Who am I really crying for anyway?

by Richelle Wright on October 15, 2014

One day, I opened up my Facebook feed and right there was this picture:


IF we’d stayed in Niger, our oldest daughter would be graduating from high school with this amazing group of kids representing at least seven different countries… June 2015.

But we didn’t stay. God’s path for our family led a very different direction, including two seemingly never-ending years of transition between our African home and our soon-to-be French Canadian future. I never, in a million years (and yes, that’s hyperbole) pictured this. More truthfully? In the near 15 years we delighted in our West African lives and ministry I could have only just barely imagined this happening, until it actually did.

As I first looked at that picture, my eyes filled with tears.

I thought they were all tears for my daughter. For the friends she’s left behind. For the amazing people she’ll probably never see again. Wondering when would be her next opportunity to praise God in four different languages, all in the same church service. Because she was going back into a world where teens were expected to act like irresponsible, selfish or pampered kids instead of regularly given the opportunity to rise to the occasion while serving and ministering as equals alongside adults. For the amazingness of growing up as part of an expatriate, multicultural community where so many were sacrificing so many to serve Jesus and share His offer of life with others.

And that’s about when I realized that I was actually disguising truth from myself.

A good number of those tears – perhaps even the biggest part of them – were for me, for my dreams of what I had wanted for my girl, for 15 years’ worth of my expectations of how her “childhood” would finish. Yes, our reality is very different. Not bad. Not even worse. Just not what I’d expected during all those years of growing my TCK and a bunch of expectations. I was having a hard time with that reality.


I read, appreciate and learn much from the plethora of books, articles and posts on discipling our TCKs as they go about this business of growing up between worlds. There’s still so much more for me to learn and I know that. Yet, sometimes I get this nagging feeling that if expat parents aren’t careful, they can yoke their children to a burden they don’t need to carry – that of our own expectations of what the TCK life should be, the joys and challenges, and what we’re striving to make it be… for these kids we love.

One late morning, I was walking home from preschool with my then almost five-year-old daughter and her cousin. It was a spectacular autumn morning. Their conversation that day made me laugh; I want to share it with you because I think it makes a fantastic and pertinent point.

Niece (arms flung wide as she skips and twirls in circles): “It’s SO BEAUTFIUL when all the leaves change colors and drop out of the trees.” (She’s a very dramatic child.)

My daughter (also twirling and skipping): “What’s this season called again? I keep forgetting. Is it ‘drop’ because the leaves drop out or is it ‘fall?’ because the leaves fall down?”

Niece: “It’s called fall, silly! And that’s a good thing, too!”

My daughter: “Why?”

Niece: “Calling this season drop instead of fall JUST doesn’t sound right!”

My daughter  (hesitating just a fraction): “Yeah. I guess it does sound a little bit weird.”

I laughed because I totally agreed. Thinking about calling fall “drop” instead is humorous and sounds more than awkward. But isn’t that only because I’ve only ever called it fall?

What if, in a similar way, the same is true for my TCKs?

What if some of what I consider so traumatic and so difficult and so worthy of tears I perceive that way primarily because I have preconceived ideas based off of my own childhood and growing up of how things should be and how I would have reacted had I been gifted this life…


 …and not because my children automatically have to see it that same way.


Please keep in mind that my purpose isn’t to discredit or argue that our TCKs don’t need support or don’t struggle with the peculiarities of this lifestyle. I know they do. I just want to consider that the possibility that maybe what I expect to be their struggles are just normal. And then there is the corollary: Perhaps those circumstances I believe they’ll breeze right through are the ones that will be the greatest challenges…

What do you think?

