Monday, December 10, 2012

In Defense of Raising a Foreign Service Kid

You know how there are certain people in your life who exist as mere acquaintances, people you say hello to in passing, share casual conversation with every now and then, and move on?  And you know how those people never really say anything relevant to you or your life (and vice versa) and you never really think about them or what they have said until the next inevitable casual encounter? 
Well, what if one of those people, one who is meant to exist in the perimeter of your life, said or did something that left you reeling, frustrated, pissed off beyond comprehension and questioning your future life plans? 
Last week, that happened to me.  An acquaintance whom I have only known for about a year, started asking questions about our upcoming move to Turkey, S's job, and our future plans after we leave Turkey.  When I explained to her that we will be in Turkey for two years, then moving back to D.C. for more training before taking off to another country, etc., her response was one of disgust.  And she uttered the following words that left me feeling like I had been punched in the gut and slapped in the face at the same time. 
She said, "That is no way to raise a child.  I can't believe you're doing that to your son."
Yup, that one hurt. Big time.  And it left me feeling like the worst mother in the world.  At the time, I just clenched my teeth and smiled politely while trying to defend mine and S's decision to move forward with the Foreign Service, explaining that it would be a wonderful opportunity for E, yadda yadda.
But what I really wanted to do was scream.  And I wanted to tell her to mind her own business, to raise her children as she sees fit, and I will raise mine as I see fit.  I wanted to tick off all the great things about the FS lifestyle, like the educational opportunities, the chance to learn other languages, or opportunities to travel to places some people can't even dream of.  I wanted to tell her about all the positive things this life will hopefully bring to our family.  But all those thoughts were drowned out by my own guilty conscience. 
You see, if there is anything I have ever doubted about this life we have chosen, it is the impact it will have on E.  You name it, I have worried about it.  Will he make friends easily?  Will he do okay in school?  Will he adjust to living in a new home/new school/new country every few years?  Will he be okay with a Skype relationship with his grandparents, or will he be upset that he doesn't get to see them very often?  Will he grow up to resent us for moving him around so much, never really giving him roots? 
I am sure I am not the first or last FS parent to have these doubts, so to have this person boldly tell me this was "no way to raise a child," not only made me angry, it also made me stop and really think.   And the fact is, I don't know.  The answers the above questions can't be answered right now, but neither could they be answered if we hadn't chosen the FS life. Raising children is hard and as the old cliche goes, you aren't given a manual when the kid is born.  You make decisions that are in the best interest of your children, and hope those decisions help them become smart, caring and well-adjusted adults.
In the end, I firmly believe S and I made the right decision about joining the Foreign Service.  We know this is not just a career, but a lifestyle.  And it is one we thought long and hard about.  It is not decision we made lightly. And we chose this life because we feel it will be a great way to raise a child, not the opposite.
Yes, this life will have its challenges, but so would any lifestyle for that matter.  Life, no matter if you live in the same small town for 50 years or all over the world before the age of 21, is hard.  It has it's ups and downs, it's good times and bad.  But as parents, we do the best we can.
So to the acquaintance (who I will never speak to again because yes, I am holding a grudge) this is the way we are choosing to raise our child.  And we feel it is a damn good choice, so deal with it.  And next time, think before you speak.

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