singing will stir emotions in them that they may not entirely understand, emotions that need comforting, emotions that need talking through. And you’ll be able to take them into your arms and meet them in their need.

When you take your children to church, they’ll learn what it means to live in community. They’ll see people repenting through tears. They’ll see people on their knees, begging God for healing. They’ll see what happens when God touches someone’s heart, and they’ll see that it looks different from person to person. They’ll watch the different ways people worship, and they’ll be able to explore different ways of expressing their own devotion.

When you take your children to church, you’ll practice being patient with their impatience. You’ll practice not being embarrassed by their questions and their tears and their excitement. You’ll remember that you have a greater purpose than looking perfect or put together on Sunday morning: to engage your children with God and His people.

When you take your children to church, you’re committing to spiritual growth as a family. Of course church is not the only place spiritual growth is supposed to happen. It’s supposed to happen when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. But it’s also supposed to happen in church. As parents we are only one or two people in our children’s lives. We are key people, but we are few. We need others to walk with us in bringing our children up in the faith. And that is what happens when we take our children to church.

 

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*Children’s church is another wonderful option for the spiritual instruction of our children. In fact it’s often a life-saver for parents of young children. We have just found over the past 3 years that doing church together as a family has enhanced our family life and our spiritual growth. It goes without saying here that sometimes keeping your children in church can be hard. It can be wearying. It is not picture perfect, and it can interfere with your own communion with God from time to time. All that said, attending church as a family unit has been worth it for us.

Two Things We Need to Teach Our Kids About Sex

by Elizabeth

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This spring Jonathan and I participated in a panel discussion on issues of sexuality and parenting. During the course of our conversation I verbalized two things I think are important when it comes to talking about sex with our children. First, from very early on we need to be cultivating a mistrust of friends’ information. And second, virginity is not the point: purity is.

Long before we ever thought about talking about sex with our children, we encouraged them to come to us with the things their friends told them. Then we could tell them if their friends were giving accurate information — or not. We happen to be a very talkative family (you probably can’t imagine that, can you??), and our children report back to us with gusto.

The things they tell us their friends said are, almost without exception, incorrect. By now it’s almost a family joke. We started this approach early and are hoping it continues into the teen and young adult years. We’ve now started telling our older kids that when it comes to sex, their friends will most likely not be correct. They appear to believe us because this has been the case for so many other topics over the years.

One more thing about the friendship issue: we need to include Google as one of these untrustworthy “friends.” There are a couple reasons for this. The internet may very well give scientifically or Biblically accurate information — but not necessarily. And young people have difficulty discerning reputable sources on the internet. Additionally, finding porn during a Google search is literally 1 second away. {I know this because it happened to me. Ew.} The internet is not our friend when it comes to sex education.

Cultivating a mistrust of friends’ information is something we can do from very early ages, before we begin talking about sex or even begin thinking about talking about sex. But when we do begin talking about sex, we need to start steering the conversation away from virginity — which has been a traditional way of talking about sex and marriage — and direct it towards purity.

Virginity refers to an event. Its loss might be a past event or a future event, but it is still a one-time occurrence. Purity, on the other hand, is a state of living and a state of being. No matter what our past is, because of Jesus, purity is possible in the present and in the future.

Purity is what Paul means when he tells us to press on. Purity is what Jesus means when He tells the woman caught in adultery to go and sin no more. Virginity will fail us, but purity is always available.

Our virginity status isn’t a pre-requisite for marriage. God cares more that we are currently living in purity than whether we enter marriage a virgin. (Of course, if you’re a virgin, that means God wants you to remain so until marriage.) But if sexual immortality has been confessed, repented of, and forgiven, those specific sins don’t matter anymore. We — and our children — are clean now.

So let’s not talk about virginity, other than to define what it is. Instead let’s teach our children to walk in the way of purity and commit to walking in that way ourselves.

 

In the future I’d like to address various questions about sex and relationships that I’ve received from teenagers over the years. So stay tuned.

The thing that happened while I was scrubbing the kitchen floor with a toothbrush

by Elizabeth

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It was many years ago now. My boys were preschoolers, and my girls weren’t even conceived. I was literally on my hands and knees scrubbing my kitchen floor with an old toothbrush when I got the call: the call from a university professor offering me an interview for a chemistry lab instructor position.

For a bit of background here, let me just say that I’ve loved chemistry ever since I walked into Mr. Smith’s 10th grade chemistry class nearly twenty years ago. I love the ingenious organization of the periodic table, I love the way chemical reactions balance just so, and I love learning about how the smallest structures in creation affect large-scale life.

I always want more chemistry in my life, but with two young boys to take care of, such chemical thoughts were few and far between. So I cannot explain to you just how much I wanted this job. I would run the lab, prepare the chemicals and equipment, instruct the students, and grade their lab reports. It was an ideal part-time job for someone like me — someone with a love for chemistry but lacking both substantial experience and a graduate degree in my field.

