Confession # 2: I’m a 1st World Gal Learning to be a Mama in the 3rd World

Dalen and Jill Fort Liberty

Almost two years I became a mom.

Not by childbearing.

Not even by adoption, really.

But by picking up a little girl into my arms and vowing that I would never let her go, and then by meeting her brother.

Occasionally, the cold-hard fact that I am now a mom catches me off guard. You’d think because I have been one for close to two years now that reality would have settled in, but it really hasn’t.

Perhaps it is because I was never pregnant. Perhaps it is because I never had time to prepare. Perhaps it is because it wasn’t planned. I mean, I was kinda childless one day and then mom to a two a year old the next. That isn’t normal! Nobody ever threw me a baby shower. I never sent out baby announcements. I never decorated a nursery or made a registry at Babies-R-Us. None of those “normal” American baby momma things you do to prepare and celebrate- Ya, I never got to do any of them.

And this isn’t me complaining. I am by no means mourning this loss. Instead, I am just evaluating my story- the story of a girl who became a mom to two older kids in a 3rd world country.

I never really realized how different my story was until the other day when I wiped my spit on Dalencia’s face. We were downtown and she had dried snot plastered all over her upper lip. So what was I to do? I licked my finger and wiped it off, of course! Why not? Isn’t that what all moms do? That is what the moms at my Haitian church do. That is what the nannies at our orphanage do. So that is what I do. I thought all was good until I looked up to find a white, American woman looking at me from the back of a truck. Obviously a part of a short-term team (Hints: Fanny pack, visor, camera in hand) she looked at me, disgusted, as if she couldn’t believe that I just put my spit onto this little girls face. I looked back at her for a minute, trying to decide if I should attempt to explain myself. “You see I am a missionary and…” Wow, am I really trying to pull the missionary card on this one? I eventually opted not to talk to this woman, figuring I had already embarrassed myself enough.

The day went on, but I couldn’t get Dalencia’s snot, my spit, and visor woman out of my head. Why is this bothering me so much?

And then it hit me: I am a 1st world gal learning to be a mom in the 3rd world to 3rd world children being raised by 1st world people.

A.K.A: We are a hot mess! (Metaphorically and literally)

Once I wallowed in this truth for a while, I began unraveling its many parts.

I am a 1st world gal, meaning I like to live in luxury and comfort. I like certain food refrigerated, I wear my seatbelt, and I prefer a hot shower to a cold one. In my country things come clean, pre-packaged, and easily accessible. I like bigger, better, and more. I eat for pleasure not nourishment, wear clothes for fashion not necessity, and buy my purified water as apposed to walking barefoot to a dirty pump.

Yet I am learning to be a mom in the 3rd world, meaning I am afforded none of those luxuries mentioned above, and neither are my kids. Here in Haiti my lap is the new car seat and my spit is the new face wipe. I have shared hand-me-down gum with my children, allowed random women to scold and discipline them in public, and I’ve never once taken either kid to see a doctor or a dentist.

Things I don’t do, I might add, are whip, breast feed during church, (Not that it is possible or needed; I just feel like clarifying.) and feed them coffee for breakfast.

But all this is ok because I am raising 3rd world children, meaning my children could care less about the above because they don’t know any different. My kids know nothing of morning TV cartoons, little league, minivans, carpool lines, McDonalds, shopping trips, and the list goes on…Instead, my kids know about bugs, foutból, homemade kites, donated clothing, dirt, community parenting, dirt roads, and LaKay (Our one decent restaurant downtown).

And although my kids are being raised in their home country, they are being raised by 1st world people, meaning they are being raised by people who don’t understand their world, but yet we are sub cautiously learning to raise them as if were a part of it…which kinda makes us multi-cultured parental weirdos!

