We were supposed to fly back to our African home over a month earlier. Instead, we found ourselves settling in another completely unexpected place.
My children had laid their heads in dozens of different locations over the past seven months. “Home” had become this fluid word meaning wherever we had currently been staying for the short while, and somehow even my 4-year-old understood. We had been hoping and praying that we would return to South Africa soon, but our future was very unclear.
Thankfully, our children were doing well. They had embraced the nomad life like champs and had taught me much about embracing each day with zeal.
Still, at times, I was daunted by the task of keeping our family healthy and whole while in such great transition.
It was enough for me to keep my mind fixed on Christ for my own personal peace. How was I to help my children be at peace in the midst of uncertainty also? Here are a few suggestions that we found helpful.
Remind them who’s in charge
When our children are little (like 3 and under), we talk a lot about “who is in charge.” It’s a helpful way teach authority and obedience for little people. The reality is, though, my older children (and even I) need reminders regularly about WHO is in charge of everything, from our family’s future to the provision of our next meal. Reminding my children that God is the one who directs our steps and moves the hands of kings reminds me of this truth, too.
Embrace the adventure
After the first dozen long road trips, it can be hard to get excited about another whole day or two in the car, another new location, another new bed. Finding a special spot to stopover, booking a hotel with a pool or taking a detour to see someplace new can help.
Seeing our nomadic life as one big adventure takes intentionality and creativity. I remember a non-missionary friend saying, “Wow, how cool that you get to travel all over the place for months!” Her reframing of our situation helped me shift my perspective and see the beauty and privileges built into our unusual life, rather than just the challenges.
Keep your marriage strong
It might feel overwhelming to schedule a date night or prioritize showing affection to your spouse when in transition. Still, it is so very valuable for both your marriage and your children. If our children see that Mom and Dad are in a secure place, they will also feel secure.
When my husband and I are at peace with each other, we can better parent from a place of peace and love. Especially in the younger years, home is where Mom and Dad are. And if we are at odds with each other, or feeling collectively burned out, the whole family will feel it.
Maintain a few routines
In our early months of home assignment, we made the mistake of dropping nearly all routines, even bedtime ones (tent camping isn’t conducive to bedtime routines, am I right?). In my mind, I thought we would get to a point where we would start new routines. That did not happen for a long while, as there was never a good stretch of time, and we all suffered.
Several months in, we found a new devotional book for our children and began reading it to them before bed. This, and other routines like our weekly pizza and movie night, helped restore a sense of normalcy and consistency to their lives (and ours).
Make (and keep) boundaries
As the months stretched on for us, I became more protective of my kids’ energy. I began to pay more attention: Are they “peopled out”? Are they emotionally spent? As we hosted yet another family one evening, I noticed my oldest daughter on the couch, curled up with a book. “Why don’t you go play with the other kids?” I prodded her. “I just don’t want to, Mom,” she replied. I quickly realized she felt just how I felt: tired of hosting and connecting with people.
There are many expectations on cross-cultural workers and their children, and home assignment and transition times are no exception. I became more willing to say “no” to small group invitations or other social engagements in the interest of my children, prioritizing our whole family health over the promotion of our ministry.
Gratefully, in March 2020, we were able to return to our home in South Africa and resettle into “normal life” with our “normal routines.” Thanks to COVID-19, we haven’t placed our heads on any other pillows in a very long time. We all have great memories from our prolonged home assignment, and look back on that time with (mostly) gratitude.
What have you found helpful in walking your kids through uncertain times? Share your thoughts in the comments below, and make sure to subscribe to our blog for more ideas!