Releasing Guilt From Failed Expectations

“What do your kids do over there?”

“Oh, they’re home schooled. So what activities are they involved in?”

“You guys really do live an adventurous life, but I could never do that!”

Comments like these, although I’m sure innocent and well-meaning, only add fuel to the guilt fire already stirring in my soul.

We serve in a country where kids don’t get to have much of a childhood. They study 8-10 hours a day, usually more when they hit high school. Their weekends and holidays are spent doing copious amounts of homework and attending extra classes. The pressure to succeed is suffocating.

We didn’t want to give our kids this type of childhood, so we chose to home school. (Although I’m not judging those who send their kids to local schools—everyone is different!) But as the kids get older, I realized some things are missing.

There are little to no organized sports to be a part of. Clubs for art, theater, or music might exist, but they lean a little too far into the perfection and performance arena than we are comfortable with. There are no libraries. There are few parks with actual playground equipment. Instead, they have the rusty metal exercise equipment frequented by the elderly. There are few local kids to play with…because they’re at home studying.

In our 8 years serving here, most of the time, we’ve been fortunate to be on a team with other kids. Ages and genders don’t always match up, but everyone is happy to at least have a playmate. Their creativity in playing with sticks and dirt or in an abandoned kitchen are amazing to watch. I treasure each day they get to play with friends, yet I still long for more for them.

When discussing possible future education ideas, I began to complain again about the things our kids are missing out on. My husband gently pointed out that we won’t be able to re-create our childhood experiences. In some ways, praise God! As that realization has settled in my heart, I’ve begun to slowly release my expectations for what I think our kids should experience.

“Your kids get to experience some pretty amazing things!”

“My kids have never even been out of the state, and your kids have been across the world several times!”

“I wish it was easier for my kids to learn a second language.”

I’m reminded that yes, our kids will miss out on some things that we consider a “normal” childhood in the US. But I wouldn’t trade those for the life they’re getting to experience now!

Our oldest is reaching an age that he can understand the emotions tied to our nomadic lives. He’s been lamenting not having the same friends on our team when we return. He’s sad he won’t get to spend every afternoon with good friends. He’s bummed we’ll be leaving the US soon and he won’t see the good buddies he has here for a few years.

My heart aches for him.

But I realize the opportunities to share God’s love, provision, and faithfulness abound. He may see his life as unfair in some ways, but we’re quick to point out all the blessings we receive. We want our kids to share in our calling to serve overseas. God didn’t just call my husband and me there. No, I can share loads of stories of how the kids have softened ground and opened doors to conversations. He most certainly uses them as well! We want them to embrace that and choose gratefulness.

As I continue to push away the guilty feelings and thoughts, I replace them with thankfulness that we are in God’s will and He will provide everything we need. It may not be a baseball team or ballet class or guitar lessons, but it will be other unique opportunities, and they will be enough.

Have you wrestled with guilt over the impact your cross-cultural life has on your kids?

Photo by Piron Guillaume on Unsplash


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13 Comments

  1. Kim A. April 10, 2019

    Wow, this resonates so much with me! It is so easy to believe the lie that our kids are ‘missing out.’ Sometimes my ‘missing out’ list is way bigger than my gratitude list!! Our kids get to have some incredible experiences and I need to shift to gratitude. Thank you for that reminder!

    1. Ashley Felder April 18, 2019

      I have to remind myself often! Thankful for a husband that reminds me too. 😉

  2. Elizabeth April 10, 2019

    I’ve also wrestled with the fact that we aren’t providing our children the same childhood we had. However I’ve come to understand that even if we were in the States, we couldn’t provide that. The world is simply a different place. I had an analog childhood. Theirs is digital. I had a huge extended family. By their generation, families are smaller, and it’s just grandparents and a couple aunts. My husband and I had really stable church families. All my children’s friends from our church back home have already moved on — the world is much more mobile and global now. My husband and I had yards and parks to play in. My children don’t have that — here anyways!

    So we give them what we can — as much family time as possible, both here and when we’re visiting. Lots of time outside when we’re in the States (too hot here most of the time, and no green space — possibly the hardest thing about living here). We try to keep in touch with friends and family both here, in the States, and with those who have moved away. That is all we can do, and sometimes it’s hard. But it’s been good for them to realize that the constant goodbyes they experience here are not unique to the field (remember how all their friends have left our home city too?).

    The best thing to do is to talk about these things, because I have a feeling as your kids get older, they will start to think that the TCK life is better (or at least, that TCKs are “better” than non-TCKs) and that needs addressing too! They need to learn that non-TCKs just have different life experiences, based on their parents’ choices, not better or worse (even if non-TCKs have a worldview that is difficult for my kids to understand). So we always grieve what we have lost (though I know it’s hard to watch your children grieve), and we practice gratefulness for what we have been given. We remember that ALL parents make choices for their children (who never have agency), and we try to remember to grow up accepting people who have had different experiences from us.

