Missionary Parenting – A Balancing Act

5:30 AM – alarm rings…just a few more minutes…Titus was up again last night…so sleepy…5:35 – Nope, no more sleeping; I’m up!

I’ve learned with parenting a 3-year old and 8-month old that my sanity and healthy outlook on the day depend greatly on how I start it. If I opt for two more glorious hours of sleep, I will open my eyes to instant needs and demands. “Mama, can I have milk? Can I have a gummy (vitamin)? I want cereal!” All the while, Titus is crawling all over me, always believing he needs just a little more attention from Mama. I love my children immensely. But, I am not a chatty, peppy morning person, so starting the day this way makes for a grumpy Mama. And you know what they say: “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!”

What I’d like to pretend it looks like in the morning at my house…

Nora and Titus

…and what it really looks like!

Welcome to my day

As I mentioned in a previous post, this blog was partially inspired by a friend who asked me to share what it’s like to be a missionary mom and wife. Once my kiddos wake up, my day looks pretty much like this: change a diaper, feed someone, clean up a mess, wash the dishes, read a book, play a game, change another diaper…and repeat…and repeat again…and again…if you are a mom reading this, you know exactly what I’m talking about! Most of the actual “what” I do here is not that different than what I did in the States as a mom, but the “how”…that’s where the differences, the challenges, lie.

Expecting the unexpected

For example, we lose electricity on a fairly regular basis. It’s not usually out for long, but you can’t be 100% certain that your laundry will be done as planned or your crockpot won’t shut off while you’re gone for the day. We don’t have dryers in Ukraine, so we hang all our clothes to dry.  I actually find this particular chore relaxing, but let’s be real – it does take more time than throwing it all in the dryer.

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It’s common to see clothes hanging out apartment windows

Image by Kai Oberhauser via Unsplash

We live in a small village outside L’viv, which has the benefits of being a little quieter, and we actually have a yard where our kids can play – a huge blessing! One downside is losing internet. Two days this week, I’ve woken up at 5:30 to do some work online before Titus and Nora got up…only to find that we had no internet, no idea why, and no way to resolve the problem until the internet company opened at 9 AM…when the kids are wide awake.

Our water is from a well, so we don’t lose water like we occasionally did in the city…well, except when we lose electricity. The pump can’t get the water to us at that point! So, we always keep a few 6 liter bottles of tap water in the house, for flushing toilets and washing hands as needed.

It’s been our experience that things here break down a lot and that repairmen are infamously late or no-shows. If they are “supposed” to come at noon, I don’t expect them before 4 PM, and it’s not a big surprise if they don’t show at all. Sometimes they call to explain, sometimes they don’t. Last year we were without a working refrigerator for a month, and the “kotel” (system that heats the house and the tap water) was on the brink for just as long in the middle of winter.

We don’t drink the tap water here. You can buy it in bottles, take your empty bottles to a water kiosk for refills, and get water from a fresh spring (which we haven’t tried yet). We have our water delivered in 18 liter bottles, a convenience we didn’t have in Ukraine when I was growing up and one that I’m infinitely thankful for.

18 liter bottles

I love to cook, love to try new recipes, different ethnic foods, and complicated recipes that stretch my abilities, and we love to eat! But, my cooking has changed somewhat here, between devoting more time to our kids and dealing with cooking challenges I didn’t have in the States.

When I plan meals, I often find that I can’t make dishes because we can’t get certain ingredients…well, lots of ingredients, actually. We’re also very limited to seasonal produce here, unlike in the States, where I could pretty much find anything anytime (for a price, of course). We have very few pre-cut, pre-cooked, pre-prepped ingredients or produce. I have an entire cookbook of “20-minute” meals, which usually take me twice as long to make here, since, for example, I can’t buy a bag of pre-cut carrots, and I have to make all my own dressings and sauces. On the upside, we eat a lot healthier now, and I don’t think I could ever go back to store-bought salad dressings!

Another challenge about life in Ukraine is transportation. Many people own cars now, and we were recently given one to use – a HUGE blessing with little kids! But people still commonly use public buses, trams, and trolleys. You can wait anywhere from five to twenty minutes for public transport. From our home, it takes about half an hour to get to church on transport and 45 minutes to an hour to get into the center of town. Sometimes transport is crammed so full that you can barely move. When I was pregnant with Titus, I got on a full bus once and actually had to yell out, “I’m pregnant, be careful!” to avoid elbows and getting shoved into a metal bar in my abdomen!

Healthcare from the ’50s

The single greatest challenge for me as a mama on the mission field is healthcare. Without a doubt, my greatest fear is that one of our kids will get seriously ill and will need to have a major treatment or surgery here in Ukraine. Over the years as a missionary kid, I had plenty of encounters with the healthcare system in Ukraine. There were routine visits to the doctor, tests for tuberculosis, treatments for minor injuries and illnesses. My dad and two of my siblings were hospitalized. In the two years we’ve lived in L’viv, I’ve had two hospital stays.

Healthcare in Ukraine has been described as America in the 1950’s. The equipment, technology, sanitation, procedures, and protocols are generally a far cry from the standards we have in the States. When you stay in the hospital here, you bring everything yourself – your bed linens, hospital clothes, medicine, bandages, some food and drinks, toilet paper, and more.

