The missionary home is a breeding ground for unhealthy levels of stress. Here are ten suggestions to help mitigate the effect of stress on your MKs. These are things you probably already know. Consider them reminders in the middle of the craziness of life
1. Develop routines and traditions: Friday pizza night, Waffle Wednesday, Afternoons at the park, whatever fits your family. Adults and students alike function better when they have an idea of what to expect. And try your hardest to keep traditions you had before moving. Guard these with everything you’ve got!
2.. Always take a deep breath before reacting responding in anger or frustration. Always good to do—but crucial in these moments. Are your kids acting up out of rebellion, or a call for attention? Many kids don’t know how to process what’s going on around them and the unprocessed stress results in behavioral outbreaks. One day just try and offer them a hug and help them find the words.
3. If you’re in Language School, stay out of ministry that demands responsibility. Everyone hates this. Really. But your family needs you more than XYZ ministry.
4. Realted to that, don’t fill up your plate. Every time you say ‘yes’ to one thing, you say ‘no’ to something else. In the heat of transition stress, you need time to process and debrief. Every. Single. Day. No matter what you were used to. And your family needs you more. Every. Single. Day. Make it your ambition to live your first year abroad as un-busy as possible.
5. Take your Sabbath as if it were commanded by God (Oh, wait…). I do not know one single missionary who does this well (as far as I know). Turn off your phone. Don’t touch the laptop. No ministry. No emails. No meetings. No homework. God, Rest, and Family.
|Photo from Huffington Post|
6. Do not have a ‘Discussion’ in front of your kids. You and your spouse have mountains of things to talk about. Trouble with finances, trouble with the sending organization, trouble with other missionaries, trouble with the family, trouble with ministry, trouble with friends or family back home. DO NOT have these conversations in front of your kids, whether they’re 2 or 18. They don’t need to carry that. Even infants pick up on parental stress. Go on a walk, go on a date, wait until after bedtime—FIND A WAY TO MAKE THIS HAPPEN! You can worry about modeling how to fight well later.
7. Find situations that are OK for them to control, and give them the freedom to make as many decisions as possible. These don’t have to be big (although the bigger the better). But kids of all ages in transition are completely out of control. Like you. At least you were the one who decided to move and where to go. Give them two or three options of what to eat for dinner, let them pick the family game or the movie, give them the option of picking the next family activity let them decorate parts of the house... anything to give them the feeling of not being absolutely out of control.
8. Schedule in family play time during the week. Your kids need you. Even if they’re ready to graduate. Give them time during the week, not just on your day off. Don’t be on your phone at the dinner table, and don’t study the hour before bedtime—both things I have been guilty of, by the way. Sometimes I have to schedule it on my calendar to make sure it doesn’t get moved. In our society, the calendar is sacred, and nobody challenges a calendar appointment! (Although it might be different in the culture you live in now!) What makes you all laugh? Do THAT. Laughter, Biblically and scientifically, is proven to lower stress.
9. Try and bring your kids into the loop whenever possible. At the end of the day, debrief it with your kids, and then go over the following days’ events so they have a chance to process the day and know what to expect. All of us adults know how hard ambiguity is to live with, and we forget that kids live with 10 times as much as us!
10. Keep Christ the center of your life. Not just theoretically, or doctrinally, but pragmatically. Guard your time in alone with the Lord. The demands of the family are loud. Ministry is so needy, will eat your soul if you let it. You can only be as good a parent and as good a minister as you are a disciple. How are you really doing? Your kids know whether or not you’re spending time in the Word and in prayer. Invite them to join you sometime.
BONUS: Don't yell at your kids. Everything that needs to be said can be said without yelling.