A fair bit of the blog, so far, has been devoted to how I’ve been experiencing settling into Cambodia. In this post, I’m going to try and give a sense of how our kids might be experiencing settling in, based on my interactions with them.
Tantrums in our house have come to be affectionately known as ‘melts’ (our Frozen Fever family noticed children melting onto the floor like Olaf). A classic line came, when in response to me getting down and trantrumming with him, indignantly Joelly retorted ‘Dad, don’t melt with me!’ While hilarious, his words had a prophetic effect. As they say, ‘from the mouth of babes…’
One of our observations from the year is that each child settles in at different rates from the other and in different ways. While one is making more friends yet, at the same time, feels negative towards the country, another is feeling more positive about the country despite being limited as they develop their friendships. Their different personalities plus their different life experiences (even with similar experiences as a family) all affect the way they settle in. Their age and how much they remember and miss Australia certainly is a big factor in how they settle in.
As parents, we’ve made guesses about how each would settle in. In one situation we were proved well and truly wrong. We allowed time for one of our children to settle into a new activity and yet they were fine. But another, in that same activity, didn’t settle as easily as we thought and so thankfully we’d allowed space to help them settle, even if that space was allocated for our initial prediction.
A second observation surrounds the constant tension we feel when figuring out when to push for Khmer standards in their behaviour over differing Aussie standards. One example is concerning the responsibilities given to the eldest child. Do we follow Khmer suit, or Aussie? This is made all the harder when things aren’t going so well. Another example is in the amount that our children speak out. Our kids seem much more vocal about their dislikes than locals–given the difference in cultures between Australia and Cambodia. Do we try and quieten them down so as not to offend or allow them to speak their mind? Do we make them eat their food when out so as not to cause offence or do we try and work these issues with those who we dine with? One thing that I must remember is that they are settling in when much more is out of their control–much more is forced on them without a say. How would I react in that situation?
A third observation has occurred recently, having been on location 9 months. There is now less excitement (totally normal and expected) about our new home. Added is a tiredness/homesickness that has started to come out loud and clear, particularly for one child but definitely with aspects occurring for the other two. Sometimes I wonder whether their homesickness sometimes comes out in their anger outbursts. But it could also just be a recent learned response from their parents. Joelly’s words above hold profound truth. Whats needed is for me NOT to melt when they melt. On the positive side, listening has been a main form of caring and a really helpful one at that, particularly when the melts come.
As we help our children settle, I was reminded (from friends here on location) about our mission preparation training we had. We were asked to think about our goals for our children. This was a really helpful exercise. Our ultimate goal is that our kids will love Jesus, because he has first loved them. An outflow of that goal is that we want Cambodians to know and love Jesus as well. What difference does that make for our smaller goals of living in Cambodia? While we would love for our children to learn the language and make lots of local friends, our goal is actually different from that. Our goal is that they would love Cambodian people, even if language and local friends are not a central part. Re-verbalising this goal changes how we think about caring for them and makes us check our agendas, particularly our fitting-in-culturally agenda. It helps us to soften our approach when needed (a constant lesson I need to learn).