Resiliency

My kids have been through a lot in the past ten months.  Last June, Jason was officially accepted into the Foreign Service and our lives have been a whirlwind ever since.

In August, my kids lost their dad for four months while he was in training in Washington, DC.  Plus they had to live with a whiny, frustrated, stressed out mom during that time.  In the midst of that, two of my kids went through periods of transition that are hard and frightening for all kids; Ben started junior high and Elizabeth started 1st grade.

Then in December, just before Christmas, their worlds were completely uprooted.  They said good-bye to their friends, their cat, their bedrooms and left their comfortable home and familiar neighborhood for a foreign country.  They went from being just like everyone else in white-bread Mormon Utah, to a country where they are the minority, they don’t speak the language and they’re stared at whenever they leave the house.

About the time they got over their jet lag, they started attending a private international school.  Whereas, public schools in Utah do their best to prepare kids for college, their private school in Taipei prides itself in preparing students for the Ivy League.  The amount of catchup my kids have had to do has been unbelievably stressful.  My 5th grader spends 1-3 hours a night on homework, while my 7th and 9th graders spend 2-5 hours studying every night.  Their self-esteems have taken enormous hits.  The academic competition they face each day is mind-boggling.

If that weren’t enough, the have faced prejudice for the first time in their lives over their race, their nationality and their religion.  One child has faced a pretty fierce bully.  During the first week of school, three of my kids came to me, independent of each other, expressing shock at the language that students use in the hallways; language that they had never heard in public school in the U.S.  Both of my sons have come to me, asking what words mean; terms that I didn’t know the meaning of until after I was married.

In the four months that we have lived in Taiwan, my kids have been more frightened and more lonely than they have ever been in their lives.  They have all come home from school numerous times in tears.  As a parent, it’s pretty tough to watch.

All of these trials notwithstanding, my kids are making it.  As a parent, I am in awe of their strength.  I don’t know if I could have faced the challenges they are encountering each day when I was their ages.  I am so proud of them.  They are brave, they are smart and they are good.

My book club is currently reading the parenting book Girls Will Be Girls: Raising Confident and Courageous Daughters by JoAnn Deak.  Dr. Deak wrote the following:  The most healthy and successful human being is one who can deal with ambiguity, figure out how to negotiate situations where the path or outcome is not clear.  Probably the worst thing we can do as adults to handicap our girls [and boys, I might add], is to encourage them in any way to want or need things in total order or control.  They’re already inclined that way.  The best thing we can do is to help them learn to grow in a climate where chaos – internal or external – is always in the three-day forecast.

I tell my kids often that one day they will thank us for this experience.  I’m hopeful that they will, but maybe they won’t.  But I have to say that they are learning how to deal with ambiguity and chaos.  They are learning how strong they can really be.  They are learning skills that will make them better adults and more aware as human beings.  They are taking a crash-course in resiliency.

I’m proud to be their mom. (But, man am I stressed out!)

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8 comments

  1. Heather M · April 11, 2011

    Raising kids is a challenge in so many ways. But the gift you are giving them of knowing there’s more out there in the world, and giving them these experiences, that gift is enormous in how they will approach life forevermore. Just so you know, it must be the public schools in Utah. My kids come home all the time with questions about what they heard at school. Or comments. Just 2 weeks ago my 9 year old came home and asked me what a very adult reaction to a very adult married activity is (starts with o). My 9th grader is forever talking about the sophomore class at their school and how they’re all potheads, this after knowing which girls were sleeping around by 8th grade. It’s just hard to raise kids these days, much harder than years ago. Too much too soon. 😦 But it sounds to me like you are doing a fabulous job, and your kids are going to be much better people for having this experience. You are awesome! 🙂

  2. Carrie C · April 11, 2011

    Hang in there. I think they WILL thank you! They will be more flexible, adaptable, accepting, open-minded world citizens from this experience, and you will be closer as a family as you pull together and rely on each other through the challenging times. No question that it is tough to be a minority in so many ways, but my kids who have grown up here and have now gone back to N. America tell me all the time how incredibly lucky they feel to have had this kind of growing up experience.

    Please know that much of what you are feeling is normal culture shock (google it). You are right on track! Which means you are not alone in this kind of experience, and that these feelings will not last forever. The honeymoon phase of your ‘adventure’ is over in many ways and now many things just seem really hard, really different, so unlike home that you can’t even understand why people think or act or live like they do here. Hang in there.

    The first year is the hardest. Most people feel much better after that first trip home and then coming back. I hope this is the case for you guys! Realizing that home is still there and you are not totally cut off from it and can be a part of both worlds and be ok, is a comforting feeling. Sometimes going back helps us realize that life is not perfect at home either (although when you go home there is no school, no work, no responsibilities and it is just one big summer party, so life there does seem pretty good!).

    Keep trying to learn the language (this is a key culture shock coping strategy), talk to friends (call me!!), surround yourself with positive people and experiences, pray often for direction and discernment to know which things to really focus on and how to help your kids (which I know you do), and keep your sense of humor (which you are SO good at!).

    Remember that you felt directed to come here, so rely on that inspiration you felt and trust that the Lord has you on this path for important reasons that you can not yet see. He does. He will not forget you!

  3. Michele Hopper · April 12, 2011

    They will thank you, I promise. It may not be right away, but once they are grown up they’ll see what they’ve done that other kids they’ve known haven’t. And they’ll have a better world view. I know my middle schooler especially (currently in public school) is appalled by how little the kids here relate to anything outside of Virginia.

  4. smallbitsfs · April 16, 2011

    This is such a great post Erin. Thanks for writing it.

    You have been included in the Weekly State Department Round Up here:
    http://smallbitsfs.blogspot.com/2011/04/state-department-round-up.html

    If you have a problem with any of the links or photos used, please let me know.

  5. Diane · April 18, 2011

    What an amazing mom you are! And you write so articulately. You are all remarkable…it will interesting to see the impact you have in your community there! Love from Texas…Diane

  6. cami gygi · May 1, 2011

    Love it all and I am so anxious to hear more of your life in Taipei. Keep the posts coming! We miss the Hales family.

  7. Erica · May 12, 2011

    Thank you so much for keeping this blog. My husband and I have seriously considered going into the foreign services about 5 times. This time we are actually going to do something about it and sign up for the exam. I know the chances are slim, but I am excited about the possibility, in the mean time I have enjoyed looking over your blog. I have enjoyed your positive, yet real look on life. We too have 4 children and so it was encouraging to see that you guys are getting along in your new life surroundings. When we were first married my husband and I lived in a small town outside of Taichung teaching English. I remember Taipei temple trips and then the obligatory trip to Costco. Our first daughter was even born there in Taiwan. Who knows maybe one day we will cross paths.

    • Erin · May 12, 2011

      Thanks Erica. FS life is really wonderful, don’t let my bad mood on the day I wrote that post affect your decision on whether or not to join. It has been really good for our family and I am really grateful we are having these experiences. Taipei is a great first post–and Costco is definitely one of the reasons it’s so great! 🙂

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