You guys–someone asked me a question! I’m so excited. And it was a good one–I’m sure this has come up for many of us.
My three year old is figuring out what missing stuff is. Missing people especially. How do you deal with that. How do you explain to your children why you live in a country so far away from their grandma and grandpa and cousins? Tears and requests to go to the airport daily… What do you do?
Yeah. This is where the rubber meets the road. A few things to keep in mind before I dive into the practical:
- If you’re called to be here, so are your kids. God hasn’t forgotten about them. That doesn’t mean they’ll be happy here, but they’re part of His plan. Try to rest in that.
- Empathy goes a long way. “Hey, buddy. I see you’re really missing Grandma today. I miss her a lot, too. What do you miss most?” Yes, this conversation may prompt tears for both of you. That’s okay. God made tear ducts for a reason. We won’t think you’re any less tough, and your son will know he’s not alone.
- I’ll never forget sitting with my friend Kathy who now serves in El Salvador as she got ready to leave. She was heartbroken to leave her grandkiddos behind, but what she told me stuck with me: “If I stay because I love them, all that communicates is that I loved them more than I loved God. And that’s not the legacy I want to leave them.” You are setting a good example for him now, even if he can’t see it yet. Stay the course, mama.
Now, for the practical.
PREACH THE GOSPEL TO HIM
As big as our love is for Grandma, and as big as her love is for us…it doesn’t come close to how much God loves us. That’s why we live here–to let everyone know about God’s great love. It’s higher than the sky! It’s deeper than the oceans. And we’re so thankful that God wants us in his family, we’re so thankful that he’s wiped the sin off us and made us new, we live here so our Haitian friends will know just how much he means to us. That we’d give up things that are really important to us for them, so they can know Him too.
Our kids need to hear this as much as we do. Our kids need to hear it as much as the people we came to serve…maybe more. You might even pull out Romans 10:13-15.
13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”[a]
14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”[b]
PAPER CHAINS OR CALENDARS
Toddlers can have anxiety about change, good or bad, and we found that making it more tangible really helped our son. So if you do know when you’ll be going to see them again, make a paper chain so he can see the days passing by. You could also mark off squares on a calendar, but kids like to be the one to rip the chain. We also like to write on the links some of the fun stuff we’ll do when we’re together again, like go to the zoo or go bowling or eat at Red Robin. (And it will never stop being weird to me that the zoo is an unusual experience for my TCK’s.)
“CAN YOU HOLD ONTO THIS FOR ME?”
Ask the family to send something that will be recognizable as Grandma’s or Grandpa’s–a hat, a book, a special toy from their house. It doesn’t have to be big, but the idea is that he’s holding onto it just until he sees them again, when he can give it back. Because that’s tangible, right? Grandma wouldn’t send this unless she knew she’d see me again. This is my promise, he thinks. This is how I know for sure, even though I can’t go today, that I’ll see them again. Worth a try?
EXPLAIN ABOUT MONEY
Maybe this is lame, but when it comes up, we just explain to our kids that airplanes are expensive. That riding an airplane is like going to the grocery store ten times or whatever. They seem to get that–that we’re not trying to be cruel, we just don’t have the money to fly there whenever we want.
KEEP THEM IN THE CONVERSATION
Every night at bedtime, my kids know that the last thing I do is tell them who loves them. We list out each family member by name, and then I tell them that God loves them even more than all those people put together. Sometimes we try to guess what they’re doing that day or guess what their weather is like. If my kids are building rocket ships, we remember watching SpaceX launches with PopPop. Talking about them often lets them know that we haven’t forgotten them. They can still be part of our lives every day, just in a different way.
I know you can get these at Hallmark, and maybe elsewhere…but my kids love them. They wore them out, and they had to send more! And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that both my kids will turn to the last page, over and over, and flip it back and forth just to hear them say “We love you” at the end. And I think just that little bit of control is healthy: I can’t be with them, but I can hear their voices whenever I want and I can hear their love for me when their arms are far away. (sniffle)
Oh, but don’t leave the book open when you go to bed at night. I came down for a drink of water once and just about jumped out of my skin when I suddenly heard my father-in-law’s voice: my shadow had activated the sensors. Scared the living “daylights” out of me. And I only said “daylights” for you: it wasn’t really the “daylights.”
GO “BROKEN RECORD”
When all else fails, I find nothing shuts down 10,000 toddler questions like a broken record. What’s that, you say? You’ve never heard of the broken record? Well, prepare to be amazed.
Kiddo: I want to go see Nana and Pa.
You: Another day, kiddo.
Kiddo: Let’s go to the airport right now!
You: Another day, kiddo.
Kiddo: but I want to see them NOW!
You: Another day, kiddo.
You can say it with a smile if you want. State the facts, don’t engage in a battle of wits or emotions, and above all, find a mantra and stick to it. When the answer isn’t changing, he’ll give up eventually…though eventually may still mean days from now. After one furlough, our oldest threw a giant hissy fit every night for two weeks, because he wanted his grandmother to give him his bath. His grandmother, of course, was in Oregon. It was awful. So I feel your pain. It’ll get better as they get older. Hang in there!
You’ve got this, mama.