by Editor on April 19, 2013

She sits in my office, crying.  “Why am I so depressed?  Nothing terrible happened to me.  I love my parents.  I loved living overseas.  I can’t wait to go back.  But why do I get so depressed?”

I get out a stack of paper, and draw a tombstone on each sheet.  On each tombstone, I write one of the losses she’s mentioned in passing.  As I write, she remembers others.

And on the floor of my office, we memorialize a life of subterranean loss.  We realize that every time there’s a major life transition—graduation, marriage, moves, births—there’s been an episode of major depression, as this mass of grief wells toward the surface.

So we sit with it.  We weep, we mourn.  We write, we talk, we pray.  And God heals.  He really does.

Some thoughts about TCK wounds:

  1.  To be human is to be wounded.  It’s part of the deal.  We didn’t choose this gig, but here we are.  And we’re not getting out of here without getting hurt–TCK, civilian, whatever.
  2.  TCK wounds of loss and grief are a particular subset of the human condition of woundedness.  There’s good research on this.  (See Third Culture Kids, by David C. Pollock and Ruth Van Reken.)  We might not like it, but there it is:  our deal to deal with.
  3.  Our TCK’s are losing their whole lives, every time we put our families on a plane.  And sometimes none of us recognize it until years later, right about the time parents are thinking, “My work here is done.”

Some things that can help:

  1. Fix our own junk.  Our kids have enough stuff.  They don’t need to be worrying about mom and dad’s issues, too. Go first.  Make it OK to be sad.  To be mad.  To be scared. To trust that God meets us in all those places, too.
  2. Let them have their own voice about their own story.  It is way too easy for the Adult Standard Version to be the only version.  Let the kids tell their side, even if it’s not how you remember it.
  3. Do it right.  Take all the vacations.  Have the family fun nights.  Break “the rules” if it means your kids will be happier and healthier.
  4. If you think something is wrong, you’re right.  Get help.


On our first furlough, we asked our kids to write something for our newsletter, and this is what we got.  Our 5-year-old drew a picture of a boat.  (Read, constant transition?)  And our extroverted 7-year-old couldn’t figure out why people in America were inside their houses all the time.


What emotions are you feeling right now, as you read this blog?

Sad, glad, mad or scared?

What emotions or behaviors are you seeing in your children that might indicate pain and grief?


This guest post offered by Kay Bruner– MA, LPC-intern, former missionary to the South Pacific.

Please check out her insightful blog, where she talks often about Third Culture Kids and their unique struggles: Kay Bruner

Print Friendly
  • Kristen Bowen

    Beautiful, Kay. Thank you!

    • Kay Bruner

      You are so very welcome. And thank you 🙂

  • Good thoughts…as a first termer on the field with 3 little ones, we are just begining to scratch the surface with some of this…I pray for wisdom in all of this on a daily basis!

    • Kay Bruner

      It’s challenging and wonderful. We will mess up! And God will redeem! Blessings.

  • i think any time a transition comes up, i feel all of those emotions – sad, glad, mad, scared (and others) – sometimes like a ping pong ball and sometimes all at once. i guess i figure it is highly probably that one, some or maybe all of my gang will experience some strong and volatile emotions and perspectives and they need to know that what they are feeling isn’t bad or wrong or weird. it is just a part of their experience.

    what i hope to model and teach them, though, is that there is always a choice. if the feeling is so overwhelming that i can’t escape (perhaps like the girl you described in your post), seek help. but i also think it worthwhile to encourage my tcks to always keep looking for and at the beautiful and the amazing and the exciting…

    i’m also guessing that personality plays some into our kids’ reactions, responses, feelings, etc. some of my children automatically fall into positive outlook as their default mode. others have a different default (not wrong or right, just different – but it means that their struggle to make right choices will also be different) – so that’s where knowing my kids and addressing unique needs instead of trying to find a one size fits all answer is equally critical.

    and as i type the above, i also think one of my favorite things that you said was the part about letting my kids have their own voice – and not trying to drown out their voice by superimposing my ideas, my voice and my perspective as i seek to disciple, guide and encourage them. i guess we parents always need to be walking a delicate balance when it comes to that. 😉

