Sunday, June 23, 2013

Awkward tensions.

Living cross-culturally we often find ourselves in situations where we are walking through awkward tensions.  One the one hand we want to embrace the culture that is hosting us.  One the other hand, we are so deeply engrained in the culture we knew for the great majority of our lives.  Sometimes, those two appear to be in conflict, although oftentimes, if we examine what's at the heart of the situation, we are able to find a route to walk.  It's not the American way.  It's not the Haitian way.  It's a third way. (NOTE: I would recommend the book "Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In.")

This kind of thing is not exclusive to cross-cultural living, or to our family.  I know so many of us who are interested in deep, meaningful relationships (and all the junk that brings with it) struggle through these tensions.  However, lately, I am really struggling with a specific aspect of relational/cross-cultural tension and I thought I'd write about it a bit in order to process it a bit, but also in order to open myself up to advice.

First let me give you the background on our family.

Nick and I have three American kids.  Nia and Josiah are biological.  We adopted Nico from Haiti several years ago, BEFORE we moved to Haiti.  All three have an American passport and full rights as American citizens.  

Our organization, Joy in Hope, has custody of 8 kids Nick and I parent.  Fritzie, Prisca, Wildarne, Jerry, Jean Louis, Yves, Sanndi, & Manita.  We VERY much see these kids as our kids.  We love them and cherish them as precious and irreplaceable members of our family.  JiH has permanent guardianship of them, but they are not legally adopted by Nick and I and therefore, do not share our last name, nor have American rights.

Nick and I (personally, not the organization) have custody of Schneider.  He came into our family about 2 years ago.  We decided we wanted another baby and decided to pursue adopting Schneider.  We've made small steps towards getting some of the paperwork done for that, but quite honestly, because of him living with us already and the confusion of the process in a post-quake (now Hague) Haiti, it has never seemed like too much of an urgent thing.  Further complicating this is our recent interest in adoption ethics and our desire to have a really good and transparent relationship with Schneider's birthmom.  We have brought her into the discussions of what we (as a team of people who want the best for Schneider) think would be the best scenario for him long term.  He is, at least for now, fully Haitian and does not have any American paperwork.  

So.  Those are our kids.  We have Americans, a Haitian-American, Haitians, and a Haitian who will likely one day become a Haitian-American.  85% of the time, this is not problem.  We have cohesion as a family and so nationality is somewhat secondary. 

Obviously, since we live in Haiti, when we have all the kids together we all speak Kreyol (as the Haitian kids don't speak English, nor do our staff.)  All of the kids eat Haitian food. All the kids go to Haitian church. All the kids have Haitian friends in the neighborhood they play with.  All the kids have equal responsibility for chores and work in the home.  They all live in crowded bedrooms of at least 4 people/room.  In short, we have a lot of components of a Haitian lifestyle that we all participate in.

However, we do not live in a typical Haitian house.  We live in a 6 bedroom house that is not excessive, but is also not what the average Haitian family would live in.  My kids and staff get fed three times per day, which is often a stretch for many Haitian families.  We have no struggles being able to afford necessities. We have a generator (albeit small) offering backup power for when city power doesn't work.  We are able to afford clean water.  We have tutors that help them with their schoolwork.  We have staff that do a lot of the day-to-day cooking and cleaning, which affords us time to participate in regular recreational activities with the kids as an entire family, a luxury many Haitian families do not have.  So we also have a lot of components of a North American lifestyle that we all participate in.

