Are they missing out?

Little Swimmer
One thing that I struggle with periodically is the temptation to feel guilty and like my kids are going to miss out on things or be deprived of certain experiences that I considered crucial to my growing up experience. I love reading the blogs about my friends kids at home who often go to children’s museums, play groups, pre-school, out-door wading pools, dance classes, and who have back yards with grass and swing sets, etc, but I  can be tempted to feel a bit jealous and bad for my kids who will miss out on a lot of these experiences given our lifestyle. Do you ever feel that way?

It is so easy read all of these things that supposedly make for happy kids and well rounded kids and to wonder if my kids are going to be deprived because they didn’t get to do all the fun activities, didn’t have nice parks to play in, and in general just don’t have a lot of the great luxuries that we left behind. You’d think that being separated from the culture in which these things exist in abundance would make for less of an awareness of them, but with the blessing of keeping up with the world via the internet, there are some downsides. It is easy for me to get hear what other people (aka. the baby/kid industries) say my kids “need” and to end up feeling bad for them, until I finally lift my eyes a bit to the bigger picture. Of course as I sit back and write this, it is more than obvious to me that my kids have a rich childhood, but in day to day experiences, sometimes it doesn’t feel that way.

I often am reminded that kids around the world throughout all of history and even now have been raised without most of the things that our American culture tells us we need. I served in East Asia for a year before I was married, and one of my closest friends there told me how her family was very poor and how during her childhood she only had one doll, and that other than that  she played with sticks, rocks, old buckets, and old things from around the house. She said that though she didn’t have many toys, she treasured her one doll dearly and had a wonderful and rich childhood that she often thinks back on with great fondness.

My kids have SO many toys, and they don’t really learn to appreciate the vast majority of them! As much as I can be frustrated by our American culture that tries to sway me into discontentment,  I am also so thankful for the counter-revolution going on today. Perhaps it is a quieter voice, but it is there. There are a number of parents and organizations  encouraging simplicity and the mindset that happiness is not purchased or manufactured through a multitude of classes and purchased items. How refreshingly biblical!

Seriously, my kids are never happier than digging around in the mud, throwing rocks into puddles, and playing with a bucket of rice and a few cups at the kitchen table.

Then there is the whole other side of the picture where I remember that my kids get to experience a different culture, learn a second language, travel the world, and see God changing hearts and lives here in Russia, but somehow it is so easy to get distracted from these amazing blessings if I let my heart and mind stray too far from the source of true contentment…

‘Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”‘- Hebrews 13:5 (ESV)

Any thoughts? Have you struggled with this in your own life? How have you battled the temptation to feel like your kids are missing out (whether because of living overseas or trying to live frugally in the US)? It would be great to hear your thoughts!

(picture courtesy of


13 Responses to “Are they missing out?”

  1. 1 Gina Marie March 17, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    I have struggled with that same thing. My kids were born and have been raised in urban Asia. I always dream of them having a big backyard like I did as a kid. Once when I was bemoaning this to God, He reminded me that my kids have ridden elephants in Thailand and toured a rubber plantation in Malaysia. They are able to relate to people from other cultures in ways I never knew growing up. And I could go on and on. Someday I think they’ll feel sorry for me and my boring childhood!

  2. 2 missionalmommy March 17, 2009 at 3:16 pm

    Living in America serving the Lord in a different way here than if I was overseas. There are many times I think how much I would love my babies to grow up in another culture in the missionary environment.

    As you serve overseas your kids will grow up will an amazing chance to have front row seats to how God is changing a new culture, how you are running after the lost around you, how the gospel can infiltrate a new area. They will be called into the adventure you are living with stark clarity! That sounds so much more developmental than a Gymboree Class….

    You are doing a fabulous job raising your kids through the blessings and challenges of your work.

  3. 3 susanmarie March 17, 2009 at 9:20 pm

    Hi, found your blog through a friend. We’re missionaries in Germany (with 3 little girls: 4,2, and 2 months.)

    I’ve felt this way for sure. Our fun times here are quite simple: parks and playdates. Compare that to annual Disneyland passes and living near the beach like some of my friends back home, and it’s not nearly as exciting!!

    I also have been realizing that “America” has begun to seem like a big Paradise to my kids. They know that that is where Disneyland is, fairs, the ocean (CA beach), big malls, etc are. When we go back we try to cram the fun things into our short time there – but then that is what the kids remember.

    Kind of like when MK’s get excited about “American candy.” It gives a sense of the exotic to “America.”

    Anyway, I just remind myself that my kids will hopefully learn another language, that they get to go to many different countries and experience different cultures, travel, get to know people from all over the world, see how God is at work in the BIGGER picture, etc. VERY exciting. I also have heard so many MK’s say that they loved the richness of their childhood. That’s encouraging.