    • Kay Bruner

      This last week I was re-reading part of Letters Never Sent by Ruth Van Reken, and she wonders there how her experiences would have been different, if someone would have just let her be sad. It is SO EASY as adults to totally miss out on what our kids are experiencing. Sometimes it’s great for us, and bad for them. Sometimes it’s terrible for us, and great for them. A couple weeks ago, I wrote a bit on my blog about being evacuated from the country with 15 minutes notice, followed by a 5 day ocean voyage on a military transport ship. IT WAS AWFUL!!!! THE WORST WEEK OF MY LIFE! (For one thing, my husband had stayed behind and I was worried sick over him. Plus, 30-some kids under 10 in one cabin. Plus, seasickness.) My 21-year-old son read the blog and said he didn’t remember it that way at all. What he remembers is all his friends on a 5-day sleepover on this really cool ship, with all the Pringles he could eat, courtesy of the Australian navy. So there you go. 🙂

  • Becky

    I am a TCK now raising four more TCKs on the mission field…this post resonates with me as I’ve dealt with much grief and loss from my TCK years. Interestingly, it was a grief class called Interrupted Expectations at our home church that started the journey of healing for me. We were encouraged to do a ‘grief inventory’ and name the losses…I didn’t really know what to expect when I started that inventory, but the list of my losses just staggered me and helped me understand myself better and then to know how to deal with the mass of grief lying under the surface of my emotions.

    I love this line of your post…”Make it OK to be sad. To be mad. To be scared. To trust that God meets us in all those places, too.” I am learning that my heart, my emotions, my desires DO matter to God…even when I don’t know what to do with those feelings and desires, that it’s okay to take them to God and trust Him with my heart.

    • Kay Bruner

      Yeah, I remember doing a life-story line for a class one time; we had paper suitcases to represent major moves, and the concrete evidence does set you back. It’s OK to not be OK. That’s part of the journey. Thanks Becky!

  • Thanks for this.

    • Kay Bruner

      You’re welcome 🙂

  • Shay

    So timely. Thank you for this post. We are leaving the mission field after only 2 years, hugely because we decided to “let our kids have their own voice” and chose not to ignore their deep feelings, longings, and desire to go “home”. I worry and am anxious every day, though, about re-entry and how it will effect all of us and knowing how to help them deal with the challenges. Just started reading the book Re-entry, by Peter Jordan. Also, the phrase “our tcks are losing their whole lives, every time we put them on a plane” just about ripped my heart out. Wooh! Only by God’s grace.

    • Kay Bruner

      The times my kids have wept in my arms–those are just burned into my memory in the worst possible way. There is nothing, nothing, nothing worse to me that seeing my kids in pain. We have been back in the States almost 6 years now. The first year was quite difficult. The second year, they know better how things work. And now? Just last week, my 18 year old was asking me what I had done that day, and I was talking about the TCK loss and grief stuff I was writing about, and he said, “Huh. I wonder if everybody has that? Because I really feel like I’m OK.” And this is my child who LOVED South Pacific village life with a passion. And I remember bringing him back to city life as being pretty tough! But God is at work. There is healing and joy.

  • Johanna Fenton

    Kay, looking at that photo of the child’s handwriting brought tears to my eyes. I ache for TCKs. I’m not one. But I had enough grief just being a missionary.

    • Kay Bruner

      Our grief as adults are another story entirely. . . the things that just happen, and the things that are “happened to us” by other people. . . Praying for you, right now, for comfort and healing. Blessings on your journey, my friend.

  • Johanna

    Thanks for this post Kay. I “know” of you through Mandy P, my good friend. Anyway, this was SUCH a good post. My husband is a TCK that grew up (and was born) in Colombia and we are raising 3 TCK’s here in PNG. I think I felt a little scared when I read your post as we are going on furlough in Nov. and I know there will be much my kids will go through. My youngest hasn’t even been to Colombia (my home country yet)! We will go to Colombia and to the US for furlough. However, this part of your post gives me comfort “Make it OK to be sad. To be mad. To be scared. To trust that God meets us in all those places, too.” Thanks again!

  • Pingback: Missions Catalyst 4.24.13 – Resource Reviews « Missions Catalyst()

  • Pingback: Developers and Planters UNITE!()

  • Pingback: I Don’t Do Goodbye()

  • Ordinary TCK

    Thank you for this post. I really enjoyed it. Like others have said, I really resonated with letting your kids have their own voice, though I have experienced it from a slightly different angle. As an adult TCK, it pains me when my parents speak negatively of the country where I was raised. And we also struggled quite a bit when I came back to the US and did not find their home country quite as wonderful as they thought it to be. It is hard to have such sharply different opinions about what feels like home and what doesn’t at all with your own parents. We are learning to listen to each other and value each others perspectives.

  • Pingback: Bruising Seasons()

  • Pingback: Bruising Seasons – Reblog from A Life Overseas | communicating.across.boundaries()

Previous post:

Next post: