I can remember our first day here in Istanbul so clearly. We were driving from the airport to our apartment and my thoughts went a little like this: "What was I thinking? I cannot raise kids here! ...Oh my word. We almost just hit that kid! Ellie (our daughter) will never go into the street, ever! I'm never going to make it here. I might as well get back on the plane." And, on and on and on the fearful thoughts went, and more and more feelings of dread overwhelmed me.
While spending a summer in Istanbul as a student, I decided that my dream, my one and only dream, would be to come back here and spend the rest of my life. So why the doubt? Why the fear? Well, motherhood changes us, doesn't it? But thankfully, the story doesn't end there. There is a happy ending, but first I want to tell you 5 tips that helped me, tips that I hope and pray encourage you in your early months being a mama overseas.
Admittedly, this is the hardest advice for me to give and take. Hard to give because I so fail in this area, and hard to take because I so fail in this area. I thrive on working hard, so language learning and diving into culture are fun for me as a challenge to conquer!
However, when it comes to me accidentally going over on the grocery budget because I miscalculated, or having a language fail and ordering 5 kilos of chocolates instead of 5 pieces, or blundering in some other way, I beat myself up. Additionally, when my husband fails me I am often not ready with grace. Rather, silent wrath, unfortunately.
Thankfully I've grown in this a lot in recent years, but I promise your household will be a lot happier when it is grace-filled. You will make mistakes. Your husband will as well. Your family will be much happier if you are quick to laugh these off instead of walking around in a fit of anger, bitterness or blame.
2) Be mindful on how you help your kids adjust.
This one may be a no-brainer. Depending on the ages of your children and how many you have, being mindful of their adjustment may consume you in the early weeks and months. If your child had to leave friends, family and community behind, coming to a new land where most likely those comforts do no initially exist will be tough. Our daughter was 7 months old when we moved from Budapest to Istanbul.
Our new city is much louder and much, much more hectic than our old. Therefore, in the early weeks I took her outside only once every couple of days. I had her in an Ergo so I could keep her close, and I gaged her comfort level continuously. Our apartment was also new to her as well, so it was really baby steps and mindfulness that helped her move along smoothly. Now I think she's completely forgotten her old home and thinks Istanbul is heaven on Earth!
3) Work hard.
Truth be told, some people are better than others at getting to a new place and jumping in full-force. Waking up in the morning in your new home and simply planning how to get to the store for groceries can feel like a huge feat. After all, there's language, finding the store, working out little glitches like whether to bring your own bags or weighing fruits and vegetables in the produce section, and on top of that, possibly keeping children happy and content during the whole endeavor. Whew! Anyone else tempted to order kebab day and night?
However, you reap what you sow. If you work hard in those early days, your work gets easier and easier. If you can manage to just get out that front door and accomplish something, anything, for the day, then give yourself a high-five! If you learn only one new word that day, that is better than not learning any. Push yourself to work hard, whatever that means for you in your place in this time. You will be encouraged by the fruit of your labor.
4) Give yourself at least six months of "hard."
Before landing on Turkish soil, I told my family that I knew the first six months would be hard, so I just had to get through them. Six months anywhere is hard, even if you move from one town in your state to another! Learning where to buy groceries, finding a tailor, figuring out the medical system and all of those life necessities take a lot of energy. The good news is that extra energy most likely will be invested in your first six months. Then things get easier. Remember, most of us can do a lot of things for six months, so this should encourage you to not throw in the towel but to press on.
I guarantee in month five you will be amazed (if you followed my advice in step 3) at how far you've come! Systems that seemed completely foreign and unmanageable before will seem second nature. You may even enjoy going to the grocery store, especially if you are a stay-at-home mom and that is your only connection with the outside world that day. No one can skip those six months, so take them for what they are — a season — and dive-in!
5) Remember, you and your spouse are a team.
If you or your husband work outside the home, you may find it nearly impossible to find time to connect between managing the kids, learning language and running all over town in failed attempts to try and pay your first electric bill. Someone once told me that your two primary goals the first two years of life abroad are to "stay in country" and to "stay married." Sounds easy, right? But when life gets tough, it's tempting to think your spouse could be carrying more of the load, supporting you more, and doing this or that better.
If your husband works outside the home and you don't, you may be jealous of his opportunities to interact with locals, to practice language, to get a break from the mundane. However, those thoughts are absolutely destructive! If you struggle with any of those things, talk it over with your spouse. You are a team! You cannot be a good mother, a Godly witness or a productive tentmaker if you harboring bitterness towards the one you love the most. Talk to him, work out a system to provide you with some relief, and continue to communicate. Life will change, and when it does, talk through it.
On that note, don't compare! Just because your friend's husband always gets up early with the baby doesn't mean yours has to. He may be doing other things that that lady's husband doesn't! Comparing is destructive, and you do not want that for your family.
I now look back on my early days in Istanbul and am proud of how far I've come. Not only have I found the grocery store, but my daughter and I are famous there. Who needs Disneyland? We go in and all of the workers shout with glee, "Eleanor!" They all come around to kiss her and hold her. While shopping, a worker in the produce section will feed her a banana and watch her while I put my groceries in bags. They let me practice my Turkish and always tell me how well I'm doing. I can find anything I want in the store, and if I can't, I now know how to ask for it. We often get free samples of chocolates, meat, anything we want! We check out and then load up in the service van that takes us right to our front door! The life situation that brought buckets full of tears in the early days is something I look forward to now! Be encouraged that even though you may not feel like you're making progress, you are taking steps to making a home for yourself. Be encouraged by the example of Jesus leaving the comfort of heaven to walk among sinful humans to save us! On the days you struggle, take your cares to Him.
Melissa is a wife, mama and fan of all things Turkey. Among other adventures, Melissa loves living life in Turkey while raising her daughter, Eleanor. On IstanbulMoms you can hear about her adventures and escapades, tips for success, strategies for untangling the culture, and ideas for enjoying life in Istanbul to the fullest.