Nalandson-Photo-8But just because we live here and are picking up a few minor Haitian parenting habits, we still don’t fit in. As a matter of fact, our Haitian counterparts scold us all the time. Just yesterday I had two employees, one was a man might I add, correct me on how I braid Dalencia’s hair! (The man- it took all of me not to tell him to “Shut up”.) And you wouldn’t believe the looks we get whenever we find ourselves disciplining in public. People laugh, they snicker, and some even attempt to intervene on our parenting turf. We may live in the 3rd world and have picked up some 3rd world parenting tendencies, but let’s face it, we don’t quite fit in.

Then I think back to visor woman and remember that I obviously don’t fit the 1st world mamma mold either. Once upon a time an anonymous person gifted me a subscription to Parenting magazine, and let me tell you something, there isn’t anything I do as a parent that would make its way onto its pages. Becoming parents in Haiti, Hunter and I had pull from what we remembered parents do back home in America, watch from those around us, pick and choose from both, pray, and trust our own natural parental instincts. But again, let’s face facts, we have never actually been parents in the 1st world and it is evident, and so again, we don’t quite fit in.

So where does that leave me? What kind of parent am I? Where does my allegiance lie? With the American mammas or the Haitians? With the 1st world parents or the 3rd world parents?

The answer? I think I pledge my allegiance with a little bit of both. I’m a 1st world mom through and through. When it comes to discipline, family structure, and education, I’m there. But I’ll be honest, being a mom in the 3rd world is just so simple. Here, parenting isn’t about schedules and ball games and PTO meetings. It isn’t about the latest healthy diets, the latest fashion trends, and the new must-have toy. It isn’t about Disney World or video games or the movies. Here, parenting is about one thing and one thing only: family. And quite honestly, that kind of parenting is refreshing. And although I sometimes complain, wishing I could sign Nalandson up for flag football or go take Dalencia shopping at Target, truth is, I would highly miss the simple parenting life if I had those options.

So ya, I wipe my spit on my kids’ faces. And guess what, I’m not ashamed. It may be gross, but by golly their faces sure are cleaner for it!


9 Comments on “Confession # 2: I’m a 1st World Gal Learning to be a Mama in the 3rd World

  1. You are raising what is known as ‘third culture kids’ and there are some great books and resources out there about what you’re describing. While my kids did get born to us in the USA they are TCK’s as I am and parenting them does look different from a strictly 1st world or 3rd world because it is an interesting, unique blend with equally interesting blessings and downsides. They will never fit in either world 100% so really why should your parenting style? Parent in a style that fits your life and your kid.. and each one or each day may change a bit and that’s OK. BTW I’ve used the spit technique on my kids and just think what that lady would of thought of me if she’d know that my training is as a family practice doctor. Ha! Keep loving and living.


  2. There are many, many similarities between raising children in a 3rd world country and a 1st world country. Mainly, you just do the best you can as each circumstance arises and pray earnestly that you’re not messing them up too much!


  3. Don’t worry too much about your parenting style, Jillian! Even my own children parent differently from how they were raised. But they – and you! – have the two most important ingredients for building a family “down pat”!

    These two ingredients are God’s love and your love, and they center your family right in the middle of God’s kingdom, which is composed of “any and all” cultures. Throughout the Bible, God tells us that of all attributes, “the greatest Is love.”

    So I would give you no other advice, because it sounds to me that you are already a wonderful mother … of two babies who grew “into,” instead of “under,” your heart!

    Keep up the good work!

    In Christian love,
    Nana Jana


  4. Third Culture Kids: The Experience Growing UP among Worlds, by David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken is very good. I also have Raising Resilient MK’s: Resources for Caregivers, Parents and Teachers by Joyce Bowers and Robertson McQuilkin-this one stays in the US so I don’t reread it as much but it taught a lot to my mother-in-law who read it recently.


  5. Mom-spit is a God provided all purpose cleaner used by many first-world moms. Maybe that woman has never had kids…
    You are in my prayers daily. God bless you for what you are doing.


  6. Pingback: Confession 89: My Kids Don’t Like Church – Jillian's Missionary Confessions

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