Parenting is a tough job; it’s a long journey with a lot of ups and downs, and most of us need a lot of encouragement along the way. Because it isn’t always easy to spend time with other moms and dads, or to find out what they’ve learned through their struggles, I’ve decided to ask some young moms (and maybe a couple of dads) to let me interview them. Over the next few weeks I’ll share these interviews in some of my blog posts.
Today I’ll introduce you to a young woman, Rebekah, with whom I became acquainted through her friendship with my daughter several years ago. Rebekah is now the wife of a missionary with two children of her own: a 5 1/2-year-old boy and a 3-year-old girl. The daughter of a pastor, Rebekah was brought up with her two brothers and one sister to respect God and his laws, and in turn respect all other authority in her life. Her parents taught the children to work hard, especially in school work and music lessons, and encouraged them to participate in sports; they limited the time spent in front of a screen. Through Scripture memorization, daily devotions, prayer, and family singing, God’s Word was made a focal point of family life. Rebekah attended a boarding school during her high school years, and spent one year as a nanny in Germany during college.
She met and married her husband while he was in seminary, and before he graduated they had a two- year-old, and another baby on the way. Then came the news: her husband was being asked to consider being an outreach pastor in south-central Russia; students at this seminary receiving calls to foreign service have only 24 hours to make a decision. After prayerful consideration, Rebekah and her husband agreed to an assignment in Novosibirsk, and have been there for three years.
I asked Rebekah about some of the differences in culture and attitude she’s encountered and how she’s handled them, as well as the more typical day-to-day challenges of being a mother:
What are some of the differences you’ve noticed between Russian and American childrearing practices, and how have you dealt with them?
Rebekah: Since the US is a melting pot, it is generally accepted that different families will have different approaches to parenting. Here in Russia, there seems to be one generally accepted way of raising kids. Some aspects of the unwritten rules of Russian parenting I agree with, some I am complacent toward, and with other aspects I strongly disagree. Russians can be confrontational if they see something or hear something they don’t agree with. Public scolding and arguing are commonplace. When I do something that deviates from the collective view of accepted parenting in Russia, the grandmas nearby tell me what they think I am doing wrong with my kids and why it is wrong. This puts a lot of pressure on me to know why I do what I do so that I don’t begin to question sound parental decisions just because of the societal pressure to do so.
How do the people you’ve observed regard children in general?
From my limited experience, I have noticed that Russian parents in the city setting commonly have one child, or if they have more than one, they intentionally space the children out 6-10 years. This allows them the time and energy to allow their children to be “kings” or “queens” of the family.
Much of the child care falls to the grandmas and grandpas while the moms and dads work. Toddlers are not made to do what they don’t want to do, except for putting on necessary winter wear. Parents persuade their children to do things by telling them stories–like a monster will come and get them if they don’t do what Mama says–but they do not physically make the child do what they are told. Grandparents spend hours pushing strollers outdoors each day because they believe the children will fall asleep and stay asleep best in the fresh air. I’ve gotten hints from parent-friends of mine that they believe small children to be inherently good, and that you just have to let that good come out of them over time. At age 3 most Russian children attend “Kindergarten” which is more like day care, where they learn to interact with others in a kind manner, and to say “please” and “thank you”–an important part of Russian culture.
What about school for your children?
In order for our children to learn to interact with other kids their ages, to feel comfortable in any social setting, and to be able to succeed in Russian grade school, it is imperative that they learn Russian. Although we would never have done this in the US, we decided it was best for our kids to go to preschool starting at age 3, to learn through immersion. This means less time with my children at this age than I had anticipated, but so far they have made the adjustment fairly well. This was definitely NOT in my grand scheme of parenting, but it’s something that I’ve come to accept as part of our unusual life.
Do your children have a regular routine of chores?
We decided that starting at age 3, the kids would have specific jurisdictions in the home. Since he turned 5, our son’s jurisdiction has been setting and clearing the table. We actually started him with just clearing, but throughout the year he is working toward being in charge of the table before and after mealtimes. He also makes his bed every morning. Our daughter, age 3, has started just with making her bed in the morning. The general rule is that the kids clean up whatever toys they play with. That hasn’t always worked very well, and our cleaning-up chores need some tweaking. Sometimes, if they want to earn some extra money, the kids can choose from a list of extra chores and make a few rubles here and there (as long as other regular chores are done). Our son budgets the money he gets into four jars with these labels: savings, gifts, spending, and charity. All of these things are the principles that guide me, but when things get busy and schedules get out of whack, we struggle to apply them as regularly as we should.
How do you handle a child’s resistance to chores, or procrastinating, or performing them poorly?
First, I try to set them up for success. This may mean taking baby steps in learning how to master taking care of their jurisdiction. It might mean that I have to take the time to oversee them doing their jobs even though I can get them done more quickly myself. I also try to simplify the play area so that their toys can be put away easily and quickly. I show great pleasure when they surprise me by making their beds before I have to ask. “What a nice surprise!!!”
But then, sadly, it happens when I take the temporarily “easy way” out and decide that I will just clean up or do a chore myself when one of them is being particularly poky or distracted and we are on a time constraint. I get tired of my own voice when I hear myself saying the same reminders again and again and I struggle to find the patience and willingness to be by their side to make sure they get the task done correctly. I don’t like it, but it happens.
What is one of the more significant things you’ve learned as you’ve tackled the job of being a wife, mother, and homemaker?
That as I am shaping my children, I am also being shaped through the process. I rely more heavily on God, and rejoice that I have a Savior to forgive my many shortfalls, which seem so much more evident in light of the job of parenting!
What do you find to be the most difficult aspect of your job?
Lately it has been the putting aside of my interests and desires and doing the daily, thankless tasks required to keep a home and take care of a family. I much prefer the time with kids over the housework and organizational tasks, but those things are also important and need to be done. If I do take the time after the kids are in bed to pursue something I am interested in, it usually takes a toll on my energy and mood the next day, since I stay up too late. I try to remind myself that these days are precious, and, Lord-willing, there will be time to do the other things when they are older.
What do you like most about being a mother?
The snuggles are at the top of the list! I am astounded that the boy who was a little baby just “yesterday” is sounding out words and starting to read. I love hearing their deep questions and putting the pieces together as I think about where their thoughts might have originated. Hearing them speak and play lovingly together makes my heart want to burst! Hearing them say things at night like, “Mom, I just love Jesus SO SO much!” He loves you more, kid! =)
If you could give a young mother one piece of advice, what would it be?
Look for strength in your creator. He has given you your children and he will give you the strength to raise them. It is a wonderful job, not an easy job, but He’s got a tight grip on you. Stay in His Word and raise your children to know Him.
Thanks, Rebekah, for sharing from your heart!