I grew up in a family that worked together. What I mean is that my parents expected us to help each other out with family projects. For instance, every fall we helped Dad cut and haul wood; every summer we worked in my grandmother’s very large garden, and then at the end of the summer we canned everything; and as we got older we helped each other move into our homes. It is like that still . Almost every return visit there is usually some family project going on that we (my husband, kids, and I) help with. Like a few years ago we helped my brother-in-law build his barn; and last summer we helped my mother tear down an old building. Everyone that was able helped in some way, even if it was just refilling the water jugs.
My husband grew up somewhat the same, so he jumps right in and helps with no complaints when we are back. And because of this, we have tried to include our kids in whatever we are involved with while living overseas. When they were younger my husband was a principal at international schools, so I would take them to all the school programs. It was a way we could support him and be a part of each of those communities. When our kids were toddlers, we wanted them to learn to help others – so I had them help me pick up trash after school events or other small jobs that they could handle.
Now that they are older, our work focus has changed. My husband is now the director of a not-for-profit that helps families of children with special needs. We wanted to include all of our children, not just our child with special needs in this new endeavor. The other two “get” to help in appropriate ways like volunteering as a buddy for a child with special needs at activities we host or they help with the preparations. It’s a family project, not just my husband’s job.
Why do we do this? We want our kids to feel involved in the work that we are doing. We want to them to experience different aspects of life, not just what they see at school or with their friends. We want them to do something meaningful. I just read an article* that says that “adult MKs who felt they were a significant part of their parents’ ministries had, as adults, a greater sense of spiritual/emotional stability” (“Raising Resilient MKs” by Diane Morris). That MK, could be replaced by TCK for those who are working with humanitarian organizations. I believe our kids need to see what we do and why it is important.
Do we force our kids help us? Honestly, sometimes, but not always. We ask and see if they want to help out, especially if it is volunteering to help other people. We challenge them to try it, but we don’t force them to volunteer if they are uncomfortable. Now, we might force or bribe them to help with preparations when we need extra hands to sort T-shirts and medals, but most of the time they do it because they want to – but not always. They are children.
“But, I work with organizations that work against child trafficking and sex-slavery, there is NO way I’m bringing my children anywhere near those places,” you say. I hear you. I wouldn’t either. I want to protect my own children’s innocence as long as I can. I’ll be honest, this is not an area I’m an expert in – but I’ve had my kids help me make cookies and color eggs that were to be delivered by another organization to “tea shops” where some of the women worked. My kids did not and still do not know what kind of work these ladies do, just that we were making cookies for some people to make them happy. What kid does not want to make others happy.
“But, I’m not a missionary or a humanitarian,” you say. I still think you can get involved in something with your community. I’m sure you may already are. I know of other traveling spouses that volunteer at orphanages, help with fund-raisers for needs in their city, or other “humanitarian” type work. Try to work in times to get your kids involved with you. It’s great for kids to see their parents helping others, and it’s even better when you see them and can honestly say “Great job, today. I’m so proud of you!”
So, I challenge you. I challenge you to get your children involved with whatever it is you do. It can be simple like making cookies or it can be more difficult like building new homes after a natural disaster. Whatever you do make sure it is age appropriate, meaningful, and that you do it together.
Your Turn: How do you involve your children in the work/ministry that you do? I’d love to hear of more examples and stories, so please share below in the comments section.
*Taken from the book, Raising Resilient MKs edited by Joyce M. Bowers.