Raising any child has its challenges. Some of them turn out to be blessings for the parents, and others can be heartbreaking.
We are raising a child on the opposite side of the world from my family. In our home, I speak English to him, and his mother speaks Russian. Lenka is from the Eastern Side of the Ukraine, and because of that, she speaks predominantly Russian. His cousins are from the Central Western side, so he hears them speaking Ukrainian. Because of this, he uses English with me and Russian with his mom and her family and friends. Dave is up to five words in both English and Russian. The doctors were amazed at what he could say at his first health review.
With my friends and family living across the globe, we take advantage of Skype and Facebook messenger’s video features for him to get to know everyone. My best friend, who calls Dave his nephew, has even gone to the trouble of waiting up until around 2 am in Alaska to call my son and wish him a happy birthday. Honestly, you need to see them communicating to understand how deep of a connection they have made through the Internet. Not to add confusion to the matter, but my best friend’s name is also Dave. They laugh and carry on together. My son starts bouncing up and down when he sees Dave’s photo on Facebook messenger, knowing that Dave will be on the other end and wait to talk to him. I believe that Dave will understand certain things my son will go through much better than myself as he was born in Iran to a British mother and an Iranian father. At the ripe old age of two, he moved to Southern California where he grew up.
With full disclosure, my father’s family is Scots-Irish, and I am constantly trying to keep my son as close to that culture as possible. My grandfather was excellent at telling me Celtic tales. The wise man he was had my hyperactive “arse” digging little leprechaun traps in the backyard all of the time. He was kind enough to remind me to check my traps. I don’t know why, but it always seemed to be when I had a long story to tell him, or I was bouncing on the furniture. He was a colossal, kind, and loving man. When he spoke the ground rumbled under your feet, but not once did I ever hear him yell or scream at anyone. I do my best by having my son listen to Celtic Woman, Julia Fowlis, and other Irish folk music. Last week, I stumbled across Janet Devlin. Dave now gets upset if I do not play “Working for the Man” while he is in his dancing mood. My friends on Facebook know how he loves to dance to music.
One of the most beautiful things about raising a child in a foreign country is that they experience a whole world that would be difficult to see without a tour guide. There are so many things you will not see or understand in a country without a child. I had been here for years, and through my son, I noticed things I hadn’t ran across before; things that I am very thankful to know about now. Some things, such as the superstitions with children, prove interesting. For instance, in the Ukraine, they are afraid of baby photos online because someone may cast them the evil eye. I found some of the most intelligent and worldly people I know here freak out about this. Just interesting. They could not understand me showing pictures of my son with friends and family over Facebook. It shocked me and proved my point that the cultural nuances between countries continue to vary, even in today’s connected world.
One of my biggest struggles as a father in a foreign country is which country is best for my son’s education. Both American and Ukrainian schools have pluses and minuses. My son is also very close with his grandma over here, and I am afraid that it would be a lot on him to be away from her.
To be honest, I have thought about moving to Ireland or Northern Ireland instead of staying here. I have even considered moving back to the United States. This could be a selfish move because I have been feeling my roots calling on me during the last couple of years. Somehow I have managed to collect a lot of Irish friends, even while I am here in the Ukraine. We connect via social media, and more often than not they end up suggesting we move there.
Another largest challenges we face is prejudice from family members who have backward thinking and beliefs. We struggle with this. I am unsure if my son will ever meet some of his cousins because of this. Sadly, a lot of people think that any Eastern-European country is and always will be Russia. For some of my followers you know I used to live in Hollywood, but not too many knows I was born in a backwoods coal town.
My mother’s boyfriend asked me if I was home to “get my Russian Visa.” He asked, “What difference does it make?” I asked him what made him proud of being Canadian. Of course, he got angry proclaiming he was American. My comment fell on deaf ears. This prejudice is highlighted by my siblings leaving out that I am married on my mother’s obituary. They were kind enough to say I lived in Russia. I let this go, because, at a time like this, no one needs a scandal. Because this is typical for them, I took it with a grain of salt.
The reason I am being so candid with this article is that I want my readers to understand who I am and where I come from. I have never been one to be afraid to go out and experience new things. My neighbor is from Nigeria and I enjoy our talks. Until him, I knew very little of that country. He and I have the same idea of how to deal with people who hate what they do not know. They really hate themselves. We just shrug it off. You cannot allow it to bring out the worse in you. Your child will see repeat your poor behavior when they get older.
So what does a parent do in this situation?
1. I try to do my best to shield my son from the ignorant people until he is old enough to understand that he should feel pity and not anger towards them. Answering hate back with hate will never solve the problem. There is a time to show strength and a time to show grace in ugly situations.
2. We have decided to have Dave surrounded by hopeful people. My friend Don who acts as my moral compass and father figure when I need. He and his Devotional blog will be a big part of Dave’s life. His family in whole are a great example to show my son and show him some things I cannot. We all have our strengths and weaknesses.
One thing I know for sure is that children who are born overseas get a gift of experiencing multiple cultures and a better understanding of people that are different than them.
Have fun and enjoy your little one.