Putting Our Fears to Rest: How to Raise a Baby Overseas and Not Go Insane
The city where I live is polluted. And when I say polluted, I mean that sometimes you can barely see the buildings a few blocks away. The skies are often grey, and sometimes the air smells like burnt plastic. Gross, right?
Well, this is where I live. And this is where my husband and I have chosen to raise our daughter. Are they stupid? you might be wondering. Or perhaps you are thinking, I could never take those risks with my child.
And to be honest, sometimes I think the same things. I should just go back to America, where it’s nice and safe and people use car seats and I can see the sky. But here’s the thing: Last I checked, the death rate in America is still 100%. Sure, there are some conveniences and comforts in America. Yes, I greatly respect and value my home country and appreciate many things about it. But it is not perfect. People in America still get cancer, get in car accidents, and – well….suffer.
The illusion that living in America will make my or my family’s life devoid of suffering is false. Suffering, unfortunately, is a reality that we all face. We will encounter hardship while we live on this earth. It is inevitable, whether we live in America, China, or Timbuktu. We can’t escape it.
And yet, so often, our fears get the better of us. We make choices to live our lives in a certain way, but then we fear the outcome. For example, I value many things about our cross-cultural life. I value the opportunity to raise my daughter in a second culture. I value our family’s vision and our reasons for living overseas. But living overseas means facing risks (whether real or imagined) that I would not face in my home culture. How should I deal with this very real conflict?
Here are a few suggestions of how to deal with fear as you take children overseas (or pursue your life’s vision, in general):
1. Take notice of the many positive, healthy things in the host culture.
No country is perfect. Every culture has its wonderful, healthy things and its not-so-healthy aspects. For example, in China, the average person uses public transportation. This means the average day naturally involves much more walking than someone living in America (without making a concerted effort) experiences. My husband probably dropped 30 pounds just by moving to China! And I promise – it has nothing to do with the amount that he eats. His daily life simply involves way more exercise than it ever did in America. And we were not unhealthy people when we lived in the States. We were members of a gym that we visited regularly. We even usually walked to work! But in China, the reality is we naturally get way more exercise. We don’t belong to a gym here – we just live and keep very fit!
Another great aspect of Chinese culture is the wonderful, fresh markets that abound. I can get fresh produce literally across the street. Chinese people place a lot of value on their food being fresh. Our diet here naturally consists of more vegetables and way less sugar than in America.
There are a myriad other examples of how healthy the Asian lifestyle is compared to the average American lifestyle. It’s so easy to focus on the negatives around you when, in reality, the positives probably outweigh the negatives
2. Research ways to live a healthy, natural life – wherever you are.
The beauty of ridding ourselves of toxins and seeking to live a more natural lifestyle is that it is so simple. It does not take fancy products that are not available overseas. You can live a natural lifestyle anywhere. For example, items like baking soda and vinegar are available anywhere. Honestly, I think living overseas forced me to figure out how to do more things from-scratch and in a more natural way because I did not have the convenience of certain products available to me.
3. Know your family’s mission, vision, and values
What do you want for your life? What is your purpose? What do you want for your children’s lives? Surely, your main goal in life is not merely to delay death. While safety is foremost on any parent’s mind, it cannot be the driving force behind our decision-making. I am a mother, and yes, I greatly value the safety of my child. I would not want to do anything to put her in harm’s way. But I care more about her development as a person, about her soul, and about her character than I do about her physical safety. I am not suggesting that you should throw safety out the window but simply that it should not “trump” all other values.
4. Recognize that any place is just a “place” and that people live, work, play, and thrive all around the world
The 1.3 billion people who inhabit China’s borders would beg to differ with any person who thought China was “unlivable”. Obviously, people live and breath all over this country everyday. People birth and raise their babies here. They’ve been doing it for centuries. How odd and presumptive to believe that my relatively young country is the “only” or “best” place to live. It is a just a place. And we are just people, living our lives and trying to do our best with what God brings our way.
How do you deal with fear?