Thursday, March 3, 2016

I wish someone had told me: Raising a baby abroad

Kelly and I were good friends in college, though in two different friend groups, as college social networks go. And then after college, we mostly lost touch. It took getting pregnant and having babies to reconnect, and it's been really encouraging to follow her life through this blog. And as she is a few steps ahead of me (toddler and a newborn, hurray!), it's nice to see what's coming as well :) So it's an honor to be able to write here and share some of what I have learned since having my sweet girl. 

I wish someone had told me that no one can tell you everything. Actually, I think my mother did say something like that...but I suppose in pride I ignored her comment. Maybe I was naive when I was pregnant, reading up on all the various methods out there on every subject to do with babies, though I suppose we're all naive at that point. Either way, the first year of my daughter Aylin's life was full of "Why can't someone just tell me WHICH method to use!?" and many tears of confusion. 

I should explain my context for my pregnancy, birth, and now life with Aylin. My husband and I live in the Middle East, in Amman, Jordan. My husband is working with an agricultural venture called Aquaponics, but more than that, we're here because we felt that God wanted us to give our lives to loving those different from us, and proclaiming who Jesus Christ is to those who have never heard. So even though life here is very different from our home culture in America, we did chose to be here and we are always trying to expand our worldview, learn from those around us. And there is much to learn from Arabs, though currently they are not the most popular in the world. God is growing our love. 

So being in Jordan has added, perhaps, an extra layer to the complexities of starting a family. We know that no matter how hard we try to fit in, we will never be Arabs. We will always lean towards viewing our American ways of doing things more correct, even if not more Biblical. We often find ourselves caught between two cultural ways of doing things, without being certain if either one is helpful or a method that has good results. It's a bit of a juggling game, and very humbling. 

I'm a pretty confident personality, prone to pride as one of my biggest sins, and love to research, apply what I've learned, and spread the news to everyone. A bit annoying, I know. So I think the first year of Aylin's life (she is 16 months now) I was hoping one method of sleep, routine, nursing, SOMETHING would be one I could proudly say "THIS works, hands down, and this is the way it should be done." 

As you can guess, I needed to learn that no baby fits into any one method or theory. Aylin is unique, and so are we as her parents and as a couple, and our cross-cultural context is unique. There is no sleep training blog for mothers who are American, raised in Turkey (did I mention that?), but living in a Muslim, Arab world. I needed to learn a deep dependence on the Lord for wisdom and strength, not just the answers I find on Pinterest. And I haven’t arrived; I'll struggle with wanting to pin down (hehe) one right way for my whole life. 

Perhaps one of my most important realizations, through my husband's help, has been that we need to protect and guide Aylin in whatever country or culture we find ourselves in, not just protect our "methods." A few examples: Here, anyone and EVERYONE feels free to take your baby from you, pass her around, kiss her. That can be in church, a restaurant (the waiters), the grocery store, police get the picture. And because she is fair skinned, blue eyed, and a mini extrovert who waves at everyone, she easily gets this attention. And most of the time we don't mind, but there are times we have to be slightly rude and say "that's enough, she needs to come back to us" or "no, you can't take her picture anymore." In Jordan there are very set ways of raising children, rarely questioned, but we've had to put our foot down at times. There are many old wives tales that everyone happily informs us about as truth, that we've had to say "sorry, that's actually not true, and we know what our own daughter needs." One being, how we dress her. You never see young babies here because whenever they are outside they are completely covered in heavy fleece blankets. No face at all. They believe that a baby gets a cold from any exposure to cold. And people were always trying to cover her whole face, or give us their own blankets to smother her with, which we had to resist. Or urge me to start feeding her "real" food too early even though I was breastfeeding, which I also had to refuse. 

In thinking through our methods, we've also had to learn to hold them loosely, allow them to change as circumstances change. We attempt to feed Aylin healthy food at home, because outside of the house, locals are constantly handing her chocolate bars, gum, candy. Some we refuse, stuff in my purse, but other times we let her indulge so as not to be rude. We try to keep Aylin's bedtime and nap time somewhat routine, but there is no such thing here (ha!)...babies and toddlers seem to just collapse wherever they are, and it's completely normal to see tiny children out at 10 or 11 at night. And so at times we awkwardly say we can't go to events due to Aylin needing sleep, but other times, we ask her to be a bit more tired than any of us would like. 

I think we're slowing learning a sort of balance with all of these challenges. I'm so thankful that we don't walk this road alone, and that we're continually being stretched. We're learning to laugh at stressful situations and live out the old adage: "Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape." 


  1. So beautifully written, Amy. Kelly, it's a gift that you provide a place for people to share their authentic stories and for others to learn from them. <3

  2. love this, Amy! I had no idea that it was culturally acceptable to pass babies around over there! I'd be so terrified!! I'm sure you're handling it all with grace & a big smile! There really is no ONE method, you just have to find what works for you, and love your baby! At the end of the day, that's what's most important! :)

  3. When or if I ever write a book or article on parenting, I think I will title it: Course Correct. The basic premise will be, please, please, often consider how your parenting is working well or not from both your own perspective, and if possible, that of your child (no matter how young or old). I would also hone in on the value of the golden rule, from both a disciplinary stance as well as a nurturing of growth stance. Be willing to constantly course correct, never swearing allegiance to methods or fads or even some biblical principle you think is tantamount to a guarantee of success. (Of course I don't think you think this way, just throwing it out there since I have thoughts on the matter!) that said, I think you are already doing what I would suggest: taking all these experiences as they come at you and depending daily on the wisdom from above that is so necessary for this process.