Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about parenting and being a mother, what it means to raise children and what does that look like practically. I guess I’ve thought about it a lot since moving here to Bucharest, because, well, it keeps popping up in conversation nearly everywhere we go. Our family is not huge by any means; we have four children so far, but we’ve seen way bigger families in the States. Years ago, we would have just been an average-sized family there, or perhaps on the small side of average…back when people really believed when the Bible said that children are a blessing from the Lord.
But here in Romania, and Bucharest in specific, we are a big family, o familie mare. On the subway, on the tram, on the bus, walking down the street, shopping at the grocery store, ordering șase covrigi (six pretzels), taking a train ride to get out of the city for a day or two. We get stares. And everyone asking, “Are they all yours?” Sometimes my mind thinks about some of the clever responses I read in this article, but I always smile and say, “Da!” proudly. Because I am proud of my children. They are blessings from the Lord, precious gifts He’s given us to raise up as lights in the world to bring glory to Him! And most people usually respond with, “Să vă trăiască!” Something along the lines of, “May they live long!” However, I’ve gotten a few funny looks from people as they say, “Patru!?” (Four?!) And one or two older ladies would look solemn and talk about how difficult it must be.
Sometimes it gets old being stared at or always being asked if ALL the kids are mine, but it doesn’t really bother me. What I’ve been thinking about lately, though, is how much emphasis there is on external things. Are the kids’ ears covered so as to let no wind get in? No baby should be allowed to suck his thumb for any reason or it may get deformed. Girl babies should not be allowed to cry, and if they do, then the mother must not be a very good mother. Kids are bundled up in snow suits throughout fall and and winter (think of the little brother in “A Christmas Story”) with hats tied tightly under the chin. Etc.
I’m not picking on Romania either. Though the concerns about external things are different than in America, American mothers have their share of external worries: how organic or non-GMO is the food their kids are eating, how stylish are their kids clothes, are they involved in enough extra-curricular social activities? And so on. We want our kids to be physically healthy, for sure, but there’s more to life than physical health.
I feel like there is so much focus on external things when in comes to parenting. Dirty fingernails, messy hair, a McDonald’s meal on occasion is fine. The important things are the internal matters of the heart. Will your child obey the first time you tell him it’s time to go home from the park or will he sneak off and hide on the slide? Does your daughter whine every time you tell her no, so that you give in just to make her stop whining? The Bible says folly is bound up in the heart of a child. Kids are selfish, rebellious, stubborn, defiant, and whiny by nature. But we as parents are to train them up in the way they should go, so that, when they are older, they will not depart from the good way of love, submission, self-control, joy, peace, and life.
The tough thing is that you may not see the fruit of this labor of love for a while, or it may take others commenting on how loving, sharing, obedient, happy, and creative your kids are. My kids don’t always wear hats when it’s chilly outside. I let them dig in the dirt with their hands at the park, and I don’t always carry hand sanitizer with me to clean them off right away. Sometimes I forget to brush their hair. And I give them chocolate, white bread, and imported apples sometimes (Fresh Romanian apples really are superior, though). But when I’m sick, they pray for me. When one of them gets candy, they will share with another who did not get any. They love to read their Bibles and listen to worship music. They like visiting the gypsies with us to pray, worship, and share about Jesus–and then they pray for them and their family during their quiet times that they would know His love for them.
These things don’t just happen; it’s called work. Childbirth is easy compared to the lifetime of childtraining that follows. If you are a parent, you are responsible for a living soul made in the image of God. Man is interested in external things, but God looks at the heart. That’s what parenting is all about. My kids aren’t perfect (neither is their mother); they will argue, tattle, ask a zillion questions in the span of five minutes, interrupt, and whine sometimes. They’re kids. But they’re little gifts from heaven that we invest tons of time, energy, patience, and love into so that they can experience the abudant and eternal life set before them.
Jesus criticized the Pharisees for being whitewashed tombs, clean on the outside but full of death and darkness on the inside. I don’t want to be like that or have kids like that.
I have a lot more to say about motherhood, but I think it may just have to come in a series of posts.
I (Jessie) haven’t posted much on here lately, but Jake asked if I wanted to write the blog post tonight, so I decided to reflect on my observations as a mother from the United States here in a big city, in a different country, on a whole new continent. The truth is, after a little while of thinking back on our (almost) four weeks here, I realized a lot of things are not so drastically different from those back in the States.
