When I was pregnant with Macy, I read the book Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds by David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken. I’m sure most of my ex-pat friends have already read it, but I would highly recommend it. As adults, we are able to deal with living in another culture quite differently than kids do – mostly because we have our own “home” culture. But when kids grow up in another culture, they found themselves in limbo between their “home” culture – which they see played out in their house – and their “host” culture – the one that they are living in and feel just as much at home. It’s the meshing of the two cultures that then makes them become a “third-culture” kid.
I’m finding this to be true in my life as well. Since I spend a lot of my time raising my two little girls, I tend to form relationships with other women who also spend a lot of time raising their kids. But my culture is not the same as theirs. For one thing, most women here work full-time and children are raised by their grandparents. Even those who are “stay-at-home” moms begin taking their children to “kindergarten” (daycare) at the early age of 2, meaning the child is gone from home from 8:30 in the morning to 5:30 at night.
When I do spend time with other moms, they often have a lot of questions. Will Macy go to Chinese elementary school? Do you like the curriculum we use? What is it like in America? Will you send Macy back to America to go to school?
How do you give Selah a bath? What if the water gets in her face? What does she eat? Do you have enough milk to keep her from being hungry?
Do you always leave your air-conditioner on? Won’t your kids get sick? Do they sleep with you? How long has Macy had her own bed?
So while I enjoy building relationships with these local moms, sometimes I leave them feeling exhausted. It’s hard enough being a mom – adding on the curiosity can really drain you.
But this is how I’m used to being a mom. I’ve combined elements of my home culture mom-ness with elements of my host culture mom-ness. I don’t bat an eye when I need to throw my two girls, diaper bag, and myself into a sanlunche (three-wheeled vehicle) to go to the store, but I am very nervous when I put them into car seats and drive them on Houston freeways. I send Macy to a local kindergarten and smile when she comes back marching and singing songs I don’t quite understand, but I feel skittish about leaving her in a childcare situation in the US. I tote Selah around in an Ergo carrier because I find it easier than pushing a stroller on the bumpy and sometimes non-existent sidewalks.
I have no idea how to be a mom in the US. When we’re back for vacation, I wonder what my life would be like if we lived there. It would be nice to have a backyard for Macy to play in. If I want Macy to have outside time, I have to go with her down to the courtyard area to play. I don’t mind it, mostly because I’ve never known any different. It would be strange to be able to turn on the television and hear English – we don’t even pay for “cable” because there is only one English channel and it’s not worth watching. Because of this, Macy has grown up watching very little TV – something that I really like about her childhood. I don’t belong to MOPs or playgroups, and so there are times that being a mom can feel lonely. We get together with Chinese friends quite often, but our time with “foreign” kids is less frequent. I cherish the times that Macy gets to play with other kids like her – kids who will grow up understanding what it is like to be of that unique third-culture. And I love spending time with their moms. We speak the same language (and they don’t ask me if my milk is enough :)).
As with anything in life, you have to learn to take the good with the bad. After you have lived in another culture, you are able to open your eyes to the ways that your own culture could improve. I think it’s helped me to be grateful for all that I have. My prayer is that God can use my third-culture mom-ness for His glory.