(tran zish uhn) n. 1. The process of changing from one state or condition to another. 2. A period of such change.

Transition is an inevitable part of life. Some transitions are considered normative—birth, children leaving home, retirement. Other transitions are nonnormative or outside of expectable life cycle changes.

Both types of transition are a part of missionary family life.

Family transitions occur when internal or external restructuring of the family system occurs. The birth of a baby or a child leaving for boarding school obviously require a restructuring of the family system.

While such normative transitions are part of missionary family life, nonnormative transitions are even more common and also require adjustments in the family system. Moving to a new culture in a distant time zone, with different food, language, values, customs, and lifestyle, often necessitates deep-level changes in how family functions.

Likewise, going on annual leave upsets family routines (sometimes lastingly), and a permanent return to the home country requires as much, or more, family adaptation as the initial move to the mission field.

Missionaries often fail to recognize how deeply their family functioning has been affected by the transitions they are negotiating.

They blame themselves, their children, or their spouses for their feelings of disequilibrium and distress.

Perhaps one of the reasons missionary family transition is so intense is that it often involves multiple and simultaneous changes (e.g.  annual leave occurs just as the children get out of school, one’s job description changes, news of a grandparent’s illness arrives, and the maid gives notice).

Looking back, one can thank God for his guidance through such stressful times, but in the middle of the transition, it can all seem like too much to endure.

Each family finds their own ways of coping with transition, but the following suggestions may help.

1. Use the right labels.

Marital or sibling bickering may indicate deep-level family adjustment. Correctly identifying the type and depth of transitions can help guide you toward appropriate solutions.

2. Laugh a lot.

Focusing on the positives and seeing the brighter side of the family predicament can ease the pain of adjustment.

3. Trust.

Believe in God, who is always there, and yourself. You and your family have survived transition before and, with God’s help, will again.

By Cheryl Doss

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