How Moving to Kenya Made Me a Less Fearful Parent
Just four days after my family moved to Nairobi, Kenya, I was ready to jump on a plane back to California with my young son.
I spent the day with him at his new preschool, attended almost entirely by local children. My introverted and cautious child behaved exactly as I expected. He clung to me, refused to participate in activities, and looked terrified whenever someone spoke to him. When his teachers finally pried him off of me and kicked me out of the classroom, I could hear his wails from the other side of the school.
Later that day, I lay down in the fetal position and decided I was a horrible mother. What had my husband and I been thinking, asking a three-year-old to simultaneously adjust to a new country, culture, and school?
Over my son’s protests and my own fears, I took him to school again the following day. And the next. When I dropped him off on the third day, he said goodbye to me with a smile and ran off to find his new friends.
As many other new parents have experienced, I was stunned by the quick adaptability of my child. I was still struggling mightily to adjust to life in Kenya, but my pint-sized offspring had already hit his stride on a new continent. Perhaps coming here hadn’t been such a bad parenting decision after all.
When I was growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, my parents sheltered me as best they could. They carefully shuttled me from school to home to church and back again. We
stayed in communities they knew, with activities—such as Cantonese-language school and church fellowship meetings—they were familiar with.
As immigrants in a foreign land, my parents wanted to protect me from anything that might cause me harm. But the message I internalized was that the world was a scary place. I grew up believing I couldn’t handle the different and the unfamiliar; avoidance was my best option.
When, later on in life, I found myself in new environments—a secular liberal arts university, low-income neighborhoods, ethnically diverse workplaces, foreign countries—I realized how poorly equipped I was to adapt. All that sheltering had not prepared me for the challenges of adulthood in these new contexts.
Recent psychology research has demonstrated how stress can be good for us. Stretching ourselves beyond what we’re comfortable with actually builds resilience and self-confidence. We’re tested in new ways and find that we are okay, that we can do more than we realized.
As Christians, challenges help us discover that God is more present and faithful than we previously grasped. Our trust in him grows when we put ourselves in situations that force us to depend on him. It’s not always easy to recognize this when I’m in the midst of hardship. But God has shown up so many times when I’ve been in extremely stressful situations that I now have a long record of his mercies and his provision to encourage me when I feel overwhelmed.