The things we have in common make up the 85% of our lives I mentioned before.  The remaining 15% present some problems.  While we do have a lot of things that unite us, there are also things that make the family feel disjointed at times.  The big three on this list--
  • The American kids get to travel to America and participate in that whole aspect of our lives-- friends, food, family, privilege. (As well as a long history of an in-tact family who loves and cherishes them.)
  • The American kids (and Schneider) sleep upstairs with Nick and I and are schooled at home rather than in a local Haitian school.
  • The American kids sometimes get invited out by other American friends to do fun American stuff that doesn't include the Haitian kids. (In fairness, The Haitian kids also get invited out by Haitian friends to do fun Haitian stuff that doesn't include the American kids.)
As we grow closer as a family, these differences are becoming more and more of a barrier for us.  I would love to be able to offer all my kids the same opportunities.  Unfortunately, because of their nationality, that simply is not possible.  And so these are some of the tensions that are always in play in my mind.
  • The American 3 have so much more opportunity and privilege than the other kids.  We can try to "even it out" as much as we want to, but that's just the reality and I don't see that changing.  And that makes me feel guilty-- really guilty.  AT THE VERY SAME TIME, I feel guilty because Nia, Nico, and Josiah don't have the same privilege as their American friends and cousins.   I feel like I am robbing them of opportunities they would have to do things like participate in sports, be around extended family, have better educational opportunities, have access (all the time) to good regular and emergency healthcare, etc.
  • The Haitian 9 are growing up with privileged lives in Haitian standards.  They have a lot more opportunity for stable living conditions, ethical treatment, and educational/life/family support when compared with most of their peers living in orphanages and institutions. AT THE VERY SAME TIME, I feel guilty that they don't get to have the same opportunities that the American kids have. (Not to mention that they wouldn't know about a lot of what they are "missing" except for that they are in our family.)  I also feel guilty that are having to grow up with my Americanized view of Haiti.  The longer I live here, the more I realize that I am SO under-equipped to shepherd my Haitian kids through difficult situations appropriately because of my lack of Haitian cultural understanding (which, while it is growing everyday, is still in infancy).    
I want to learn and grow in ways we handle these tensions. I really, REALLY want to raise my children well.   I want them to know and understand the love we have for them that is not conditional.  But I feel like I am always disappointing someone.  I feel like as the kids are getting older, we are all becoming more aware of how much everyone is missing out on because Nick and I decided to move to Haiti 4+ years ago.  And I don't want that to be the focus of our lives because we have so many fantastic, wonderful, amazing privileges and opportunities that are present of our family because of the crazy blend of all of us!

So, practically, I'd like some advice on a few things:
  • How do we teach our children (and ourselves) to embrace cultural differences gracefully?  
  • How do we come to terms with the reality that there are two different sets of opportunities based on the two different nationalities we have in our family?  And further, how do we walk through life together well without ignoring these inequities.  (Because I feel like that's just what we do now.)
  • How do we partner efficiently and intentionally with people here in Haiti who can be a cultural sounding board for us?  We have friends and staff that we love and trust, but no one who is intentionally in the role of educating/correcting us about the cultural appropriateness of our actions with our kids.
  • How do I distinguish between "mom guilt" (which all mother's have to some extent and is something we just have to live with) and true guilt?  (By true guilt I mean something wrong that I am guilty of and needs to be corrected.) 

I'd love feedback.  Post it here in a comment or send it along to


  1. Hi, I guess at some Point I laid down my guilt backpacks, and said God only those burdens u need me to carry I will. We are now 3 years out of )Haiti, the reasons we left are to complex for a meet and greet answer. 2adopted 4 bio. Lived in Haiti for 15 years. State side those issues r still strong in the poor rural South . The world struggles to integrate. Pray with out ceasing.

  2. I don't have any great suggestions, just that your post is a perfect example of how messy life is, and that I love how you are open to being vulnerable and sharing reality with us, instead of giving us some pretty picture that you think we expect.

    I am reminded of something Jonathan B said a couple years ago in a message... something like "Fairness is the antithesis of grace." "Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone." Something like that. I wish I could remember which message that was.

    I guess if God were focusing on fairness, then none of us would have his grace. I don't know that this is incredibly helpful with your situation with your children, but it just came to mind.

    Thanks for all you do. Hang in there.

  3. As I was reading this, I was thinking that it doesn't sound too much different from any large family dynamics. With all my grandchildren here a lot of the time I have to deal with who is allowed to do what in which home.... and who gets their feelings hurt because someone else gets to do something they can't. And so on.

    I also was thinking how far you HAVE come in understanding "Haitian ways" (which may be part of your problem now - knowing too much :-) But I'm sure you will keep on learning and growing and being able to deal.

    Another thing that came to mind was..... where your help comes from. And, as long as you keep remembering all the Lord has done for you along the way.... I know that you will have peace about what is coming and how to deal with it.

    You guys are truly "good and faithful servants" (even though you may not feel like it all the time.
    I echo Leslie.... HANG IN!
    -Chris Thompson

    <3 Ch

  4. Great post. With this kind of love in your hearts, you really can't do anything wrong. That's about all I have in response to your questions. If your heart is on doing the will of the Father, you might make plenty of parenting mistakes, but you won't be doing anything wrong.


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