    1. Ashley Felder April 18, 2019

      Amen! So many good thoughts here. New all have a story, right? I’ve been extra aware of that this time around in the US. I don’t know everyone’s story, so how about I give extra grace instead of jumping to conclusions before I have the chance to find out? We provide what we can, and God will use their experiences! Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

  3. Spring April 10, 2019

    Thanks so much Ashley for sharing about your journey! We decided to homeschool because it was what we are already doing. Our first year it was exhausting explaining to everyone (who had never heard of it) what it was and why we do it. It was overwhelming to me. I felt like I had to prove something to people. (that I didn’t have to when I was homeschooling in the US) We re-evaluate every year if this is what we feel called to, at this point I just can’t get away from the flexibilty it provides for our family along with the ability to gear the classes to the learning style and pace of my kids. Also my kids wouldn’t be doing language learning in school, so we have continued to homeschool. (this is our 3rd year overseas)

    I was just wrestling with this guilt recently. When we lived in the US, we had friends who homeschooled. I could put them in clubs/classes for the things that I wasn’t great at teaching. Now? it’s just me (and some online classes) I did everything I could think of to find a special summer camp for my daughter while we are on home assignment. Somehow we missed 2 scholarship application deadlines. I was overwhelmed with guilt and frustration. I still came to the same conclusion that you did (in the long run)

    . I wouldn’t exchange this crazy, different TCK life they lead. They have opportunities out the wazoo that have nothing to do with clubs (like learning 2 languages) and are learning better how to “do” life. What a learning process we are all going through.

    1. Ashley Felder April 18, 2019

      The guilty thoughts are real! It’s so easy to try to compare our lives with others in our home country, but they’re just not comparable. Like you said, where they miss out on some areas, they have opportunities of a lifetime in others. May we be examples of gratefulness for what they DO get to experience!

  4. Diane April 10, 2019

    YES! A million times YES. I have had to then release a million times to the reality that God is making my kids into who He wants them to be…and this is a part of that. And He will use their unique experiences, loneliness, losses, awesome talents acquired here, and so many other things in whatever way is best for THEM. He has already been showing me His faithfulness in this as some of them are becoming teenagers. This can be so hard. And He is so good.

    1. Ashley Felder April 18, 2019

      YES to your eloquent words! Wanna write a post?! 😉 So glad to not be alone in this journey of release and trust!!

  5. Katie April 11, 2019

    So good! Thank you for sharing. My children get to experience a different culture, plug into ministry a little bit as they are able (because…school), are beginning to understand the world of refugees and get to help me host visiting teams. Those are for sure unique and worthwhile experiences that I don’t feel guilty about.
    Missing friends and family, parks to play at and NOT being stared at are things that we tend to miss and feel sad about.

    1. Ashley Felder April 18, 2019

      Amazing opportunities indeed. I also have to remind myself that no matter where we settle in the world, there will be things we miss out on. A heart of contentment is the goal, huh?

  6. Deanne April 11, 2019

    Our kids are past this stage and would say growing up as TCKs was the best thing that ever happened to them. The transition to the US for college was hard for all of them (our youngest least of all as he was tired of being homeschooled alone for two years and reveled in the community). Now they are adults; two are in full-time ministry, one state-side and one overseas. Our oldest is not “in the family business” as she likes to say, but, after a rough several years is serving God along with her husband and doing well.
    One thing we learned is that while you do your very best with your kids, they have to make their own decisions about faith and serving God and even if they grew up in the US, they would still have to make those same decisions.

    1. Ashley Felder April 18, 2019

      Thank you so much for these words of wisdom! Sometimes it’s hard to see past the present. What a treasure to have people who have gone before us and can remind us that it’ll all be ok. 😀

  7. Monica F April 25, 2019

    Hi Ashley, I read this post several times- and it triggered so many different emotions in me! Thank you for sharing your experiences, and encouraging women in the community through your own story. Like you, we live(d) in the same country, but I’m pretty sure very different locations:) My children grew up in the countryside surrounded by rice paddies and learning minority language songs in our little market town’s pre-school. Although we homeschooled for three afternoons a week…we made the intentional choice for our children to attend local school with their neighborhood playmates. Our kids were the first foreign children to attend local school in the region we lived- ever. It was hard- being the only expats- but as a family we integrated into the community even deeper because of our kids’ schooling experiences. Did I feel guilty ever? You bet. I got the comments too, like, “Oh, we would never put our kids in local school, too much homework…” Ironically, sometimes I felt the most judgment from fellow workers. However, what I’ve come to learn, is that the Father put us in a specific place, for a specific season, and my kids- despite their differences and personalities- truly thrived, homework and all. They would tell you then, and now, that they loved local school…it gave them a connection linguistically, culturally, and emotionally with children their age in the community.They had good days AND bad days with local school, and homeschooling. Would I have done a few things differently? Maybe? Yes, probably? Do my kids have regrets, currently, they say no. My daughter still speaks fondly of her local school days, as does my son who is now 15 and still keeps in touch with his elementary school classmates. The only complaint my oldest son has, is that he missed out on starting organized sports at a younger age! Ha! I think in regards to schooling and guilt- in the end, we just can’t compare or assume. We do our best- we gather information, try something, see what works and doesn’t work, and make adjustments. There are different choices, depending on the season of one’s life, personalities to consider, and balancing family needs with work. I’m so glad that Velvet Ashes offers us that safe space of sharing one’s experiences- it may just be the story that someone needs to hear! Thank you!

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