Things I Would NOT Say to an Overseas Mom

Things I Would Not Say to an Overseas Mom

I’ve said these things to an overseas mom.

Over the past 13 years of full time church ministry, I have absolutely said these exact things to cross-cultural workers as they’ve walked through the doors of our church.

And these things need to be said, because they are encouraging and true!!

But, now that I’m living this life…

things look so different on this side. the reality doesn’t seem to match these phrases in this moment of parenting.

Things I Would NOT Say to an Overseas Mom

I was talking to some of the other moms while we were in line to pick up our kids from school here in France.

We all had teary eyes and stressful faces.

We all had stories of our kids… missing home. struggling in school.

We each had personal, painful moments of parenting.

Desperate moments of parenting, of watching our kids walk this road with us… knowing our family is deep down in the trenches of adjusting to life away from home.

Each mom shared clips from bedtime, or behavior issues or discipline problems or heart-breaking cry fests.

I stood there and thought, “All those things people say are true… but living it is a little bit harder.”

Things like, “Your kids will adjust… kids are so resilient.”

They are. But watching them go through the adjustment process and talking them through being resilient is emotionally draining and literally painful to watch. It is a long process that most third culture kids will go through daily. Adjusting to their new life is long and tough and gut-wrenching.

Things like, “Think of the world experience your kids will have now that they’ve lived overseas!”

True. So true. Honestly something I’m very thankful for… but again. The cost of that experience is high. The cost brings scars and struggles. Third Culture Kids battle every day for that world experience. They navigate cultural and structural and relational struggles every time they walk out the door of their home.

Things like, “Oh, kids learn language so fast… they’ll be talking in French way before you!”

Well… yes. and no. As a homeschool mom, I know their educational struggles. Knowing that their spelling, their reading, their phonics, their nearly everything school-wise is being delayed and even messed up is so hard. Yes, they will recover. Their brains are made to sort this all out and be able to contain many, many languages correctly. But the first few months of that is difficult in ways I’d never imagined. Hearing them say things like, “I can’t spell in English or French!” and “Mommy, I don’t remember how to sing my ABCs from America anymore!” And know it is true. Their brains are setting aside one language to learn another… for now. The song will come back… their spelling will sort itself out. Their phonics will find a middle ground. But it sure isn’t as easy as the phrase, “Kids learn language so fast.”

Things like, “Family will come and see you which will be so fun for your kids!”

We hope they can come… we pray God will open financial doors and allow for time off work and make travel possible for our families. But having your baby cry at bedtime and say, “I can’t go to sleep with my family on the other side of the ocean!” will tear your heart in two and make you hurt desperately for the pain your kids are feeling at missing their families back home. Waiting for travel opportunities, in all reality, seems much harder than knowing they will come at some point.

Things like, “God has called your family together in overseas life!”

Oh yes… yes, yes, yes. I agree with my whole heart! God has even spoken to my girls about reaching the world and they feel their call as well! So, yes, this statement is utterly true. But, again… keeping the call at the forefront of my heart is sometimes challenging. Remembering that God has a purpose and a plan in all of this can be a daily choice to trust that truth. As a parent, I must trust it myself and I must help my kids trust it as well. When the going gets tough, and they want to run to Grandma’s house {like the saying goes…} and they can’t run there… when they feel like they are stuck here… when they forget that God has called them and are struggling with the “Why are we here again, so far from home?” I must honestly, compassionately remind them that God has called us here as a family. That He has a job for us to do for Him. That He is with us in this process and no matter what we walk through, God has it all in His mighty hand. Helping kids see the eternal value of sacrifice and obedience. Helping kids learn that God is with them even when they don’t feel or see Him. Building faith. Reading scripture. Holding up hope… for the overseas mom, this can be so very hard at the end of a long day.

Honestly, before we flew away from home, I hadn’t thought twice about these things people had said and would say.

I believed each one.

Now, though… I would rethink how I said those things.

They might be true… but they are terribly difficult things to live out with your kids.

Looking at an overseas mom with 1 or 4 or 7 kids and telling her how resilient her kids will be and how easy they will learn and what a great life experience they will have…

I look at her now and pray, “Lord be with her as she parents those kids through the challenges ahead. Learning language is hard no matter how old you are. Walking cultural lines is hard for her, let alone her children. Trying to adjust while helping her kids keep their hope and faith will test everything she knows about God and parenting. Give her strength and words that will multiply her children’s resilience in their new life. Battle the wars ahead on her behalf.”

Sometimes, it is hard to connect with an overseas mom. It can be hard to see through her calling and her smiles and her stories to the woman who resides beneath all of what you see on a Sunday.

But she is real. Her family is real.

And, she might just need someone to say, “Wow. This is really hard.”

*with that said, don’t stop encouraging those overseas mommas! They still need to hear truth! But, I thought I’d share the thoughts on this side of those sayings now that we are living them. And help those back home understand what those phrases really look like as we live them out with our kids.

NEW post – Things I Would NOT Say to a NEW Overseas Worker




  1. One of the songs that helped me (still helps) with family on the other side of ocean is “Wide Wide as the Ocean” because it was encouraging to know that God’s love was keeping me and my family everywhere

  2. Savoring your recient posts, knowing how to be very specific in praying for you, your marriage, your parenting, your girls, your furlough. And it gives me a glimpse into our daughter’s life & how to pray for her and our sweet TCK Grands The words thank you just don’t seem quite big enough. .

  3. Jenilee- Thank you for your wise words. We haven’t moved across the ocean, but we moved 600 miles to plant XA in CT. I have to admit I read through your post a bit teary-eyes because I understand so much of what you’re saying here. My oldest moved away from her best friend, and although at 5 years old it didn’t seem like that big of a deal, she still yearns for such a friend. She is so sensitive and misses her friend badly. How have you handled your girls missing friends and building new friendships?

    1. Oh, I think friendships are so very hard. Growing up as a PK and moving often myself, I was not great at keeping up with friendships. Not because I didn’t love them but because it was hard to look back and move forward at the same time. Now, with social media, it makes it a little easier to continue friendships while making new ones. We utilize facetime and skype and voxer… all things that help the girls still talk with their friends. Us moms share pictures or videos on facebook to show the kids since none of them have facebook. We also still send snail mail to some of their best friends… not often, but enough to send a special post card or a picture they drew or something fun from somewhere we have been. I guess my goal is to somehow help them make new friends and not be afraid to start new friendships even though we will be moving again all while helping them to maintain certain friendships back home. It is not easy to watch them battle through and it isn’t easy for us when we’ve also left friendships. Praying for God’s wisdom for you and for all moms who are raising kids through transition.

      Hope this post helps you too…

  4. Wow. Two years into training for overseas missions and having left our homes and family but still on this side of the ocean, so much of what you shared already applies. And we know so much more is coming as we meet and learn from those who go before us. We have three kiddos and couldn’t believe the transitions and how much they disrupted the (very willing) kids with sleep, school, etc. I appreciate your heart and your faithfulness to go even when it means uprooting your children. Blessings!!!

  5. Jenilee, I know that htis is a mixed bag of feelings. I know that these are times of casting your care on the Lord for He cares for you. Phrases we all have used. Asking the Lord to give you such wisdom with your kids and the enduring strength of the Holy Spirit. We love you and are praying for you. Will ask the prayer team to hold you up. Thanks for sharing your heart, so we know how to pray.

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