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As soon as we bring home our little bundle of joy, there is
one thing nearly ever mother is determined to figure out: how to be the perfect parent. Of course,
there are plenty of suggestions crowding the bookstore. Tiger Mom, Helicopter
Mom, Free Range Parent and the list goes on and on. However, there is a new philosophy worth
considering. Donna Gorman, author of "Am I Going to Starve to Death?: A Survival
Guide for the Foreign Service Spouse," says parenting like a diplomat is the
secret to success.
Gorman, who has raised her kids overseas, has adopted many
local customs from wherever her family has moved. The lessons she has learned
have been invaluable and can help so many of us as we struggle to bring up
happy, well-adjusted kids – and maintain our sanity in the process.
First off, she says, Get
Off Your Pedestal. Too many parents think they always must have the
right answer. They feel as though they are the authority figure on everything
their kids need. Though, when Gorman and her brood arrived to China, she didn't
speak a word of English and had to awkwardly figure out life, groceries and everything else her family needed. "They spent the next three years watching in
amusement my attempts to speak Chinese, drive without GPS or even just a park a
big American minivan in a tiny Chinese parking lot," she wrote in an essay for
Time. The benefit of learning how to live life on the fly?
Watching her struggle and sometimes fail (an often humorously) will teach them
that it's okay not to have all the answers in life and to be willing to search
for what works.
Another key to survival is Sometimes You Just Have to Fly Solo. At one point, her husband had
to take a yearlong assignment in Iraq while she and the kids stayed behind in
Jordan. Needless to say, it was tough cooking dinners, helping with the homework assignments and dealing with other family needs solo. However, it
taught her to relax on the need to be perfect. Some nights they had pancakes
for dinner and the laundry wasn't always done. She learned to let
it go – a move we could all benefit from.
She also insists that you need to Rethink Your Cultural Stereotypes. There are times she has had to
drop off her 5th grader on a crowded Jordan street to run into a
café to grab dinner while she circles the clock in the minivan. "GO! You'll be
fine!" she yelled. Of course those us stateside can't imagine sending a kid
for any errand in the Middle East. But the world is often nothing like we envision. To her, it's a no scarier
than sending a child off to school or the movie theater alone. You do what you
need to do no matter where you are.
Of course, wherever you live there will a range of rich and
poor. So, Be Ready For Extreme Contrasts
in Wealth. As a Foreign Service family, her kids attend private
international schools, so there are often uncomfortable conversations at the
dining table. She has to explain why they WON'T be jetting off to Cyprus for
holiday or why they don't each have iPhones. They have also been witness to overwhelming
poverty while living in Beijing. As tough as it is to explain, these
extremes are good for children to aware of. We certainly see it in American cities too.
Talk about it. It can help them understand that not everyone has access to
the same things and to be grateful for what they do have.
She also likes to Act
Live You're in Small-Town America. They often live in tiny, international
posts, so that means there are just be a handful of families to interact
with. If you are rude or unpleasant to be around, that can really affect your
relationships. So Gorman insists her kids don't spread rumors or be mean to
others. "When your teenager starts dating another teenager at post, you cross your
fingers that you won't lose a friend when the kids break up," she says. "On the
other hand, it sure is nice when a neighbor shows up with a plate of cookies
because she heard you were having a bad day."
Living abroad will force you to Rethink Your Parenting Safety Standards. Standing-room-only buses,
buying food from a questionably clean food cart are all are par for the course.
Fact of the matter is, we parents in general are entirely too paranoid about
everything. If you're hyper concerned all the time, your family will miss out
on incredible experiences.
Lastly, she encourages us to Be Both Emotional Glue and Adhesive Remover. Be attentive to your
kids, help them make friends when they are new, give them TLC when they
need it. But also know that both disappointment and change are good for them, even
if that means tears. As a diplomatic family, they know all too well the sting
of leaving a place they have grown to love. But our kids are
more resilient and stronger than we give them credit for.