Well, the first thing that would cause many overprotective mamas to cringe are the wild dogs. The situation is not as bad as it used to be, but for sure, if you visit here, the random, mangy looking dogs walking around all over the place will grab your attention. Our middle daughter Mae is pretty scared of dogs, so being here is forcing her to deal with that fear on a daily basis as we go out and walk to the grocery store, metro stop, bread shop across the street, and parks. She’s handling it better than I expected, but when a big ol’ scroungy looking animal comes up to you in the park while you’re eating, it’s a little frightening to a little kid. Kids should be able to have fun at a park, especially in a giant city like this, and not have to worry about stray dogs biting or chasing them. And there’s really nothing you can do. I guess a few years ago, the Romanian government proposed a euthanasia solution to the problem, but animal activists from elsewhere in Europe put up a big stink and the “solution” was only in effect for about a day. Ya know, I don’t like animal cruelty, but the 60,000 wild dogs that sometimes form packs and kill people here and bite dozens of people a day seem like good enough reasons to put a permanent “solution” in effect. The kind of lives these dogs lead are pretty pitiful anyway.
Ok, just one more thing on the dog rant. Jake shared this link that has a map of Bucharest with indicators of where all the wild dog packs hang out in the city. Apparently, one of the guys running for mayor created this and put it up online, so it’s probably not totally accurate, but funny, because every time there is an election, there are tons of promises from candidate about cleaning up the dog problem. But no one ever does.
Besides the dogs, our kids have gotten used to cramming onto buses and subway trains, crossing crazy busy streets where cars stop only inches from your legs (at least it feels like), playing on random little playgrounds scattered throughout the city streets (these are usually covered in graffiti but we’re used to that from Milwaukee), and playing outside late into the evening on hot nights. Sometimes we even cram our whole family into the backseat of someone’s car when we need a ride to IKEA or church. I guess, technically, we are supposed to have car seats for at least Isaac, but the rules aren’t too enforced here. They are adapting so well, with just a little timidity. We try to do special things with each kid occasionally, like take one with us to the grocery store, take another one to the bakery, go on a prayer walk with a couple of them one night, or take all of them for ice cream bars down the street. I can only imagine what’s going through their minds being so far from everything familiar.
Some differences I’ve noticed. In the States, we homeschooled. And we are continuing that here, even though it’s practically unheard of. There are a few families here in Bucharest, mostly from a Baptist background, who homeschool, and we hope to connect with them some time. In America, a city this size would have tons of homeschooling families, as it is becoming increasingly popular there. But here, with help from HSLDA, some families are finding ways to do it legally. You can read more about the situation through the HSLDA website. (I would link to it, but I cannot access the site right now for some reason.)
Along with that, not many mothers in general stay home with their children. The government offers new mothers the option to stay home with their child for up to two years and receive a percentage of their salary while they are at home. But after two years, most return to work, because it is very difficult to afford to live here on a single income. This is a hard thing for me to see, because I love being a mother and staying home with my children. It is an honor and a delight for me, and I’m thankful to God every day for this opportunity to pour into my children’s lives, to get to know them, to share the love of Jesus with them all day long as we go about our days, to instruct them in their schoolwork and tailor it to their specific learning styles and interests, and to just be with them. Though children are loved here in this culture, most families have only one child. That’s not even enough to replace the mother and father someday, and statistics are showing that the population of Romania–and Europe in general–is declining and aging. But that’s all for another post someday.
Some wonderful things I’ve seen as a mother here: the food is much healthier overall. The produce and bread we get is fresh and inexpensive and not covered in chemicals while being genetically modified in a factory somewhere. We can take the kids along to the market–where the older women gush over them saying “frumoase, frumoase” over and over while smiling and blowing them oodles of kisses–and they can help pick out the food grown here in Romania that we will eat later that day! Our girls, even though we live in a big city, get to walk a lot. We don’t have a car, so we walk to the bus stop or the metro stop, to the grocery store, around the mall across the street when in rains and we need to get out. There are puddles EVERYWHERE when it rains, so they can be kids and splash in them when we go out with umbrellas. There are several huge parks located near metro stops, so we can feel like we’re escaping the city and the kids can run around freely. And there are great museums where we can learn about the culture and life of Romania!
Overall, I’m enjoying my time here as a mother and wife and missionary and homeschool teacher. I’m excited for my children, my MK’s to grow up in a new place, learning a new language and culture, and have this experience with us. I can’t wait to find out even more!