Now, I had worked (very) part-time at the college chemistry level before, tutoring chemistry about five hours per week at a community college. And even that I had given up so I could stay home and nurse my newborn second son without interruption. Then suddenly I was handed this new opportunity — and from a prestigious private university no less.

The hours required for the job were somewhere between 10 to 20 hours per week. I had gone in for the interview hoping it would be fewer hours than that, but it wasn’t. Both financially and family-wise, it was too many hours for me to take on. I simply couldn’t afford that time outside the home, and I knew God was saying NO to this particular opportunity.

The interview had occurred, painfully enough, when my husband was out-of-town on a work/ministry trip. I was alone with two little boys when I heartbrokenly realized I wouldn’t be able to take this job. I was alone with no one to comfort me in my obedience. I was alone as I cried so hard I couldn’t breathe. I was alone when it seemed to me that my world was ending. (I thought it might be my last chance to grab a chemistry job before too many years elapsed and I was unemployable.)

But I knew God’s message to me was clear. For my family, and in that time, I needed to focus my full-time energies at home. And the funny thing about that experience? I never once longed for outside work again. I was really content at home and went on to have more babies (those aforementioned darling little girls).  Obeying in the moment was hard, but the fruit in my daily life was lasting.

So what does obedience mean for me today? Because in the nine years that have ensued since my kitchen floor story, my passions haven’t waned a bit. I still want to do ALL THE THINGS. And I want to do all the things NOW.

I want to doula, and I want to write, and I want to edit, and I want to teach calculus, and I want to teach chemistry, and I want to do youth ministry, and I want to do women’s ministry, and I want to spend more time reading to my kids, and I want to spend more time with my husband, and I want to spend more time taking care of myself.

But I can’t do all those things at once. I can’t even do many of those things at once. And I’m currently coming out of a season of discerning which things I need to be doing and which things I need to be saying “no” to. It’s been a hard season. Not break-my-heart-hard like it was several years ago, just plain hard.

For me today, obedience means looking at the people who are already in my life, and saying yes to THEM. It means saying no to certain other things. I’m finding that as I practice my yeses and nos, I’m more content in each moment. I’m more joyful in each moment. I’m more present in each moment.

But make no mistake: saying both the nos and the yeses has been hard. Contenting myself in my current stage of life has been a slippery path to plod. Obedience isn’t as clear this time, and there’s not just one monumental decision to make. In its place are a multitude of tricky choices and subtle attitude adjustments. I hope practice makes these choices, if not perfect, at least a little easier.

Because in my mind’s eye, I can still see myself on my hands and knees scrubbing the dirt out of an old linoleum floor with a toothbrush, listening to the ring of a landline telephone, and continuing to scrub as I answered it. I can still see the hope in my young heart when given the opportunity to do something I loved. And I can still see that nervous young mom walk into the chemistry building — then under construction — and wait, and pray.

I can still see me walking out of the building when the interview concluded and knowing, knowing that I couldn’t say yes.  I can still see me crawling into my boiling hot, broken-down 1988 Honda Civic and trying to catch my breath from the disappointment. I can still see me calling my out-of-town husband, unable to stop the flow of tears, and hearing him tell me with love, “I’m so proud of you.”

But best of all, I can still see myself enjoying full-time young motherhood in a crackly, crinkly 60-year old parsonage, day in and day out, for the next five years.

Those images are, for me, a symbol of choosing the best thing now, of choosing life for my family, of obeying even when it’s hard. I hope and pray I take those images of wisdom and love with me through the rest of my mothering years, because that kind of joy is something I don’t want to miss out on.

The Best Parenting Move Ever

I told this story on my Facebook page several weeks ago but wanted to share it with my blog readers too. ~Elizabeth

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My kindergarten teacher told my mom that I would probably be an average student and what’s more, that when we began receiving letter grades, I’d probably make C’s. (This is the teacher who, when she thought we kindergarteners had been Quite Loud Enough Already, forced us to sit silently at our tables and copy the numbers from 1 to 100 on a chart.)

But in what amounts to probably the Best Parenting Move ever, my mom did not pass that information along to her daughter, no she did not. She expressed no disappointment in me. And she expressed no low — or high — expectations of me. She simply said to herself, “Whoever this firstborn daughter of mine turns out to be, that’s fine with me.” Which meant I could continue to enjoy school without feeling any pressure whatsoever.

For the next couple years I was a slow worker. I liked school, but I struggled with the pace of the workload. I remember being sent home with piles and piles of papers that I hadn’t been quick enough to complete at school, so I had to complete them at home. (These were very boring color-cut-paste-panels-in-order activities.)

Then one summer everything changed: I discovered reading (perhaps through the Laura Ingalls Wilder books?). When I returned to school that fall, I excelled. Mom didn’t expect that but was happy to witness the transformation from slow learner to avid reader and dedicated student.

And though I’m not passing this gift on to my children quite as perfectly as it was passed on to me, I still look to my mom’s example of pressure-less parenting, and I’m thankful that she patiently waited for me to bloom academically. . . or not.