    Off to bed. We have a newborn and pink eye running through the house – so I need my rest. =) Glad to have found your blog. I’ve enjoyed reading your posts. =)

  4. 4 susanmarie March 17, 2009 at 9:22 pm

    ps: I meant to say too that I also relate to being sad that there aren’t more organized activities for my kids. I feel almost guilty that my girls can’t take a gymnastics class, join a little girls’ soccer league, or begin a dance class. Those are just things that can’t be part of this phase of their lives while we’re here…

  5. 5 alatvala March 18, 2009 at 4:05 am

    Hi Susan Marie! It is so great to meet you! Thank you so much for sharing your heart on this topic. I think our trip back to the US this summer will be the first time that my kids (esp. my oldest who is 3 and a half) will actually get a concept of what America is. I appreciated your perspective on that topic. It will be a good opportunity to have lots of fun, but at the same time to begin learning talking about the big picture, contentment, and why we don’t live in America. I agree with you that it is also so encouraging to know that MKs who are grown generally do look back on their childhood and see the bigger picture.

    Gina, thank you also for your great perspective. Your last thought about how our kids might see us as the being the ones who were deprived is so true! Yes, elephants in Thailand, and world travel etc. probably aren’t going to end up being forgotten. =) I know that it is probably impossible to avoid facing this struggle, and your thoughts are encouraging.

    Vicky, I can totally imagine what you were saying about sometimes wishing your kids were raised in another country. How interesting to see that the grass really isn’t greener on either side, but that God has blessed both, but just differently. I know that your kids have nothing to worry about though, as far as seeing the bigger picture and watching God at work. They have a fabulous mommy and daddy who love and serve Jesus sacrificially with their lives, and I know that will have an amazing shaping influence on their lives.

    Anyone else with more thoughts on the topic?

  6. 6 Bethany March 18, 2009 at 7:47 pm

    This is a topic my husband and I often think and talk about. Of course, our little boy is not even a year old, yet. The dirt tastes the same in America as it does here in Malawi, if you know what I mean. Since we are leaving in 3 months, I don’t think he will have any complaints about spending his first year in Africa. However, we do hope and pray that the Lord will call us back here soon to serve long term. We definitely think about how we want to raise our kids after having had 5 or so years to fall in love with all things American.
    I teach 9th graders here and some of them are missionary kids. Their parents had video games and such sent here…we wonder if we will be like that. It actually frustrates me to think that these kids (whose parents are following and serving the Lord) are missing out on opportunities to experience another culture, all for the glory of God. Instead, they are cooped up in their mini America’s…how do you balance it? Especially with teenagers!?!?! I guess we will cross that bridge when we come to it.
    By the way-I am totally against video games altogether, my husband (as you can imagine) is totally for them. He says it’s just something all boys should have and that it’s good for hand-eye coordination. Ha! Well, again, we will cross that bridge when we come to it.

  7. 7 alatvala March 18, 2009 at 8:34 pm

    Hey Bethany! I love your thoughts! Yes, it really is possible to create a mini-america even overseas, for better or for worse, isn’t it? I have also thought about this concept a lot. This lifestyle is always a balancing act… It’s funny because just as you posted your comment, I think I was linking to your blog in my next post. I love the great pictures and stories you share! What an amazing place you are getting to experience and what wonderful work you are a part of!

  8. 8 Richelle Wright March 19, 2009 at 8:32 am

    Someone asked about the balance and as we now have our first teenager, we are getting a try at trying to find that balance. So I’m pleased when our oldest thinks it is great fun to do all-night computer “multi-players” with his MK buddies, but the next week is at the gamepark, several hours away, learning about the world in which we live and then the next weekend, he’s traveling with his dad out to the bush to preach and show the Jesus film. Our three oldest girls are equally happy with a sleep over at one of their MK buddies’ homes… but also love to go stay with one of their girls friends from school, spend the night, rigde their horses and chatter away in French non-stop and buy street food for breakfast! There’s no way to convince those older kids who’ve been to and remember America that there aren’t some perks to life on that side of the water. Yet I think when they see us, their parents, embracing and appreciating life on a day to day basis, welcoming both the opportunities and challenges God brings to us, whether we are here or there, they begin to “catch” that same attitude. The more I work on learning to be content in all circumstances – abounding or abased – I find my kids striving to do the same.

    I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on this, too!

  9. 9 alatvala March 19, 2009 at 8:56 am

    Hi Richelle! What wonderful perspective! I have heard a lot about third culture kids becoming cultural chameleons, in a sense, being comfortable functioning in multiple cultural settings. I think this is such an amazing blessing. I agree with you that it is impossible to keep kids from realizing the things about American culture that make it appealing, and I loved how you emphasized our role to show contentment and appreciation of the culture in which we live. All of our cultures reflect various beautiful aspects of God’s character and blessing, and I want my kids to grow up recognizing those things! It sounds like your kids are wonderfully adapted and have a beautifully broad perspective on life.

  10. 10 Person (also known as Mommy) March 20, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    We’re not missionaries, but we live a very different kind of life than the typical one here. We’ve made the choice to be unschoolers-which both puts us at odds with popular ‘culture’ and keeps our budget pretty tight-I’ve never been upset about it though. I grew up on far less than we have now, and because of that I was blessed enough to learn from an early age that value doesn’t come from a price tag. I’m actually happy that our kids will have a similar experience.

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