Ever had a friend whose passion occasionally outpaced his good judgment? Maybe you’re like, Dude. I love your heart. But you’re killing me.
You can see where I might be going with this. I’ve heard someone casually remark that one of the larger obstacles to your generation going overseas might actually be your parents. As possibly one of the most protected, safety-conscious generations in history, the struggle is real.
Seared in my memory is the moment we mentioned to my husband’s side of the family we were considering moving to Africa. We were all clustered in my sister-in-law’s sitting room–and it was as if someone had yelled, “Draw!” as the iPhones were yanked out. My relatives started to read aloud of this country whose headlines they hadn’t been near as invested in just two minutes ago. (As luck would have it, there’d been some rioting.) My husband and I had young kids at the time; our youngest was two and a half. The anxiety (um, probably of the same variety of the one I’d been attempting to wallop myself and was now smiling casually around) was palpable. (Malaria? I don’t think it will be that much of a thing. And politicial unrest, schmolitical unrest, I always say.)
But separately, my husband told his father, with whom he’s particularly close. And in that experience, we both picked up on a critical tip to helping your family get on board with your big decision (and in relationships in general). See, my husband longed for his dad to be onboard with our decision. But he wanted his dad to have the freedom not to be, right?
So he told his dad something like, I want to talk to you about something that’s really important to me. I would love for you to be excited, catch my vision, and dream a bit with me. You don’t have to. But I want to let you know what I’m hoping for.
Here’s what I’m hoping you’ll do.
You don’t have to react that way. I want to give you space to process this.
But rather than letting my unspoken/un-agreed upon expectation manipulate both of us, let’s eliminate the mind-reading.
My father-in-law (who’s not of the people-pleasing variety) responded just the way my husband had deeply hoped. He and I learned a key tip on relating: Without constraining people, it’s okay to let them know what you hope for in your relationship. Eliminate some of the mind-reading, right?
Bonus: It helped build our own enthusiasm, and our relationship with his dad, amidst our own freak-out factor.
It was a total win for my husband and for his relationship with his dad. Who knew asking for what you’re hoping for relationally could be so rewarding?
“I DON’T THINK THEY’RE GOING TO GET IT.”
It’s entirely possible they won’t. Maybe they don’t share some of the values propelling your vision forward. But just as you’ll need to work with a yawning chasm between your values and those of your host culture, your family needs that same patience, compassionate understanding, perseverance, and humility Try to set aside what their reaction means for you–not demanding the approval you crave–and imagine how it would feel to be your mom, or your dad. What’s beneath their concern?
What I’m saying: Bring them alongside you in this journey (maybe not physically–but yes, I’ve known some moms to fly over that first time and care for the kids while the global workers establish themselves and figure out how to buy groceries. A picture is worth a thousand words).
BEFORE “THE TALK”
Pray for wisdom on the whens and wheres to talk about this with your family. And before you ever talk with them, pray to love them well. Ask God to build their experiences and their courage to be open to this. You’re not asking permission, but their blessing usually does matter to most of us. And even if they don’t “get it”? Loving them well matters intensely.
Remember 1 Corinthians 13:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels…and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains…If I give away all I have…but have not love, I gain nothing.
Just as with you, God’s using the journey itself to craft them. But hear out their anxieties (without buckling beneath them). Give your family an arena to be truly understood in their concerns without your judgment or emotional reaction (aka emotional and spiritual maturity.). It’s strikingly similar to the response I’m guessing you crave from them.
Like you, they hope to be received and accepted within their doubts and concerns. As in any communication, seek to understand the heart behind all the emotional static and how they’re expressing themselves. Find the 1% of what they’re saying that’s true (Okay, yes, I have a history of being emotionally impulsive. Yes, I see that this is a more dangerous place to raise your grandkids). Own 100% of it.
Give family the time and space to ask questions and hear your heart–and your well-considered wisdom. Show them you’re teachable and not just headstrong.
It could make the difference between a strained relationship weighing your down in a time where you’ll be repeatedly stretched thin…and a crowd cheering you on.
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