By Lori Vernon, The Vernon Journal
Yup, I really do live in a hut, complete with bamboo walls and a grass roof. My husband and I are Americans living in Thailand. We’ve been here for six years working with an organization that focuses on helping the Akha, one of the minority people groups in the area. There are no Akha language schools and no Akha Rosetta stone, so when we arrived, the only way for us to learn the language and culture was through pure immersion. This is our great adventure: being the only English speakers in a village perched on the side of a mountain in Northern Thailand…
As you can imagine, raising two daughters in this environment presents an entirely new set of challenges for parenting. Here’s what I have learned as a parent in a foreign land.
Parenting Lesson #1:
Let go of your preconceived notions of what being a parent looks like.
Having grown up in middle class America, I always imagined myself raising a child in the traditional American manner… you know, nursery, cribs, high chairs, strollers. However, when my first baby was born, we had been living in an Akha village for two years. And let me tell you, strollers and cribs just don’t work here. When that little, tiny, perfect baby girl arrived, there was no way I was putting her in a crib in the next room when I knew there were giant spiders and other various creatures wandering in and out of our loosely woven bamboo walls. No sir, that baby was staying with me! Thus began our family bed and co-sleeping journey (which, for the record, were terms I had never even heard of at the time!) And as for strollers, well, even the toughest off-road jogging stroller simply wouldn’t cut it on a narrow, muddy and steep village path. So, again, we did it like the Akha and learned to tie our precious bundle on our backs as we trudged up and down the mountains. Even though I never planned on these things, cosleeping and baby wearing have become a treasured part of our family. So keep an open mind, you never know what you might be missing by residing in your comfort zone.
Parenting Lesson #2:
Have thick skin when it comes to receiving parenting advice.
Being the only foreigner in the village made me a prime candidate to receive advice from nearly everyone! Asian traditions dictate that mother and baby both wear hats following birth, so I had a million mothers and grandmothers constantly telling me that my newborn baby was surely going to get seriously ill if I didn’t put a stocking hat on her…. in 100 degree weather (that’s nearly 40 celsius for all you readers in Oz)! This, and a million other situations like it, taught me to be very good at assigning positive intent. I had to remind myself that they were trying to help and to simply respond with a smile and a nod, while, at the same time, remaining firm in the things I felt were right for us. In the end, it’s too much trouble to fret over the comments that people will inevitably make; mothers have enough to worry about without the opinions and advice of the rest of the world.
Parenting Lesson #3:
Sometimes you just have to stop worrying.
We live in a hut… on the side of a mountain. This is not really a very baby proof-able place. Our walls are held together with sharp rusty wire and our front walkway has a 7 foot drop off. My toddler once (after reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar) found a caterpillar in her poo… actually, it was intestinal worms. I know gross, huh? The fact is, we don’t live in a clean or safe place; but, you know what? With a little anti-parasite medication, we’re all healthy, happy, and doing fine. Odds are, if you’re reading this, your home is A LOT cleaner and safer than those in the majority of the world. Even without baby proofing and hand sanitizer, kids around the world have been growing up into productive adults for thousands of years. So remind yourself what an amazingly clean, safe and stimulating world your kids are privileged to live in, then take a deep breath, relax and let them play in the dirt every once in a while.
Parenting changes everything; whether you live in a suburban house full of baby gear or an isolated rural hut, parenting will always defy your expectations. While I’m certain my experiences are pretty unique, I think the lessons here are ones that every parent faces to some degree or another… being in a cross-cultural environment simply amplified them for me.
Being a parent is an adventure for everyone, what have you learned in your adventures?
Bio: Lori Vernon is a missionary mom sharing God’s love among the Akha people of Northern Thailand with her best friend and husband, Paul. She is primarily a stay-at-home mom to her two daughters (ages 4 and 1) but also teaches at an Akha Bible college once a month. You can learn more about the Vernon’s life and ministry among the Akha at Vernonjournal.com.
Dear friends, my guess is that you don’t live in an environment like Lori’s, but no doubt becoming a parent has taught you some similar lessons of your own. What is one piece of advice you would give yourself if you could go back and speak to your newly pregnant self? (Thank you Lori for a great post… and please know that I will never, ever read the Hungary Catapilliar the same again!!)