Home Life by Bev and Phil Haas
To answer your question we’ve drawn from the experience and wisdom of David Pollock, an expert on children of missionaries, and Dr. Dottie Schulz. Research shows that concerns about their children are the second most frequent reason missionaries leave the field. After all, parents who are missionaries are still parents. What follows are insights we hope will be beneficial to you as you help your children make a major transition in life.
Issues Impacting Missionary Kids
David Pollock has identified several major issues impacting the lives of missionary kids. Children of missionaries on the average demonstrate some very positive traits. They learn the value of adaptability and the virtue of new challenges. At the same time, there are challenges specific to missionary kids that you need to understand.
Missionary kids can feel different from everyone else. Their parents may be considered former missionaries back home, but third culture kids can never say they are former third-culture kids. They will always be connected to two cultures. Consequently, according to Pollock, they think differently, act differently and are different. These differences are real, regardless of how much they might try to act like the other children around them. We would add here that being different should not be considered a bad thing. Jesus taught that his followers are not of this world, but the world is the place where we are to carry out his work (John 17).
In addition to feeling different, missionary kids can experience confusion about identity issues. The mobility that often comes with the missionary lifestyle can lead to a sense that no place is home. That feeling extends beyond geography to issues of personal identify. Is the missionary kid an American? Does she identify more closely with her other culture? What set of cultural values will she adopt? Upon returning to the States, some missionary kids may feel like they are coming to a foreign land while their parents feel like they are returning to their homeland. Reentry is not a process children should be left to cope with on their own.
Suggestions for Resettling Kids
Before parents can help a child with reentry issues, they need to be aware of their own thoughts and feelings related to leaving their work, their teammates, and the people of the host culture. Talk openly about your feelings. Parents who practice good communication skills are better equipped to help their kids through this process of change. This means allowing children to hear about your hurts and to express their own. Children who can express their feelings to understanding parents find it easier to accept their circumstances. Children usually want to talk about an upcoming change. That means parents need to listen. Listening to children in any situation makes them feel valued and gives you insight into how your children are coping with changes in life.
Let your children know what to expect during the move. Involving children increases their chances of adjustment. If you can choose when to return, consider moving at the beginning of a school year when things are new for everyone. Support your children in finding new friends by having them over to your house. Help your children learn what’s in and what’s out in their new culture. Talk to schoolteachers about your child’s experiences and be understanding if your child’s performance at school declines temporarily. Develop reasonable expectations for your children. The important thing in a major move is to stay connected as a family. In any culture positive outcomes for children depend on high levels of parental involvement.
Our tendency in America is to believe we can put kids through anything and they will bounce back. Often they do. God created us to be able to adjust to change since it is so much a part of life. However, parents need to be available to help their kids resettle. Keep in mind a six to 12 month readjustment period is normal. Missionary kids need time to grieve over the loss of their friends and the activities and events in the culture they are leaving behind. Together you can make the adjustment.
Send your questions about family life to Phil and Bev Haas in care of The Lookout, 8805 Governor’s Hill Drive, Suite 400, Cincinnati, OH 45249, firstname.lastname@example.org.We regret that personal replies are not always possible. Phil and Bev Haas are involved in education and family ministry in Cincinnati, Ohio. They are the parents of two children, and they have one grandson.