When our son was born here, he and I stayed in the hospital for the routine four days post delivery. There were twelve women and their newborns in our room. As you can imagine, I barely slept during those four days. There was one bathroom for the entire post delivery floor. It had three toilets with no toilet seats, and other than first thing in the morning, it was filthy all day. So, you’re faced with a difficult decision (sorry to be graphic here): sit on the nasty, dirty toilet with no seat or squat over it after having just given birth an hour before! There was one shower for the floor, but no hot water. I finally washed my hair three days after giving birth – the water was so icy cold that I got a headache!

hospital supply list
List of supplies we had to bring to the hospital ourselves when Titus was born, including (but not limited to) syringes, IV tubing, and the clip for the umbilical stump
delivery room
Delivery room where Titus was born

Thankfully, medical staff here in L’viv has proven generally to be kinder than we experienced in other Ukrainian cities where I grew up. But, even here, you get doctors who act as though you are inconveniencing them by being sick. In one very difficult, emotional situation we faced here, my doctors were very cold and lacking in compassion. As you can imagine, when you’re facing an already sad and scary situation, it becomes even harder to cope when you have to be tough and fend off harsh words or attitudes from your doctors.

These are just a few of the reasons I fear facing serious health problems with our kids in Ukraine. I want them to be safe and feel loved and protected, especially when they’re sick. I’m not generally a panicky parent, but I’ve found that if in the States, I would wait out a symptom and not stress, here even a small health concern tempts me to give in to anxiety. This regularly stretches my faith and challenges me to remember that the God who called us here is faithful and sovereign. He loves our kids even more than we do, and He holds their lives and well being in His hands.

Every day is a balancing act

Life here in L’viv is constantly a balancing challenge in our family. Josh serves on the church staff and is involved in sound ministry, English cafe, and some discipleship. He also works remote for an Indiana-based tech company.

English cafe
Josh sharing at English cafe

I am constantly praying about how to balance managing our home, investing in our children, and involvement in church ministry. When I lived in Ukraine as a single missionary, I was out doing ministry from morning to night and loved it! Now that I’m married and have two little ones at home, we believe that my primary calling is to pour into our family. Someone recently reminded me that our kids are the two most important people for me to disciple right now. We want them to feel secure in our love and attention.

I start my day between 5:30 and 6:00 so that I can read my Bible and work a little before Nora and Titus wake up. Between mornings and nap times I’m able to do a little ministry work on the computer, helping with church projects, blogging, and writing messages to young women in the church to develop relationships and encourage them whenever I can.

Gotta have my coffee in the morning!

Image by David Mao via Unsplash

I have a heart to disciple young women, especially those who are newly married or entering that season of life. Every culture has its own challenges and its own strengths, especially in areas like marriage and parenting. In recent years, I’ve seen a noticeable difference in marriages and parents in Ukraine between the time of my childhood and now. Compared to earlier years, I more regularly encounter healthy marriages and families now, especially in Christian families.

However, culturally, the family unit has not always been strong in Ukraine, and it is still a common challenge we see in ministering to families. Ukrainian friends have told me that this is partially due to wars and conflicts that kept dads away and left moms to run the house. Even now, Ukraine is at war, with many of our men fighting in the East. Also, marriage by necessity or because “that’s what you do” is a much more recent norm here than in the States. The result is often marriages that are not based on Biblical principles and lead to conflict and lack of peace in the home.

Now that I’m a mom taking my kids to the parks and spending more time around other parents, I’ve noticed that Biblical patterns of parenting are not a cultural norm, either. It seems that often parents indulge their children in order to keep them from throwing fits, but once the child pushes them far enough, the parent loses their patience and becomes extremely harsh, yelling and saying things that must be very humiliating to the child.

Image 1 by I’m Priscilla via Unsplash; Image 2 by Jordan Whitt via Unsplash

Because I am home most of the time with our own family, it is a natural ministry to have young women come visit us. My heart is that when they are here, they will see an example (definitely not a perfect one!) of a Christian family that is growing and learning together, being led by the Spirit, resolving conflicts peaceably, and raising children with consistency and love. I hope they see that we make mistakes and do our best to learn from them.

I try to visit with at least two girls each week in person, developing relationships. I love listening to people and getting to know them, and I have a heart to support, encourage, and challenge young women in their walk with God and how it applies to their everyday lives. These visits are often just as challenging and encouraging to me, and I’m so thankful for the friendship of each woman!

Josh and I also feel called to encourage young couples and families, so we have people over or get together with people in town a couple times a month. We both feel passionately about the need to focus couples on true Biblical principles of marriage, which aren’t defined by society, culture or media. We’ve been blessed to go through pre-marital counseling with several couples, and we’d love to do that more as the church grows in families.

I’m also involved in worship ministry, although my role there has change significantly over the two years we’ve lived here. I led Sunday worship services for about a year. The last couple months of my pregnancy with our son, I gave up the guitar and led vocally, and my last Sunday on stage was five days before Titus was born. At that point, I remained an overseer and provided guidance to the worship team, holding regular devotional times with them. Now, I remain available as an advisor, but I primarily help organize and host monthly meetings of the worship and sound ministries, where we fellowship, do team building activities, worship, and study the Bible together.

A good and perfect gift

So there you have it – a bird’s eye view of my life as a wife and mom who serves on the mission field. As is true in most lifestyles, it’s not always romantic, exciting, adventurous. Some of it is mundane, a lot of it is frustrating. Sometimes I laugh out loud at the absurdity of it all, sometimes I cry.

But whether it is joyful, fulfilling, maddening, comical or heart-breaking, it is worth it – every day. It is an immense blessing to care for my family and to serve God and His work here in L’viv, a privilege that we prayed for, a life that we are so thankful to live.

I hope that today and this week, you will be conscious of God’s gracious working in your life, as well, and that God will remind you, as He does me, that He gives every good and perfect gift to His children!

6 thoughts on “Missionary Parenting – A Balancing Act

  1. Thanks for sharing such an indepth look into your lives! It’s wonderful to hear about your joys and your struggles! Keeping you all in thought and prayer! Blessings, Aunt Marta


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