Intensity and Intentionality {a note about marriage and motherhood on the field}

A while back our organization asked me to write a little something about marriage and motherhood on the field. At the time I wasn’t sure whether I wanted the article to be anonymous or not, as I obliquely discuss both my children and my marriage in it. So I waited awhile before deciding (with both Jonathan’s and my children’s approval) that this is something that I could share publicly. ~Elizabeth

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Two words come to mind when I think about marriage and motherhood on the field: Intensity and Intention. After living internationally for over four years, my experience has been that everything about living overseas is more intense than living in your passport country.

It’s more physically intense. It’s wildly hot where I am, with no central air conditioning. Housework takes longer as there are fewer automated devices. Electricity and water are sometimes unreliable, and food and water supplies aren’t as clean. That meant that in the beginning especially, we were ill more often – and more severely – than we were back “home.” Life in another country is also more mentally and emotionally intense. Learning a strange, new culture and doing everything in a new language is hard work. You make mistakes and misunderstand things every day.

Anyone crossing cultures must deal with these changes and stressors, but as a parent, I also bear witness to the strain of crossing cultures on my children. They get annoyed by aspects of life here: it’s loud, it’s crowded, and we have no yard or playgrounds nearby. They don’t like the way local people touch them or stare at them, and they don’t particularly like the local cuisine (or at least, not all of it). Life here is transitory, and the friends they make often move in and out of their lives with little advance warning. On top of all that, they miss friends and family back home – especially grandparents.

In light of the intensity of missionary life, I have to be more intentional about marriage and motherhood. I need to care for my children’s hearts in a way I wouldn’t if we lived in America. Of course we have the same pre-school and pre-adolescent emotional turmoil that children and parents have in their home culture, but we also have more potential issues. I have to keep my own heart soft towards my kids, and I need to take the time to validate their feelings. This is difficult to do as I am already emotionally, physically, and spiritually stretched to the max myself. Practically speaking, it means I also need to carve time out of our schedule so they can communicate with friends and family back home (usually that’s through Skype).

Marriage is the same way: I have to be intentional about taking care of it. Simply surviving here takes more time and energy, so it’s tempting not to spend enough time on my marriage. But of course when I don’t spend time on it, my marriage suffers. The less time I spend on my marriage, the farther I drift away from my husband, and the harder it is to bring us back to together again. Likewise, the more time and effort I pour into my marriage, the easier and more fulfilling it is. It becomes life-giving instead of life-draining, as it does when I’m not nurturing it enough.

In order to pour so much time and energy into my husband and my children, I have to be intentional about filling myself up. I have to be vigilant about taking care of my spirit by getting up early to spend time with God. I have to be diligent about taking care of my mind and body by eating at regular intervals throughout the day, exercising four or five days a week, and going to bed on time. If I don’t do these things, I don’t have enough emotional energy to pour into my husband and children, who need me so much.

In many ways marriage and parenting on the field is the same as it is in my home culture, but its intensity level is higher. Missionary life simply requires more of me, and in order to match its intensity, I have to be intentional about taking care of both myself and my family. I have to daily turn my heart toward them and toward God. When I don’t, the consequences are great. But when I do, the reward is greater still.

This article originally appeared here.

Failing at Fatherhood {A Life Overseas}

Jonathan is over at A Life Overseas today, talking about how moving abroad ruined his parenting.

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I sat on the floor, weeping.

I was two whole days into living abroad, and I was already losing it.

Those tears portended more, and in our first year overseas, the thing that knocked me down the most, the thing that discouraged and distracted and depressed me the most, was the sense that I was failing at fatherhood.

I loved being a dad. It was a very core part of my identity, and something I really cherished. Moving to Cambodia, I had expected cross-cultural stress. I had expected transition tension and unmet expectations. I had even expected conflict with other missionaries and nationals. But I never thought I’d feel like my identity as a father was being shredded up and burned in the furnace of a cross-cultural move. That was a surprise.

We moved overseas when our boys were six and seven and our girls were one and three.

I suppose my fathering style could have been characterized as, um, B I G. I loved playing with our kids in wide open spaces, throwing things, kicking things, climbing things. We played loud and we took up a lot of space, and that’s how we liked it.

And then we moved to a concrete box with bars on the windows in an urban capital of a developing country. No grass. No yard. No large spaces.

For me, the shift from wide open spaces to urban jungle was rough. I had to adjust, but first I got depressed. Often, it’d happen on a Saturday; I’d wake up just wanting to go outside and throw a football with my kids.

And with the clarity of thought that overwhelms at times like this, I felt like I had moved from a garden to a prison. A prison that was 95 degrees and thick with humidity!

I had traded acres of green for walls of grey. En Gedi for Sheol.

I watched my kids hang from metal bars on windows when they used to hang from giant limbs on oaks. They were happy, but I was dying.

I missed being able to step outside and kick a soccer ball. I missed our fire pit on cold autumn nights. I missed our porch swing. I missed our yard. I missed the way I used to father.

But thank God the story doesn’t end there, with a depressed dad missing what once was. No, the story definitely doesn’t end there…

To read the rest of the story, click here.