When we moved to South Africa, people here in black South African communities asked us if our children moved with us. That question took my breath away. I could not imagine this kind of move without my children. And we would not have made it if we couldn’t have brought our children.
But, you see, we had a choice. Yes, this is a call to serve. But we had choice in the matter. We had good jobs. And it was the restless ache to live outside of our usual world and to connect deeply with cultures other than our own that brought us across the world. We did not move for economic reasons.
But many mothers (and fathers) do. Many communities here can imagine such a move without children – because they’ve done it and they are still doing it. I have met people who are studying in South Africa while their families remain in their home countries. There is not enough money for everyone to come. And so, it is the one earning the advanced degree who comes. The rest stay at home. I have also met mothers and fathers who live away from home because there is no work at home. The other parent (if there is a living or involved other parent) is raising the kids at home. But more likely, it is the gogo’s, the grannies, who are raising the children in these situations.
Early on in our time in South Africa, I commented to Bishop Biyela, then chaplain at the Lutheran Theological Institute (the Lutheran seminary located right here in Pietermaritzburg), that so many people I was meeting were living away from their families. He helped me understand by explaining that during Apartheid, it was normalized to live away from one’s family as one had to in order to have work. I found “normalized” to be a powerful word to explain this situation. So much became “normal” during Apartheid. Families continue to live apart in the midst of economic challenges.
And so, on this Mother’s Day where I just had the privilege of tucking in my children, I give a shout-out to all of the mothers (and fathers) who are living away from their children so that their children might know a better life. You have my deep admiration and respect.