Living abroad can be amazing. You learn new things constantly, you can visit beautiful places, and you eat things you never knew existed.
Living abroad also has its challenges. You may not speak the local language well, or understand the traditions and customs, or you may begin to miss the familiar (where are my Reese’s peanut butter cups???).
I have found that raising a family while living abroad brings its own set of challenges. The constant worry of being a mom is multiplied by about a million (give or take) because the normal worries of the health, safety, education, and happiness of our children are amplified by the unknown factors.
Where can I go if my child has an accident and breaks his arm? What do I do if the children make fun of him at school for his funny name, different skin color, or accent?
I had both of my children while living in rural Guatemala. (The pregnancy and birth process could be its own post!) I continue to learn and make cultural and parenting mistakes every day. But there are a few lessons that I’ve learned that I think can apply no matter where you live.
If we can learn this one, I think we will be so much happier as moms and families.
Maybe it is human nature to compare ourselves to others. But it is such a terrible waste of time, in my opinion. We usually end up feeling bad about ourselves or making others feel bad, or both.
Here’s an example. After I had my first son, I was overwhelmed. Forget overwhelmed. I was borderline panicked most of the time trying to do everything right and getting a lot wrong!
In rural Guatemala there are some very strong beliefs about what you should and shouldn’t do after halving a baby. You should stay in bed with the baby for 40 days. You shouldn’t hold the baby upright to burp him for three months. You should cosleep. You shouldn’t touch cold water. I couldn’t keep track of it all, but I had a lot of people who felt the need to remind me….constantly.
One day, my husband and I took our one-month-old son to the market. I felt accomplished with having figured out the baby carrier and gotten him through the crowded market without any major mishaps. Then, we sat down to eat a snack at the market. My husband bought us some tacos and a Coke to share.
As we were eating, a woman who we’d never met asked us how old our baby was. I was a proud mama and lifted the blanket he had so she could see him while my husband told her that he was a month old.
She got a horrified look on her face and started to yell at my husband for allowing me to drink something cold while the baby was so young. I ended up in tears and didn’t drink a cold beverage, not even water, in public for months.
I’ve been guilty of being a judger, too. I’ve judged mothers in Guatemala for not paying attention to their young children. Or for yelling at a child for something that I don’t see as important. Or for not reminding a child to speak with manners. While I’ve never publicly scolded a stranger for these things, I’ve judged.
And the thing is I don’t know their situations. Maybe mom is overwhelmed with a million things to do. Or maybe she just has a different way of raising children than I do. And that’s okay!
If we can learn to judge other mothers and ourselves less and accept our differences, I think we’ll be much happier.
Mom always said, “patience is a virtue.” But, growing up in the northeast United States, patience is not something that I learned. Everything is fast and expected to be so. Fast food. Fast cars. Fast internet. The pace is breakneck and nearly everyone seems to be part of the race.
When I moved to Guatemala I noticed that the pace was very different. When I walked into a room, it was expected that I would speak to each person individually before I started to work or ask a question.
When it was time to make food, it took several hours. And that was okay.
When a meeting was scheduled and it was raining, we waited. Sometimes for hours.
So, when I had my children, I noticed that I had already learned a lot about the importance of patience. But I had so much still to learn.
I learned to be patient with myself in the learning curve to being a first-time mom (that curve is soooo steep that sometimes I thought I’d never make it to the other side), I’m learning to be patient with my children and let them be their own perfectly imperfect selves, and I’m learning to be patient with Guatemala.
We all want the same thing
This has been the most amazing lesson for me to learn as a mom. Anywhere you go in the world, no matter how different our ways of getting there are, in the end we all want to be happy and want the best for our children.
Maybe I drink cold beverages while my children are babies.
Maybe you breastfeed or bottle feed, cosleep or put your babies in a crib, let them watch TV or not, make your own baby food or buy it in the store.
Maybe you patiently watch as your children make a mess, have a tantrum, or whine about eating their vegetables.
Maybe you don’t. That’s okay!
In the end, no matter where you live or what your customs are, we all want happy, healthy families. If we can realize that, judge less, and learn patience, we’ll find that we have more in common with other moms everywhere. And I don’t know about you, but that makes me feel like I can be a stronger and better mom.
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