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About Richelle Wright

Disciple of Jesus, lover of God's Word, wife to one great guy, and mama of eight, Richelle has spent the past 13 years in Niger, West Africa. She and her family are currently in the throes of transition as they begin life and ministry (teaching, audio-visual production) in the Canadian province of Québec. |ourwrightingpad.blogspot.com|
  • Marilyn Gardner

    I LOVE this post. Love it. For many, many reasons but the biggest is because in my own life I’ve been struggling with watching my dreams for my kids die – I had a dream they would graduate by the pyramids (true story as that is where the international school holds its graduations) their caps flying high into the sky like red and white kites as they celebrated. I had dreams that they would visit us overseas, not vice versa!! As I’ve watched these dreams die my 4th child and second daughter said to me out of the blue one time – “you know I sometimes think that living overseas is considered the highest goal in this extended family and I don’t think that’s right” It was a slap in the face as that was me. My TCK upbringing and then my own time overseas translated into “we are living second best – best is eight thousand miles away – second best is where we are.” God is not a God of second best but I have made him into one. It’s like I said in one of my posts, I made an idol out of what I perceived to be best. So this is getting long but I so thank you for your honesty and for realizing that many of your tears are for you. Thank you so much.

    • Richelle Wright

      As a special educator by trade, one of the first things they teach us is to recognize when working with families where a child has a handicap, those parents grieve all of the losses for what they’d hoped for their child. Don’t know why that principle never transferred until just this past summer.

      And that whole bit about idols – I did a Bible study by a gal named Kelly Minter (I think) – it was all about serving God and serving our idols all at the same time… and totally not getting that that was what was happening. Our western culture does tend to make idols out of our children – and sadly, the result is narcissism – kids who think they are God’s gift to the entire planet… or kids who carry the huge burden of Mom & Dad’s expectations. Neither is good. And since we are, in part, a product of that same culture, I don’t believe expat parents are “immune” just because they live on a different continent.

      Thanks for your encouragement. 🙂

  • I agree with you that sometimes we can try to force one story or another onto our children. I do think it’s important to ALLOW there to be an impact–I think that’s what the original TCK research was about. The best thing, I think, is to allow them to have their own unique experience, and their own unique story. And it does help if we understand that unprocessed grief is the most common denominator with TCK’s–and probably their parents, too–which comes out in unique ways, in varying degrees, and sometimes not until years later.

    • Marilyn Gardner

      YES and yes.

    • Richelle Wright

      Yes. I agree we absolutely need to let them have and own their experiences – and not saddle them with our (as parents) expectations. I hope that idea came through clearly because I tried to make sure that it did.

      At the same time, I think we must find balance. If my child is struggling, I want to recognize it and provide the needed help and support, including seeing professional help if, when and as needed.

      But I also don’t want to create a problem if there isn’t one. Unprocessed grief might be the common denominator, but even as I was talking to my son this morning, he doesn’t want that to be the denominator that defines him or his fellow TCK friends and siblings. He wants to learn how to walk and grow through grief… I listened to him share for nearly 45 minutes this morning about how goodbyes are sad and heartbreaking, are never easy and in fact, only seem to get harder – that grief, those tears… they signify the joyful beauty and painful reality in the gift of relationships, memories, homes, etc.. Goodbyes on one continent enable hellos on another, hellos he’d never trade, not even if it meant that the hard goodbyes could have been avoided. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away – blessed be the name of the Lord.

      I think he has a very healthy attitude. So I also think I’d be wrong to saddle him with my grief over my dreams and expectations for him that were not met – because of the life we’ve lived. There are many things that I wish would have been different. There are things he wishes might have been different, too. Yet he wouldn’t do back and change it now, if he could. You face those sorrows and losses and then trust God to help you move on. I’d hate to become an ” enabler” by trying to “correct” him with some sort of perspective that his life has been impossibly hard and unfair… and sometimes I feel like we expat parents can fall into that trap.

  • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

    Good good, Richelle. Thanks for this challenge/reminder/help.

    • Richelle Wright

      Thanks for the encouragement, Rachel.

  • Elizabeth Trotter

    I know this is not a profound comment, but I really laughed at the “drop” versus “fall” conversation!

    • Richelle Wright

      Yeah… I’m so glad I remembered that conversation (it happened over a year ago) because it was what I needed to finish up this post. It has been sitting in my drafts box since June… when I first saw that first picture – but I didn’t have a way to summarize what I was trying to say until I recalled what those two silly little girls said! 🙂 Glad you laughed… I took your hubby’s last post seriously! =D

  • Linda Watt

    I just realized that I get so caught up in my kids saying good–goodbyes and them transitioning well that I forget that I need to do the same thing. It has hit me hard this year–as we have been here 15 years and 18 years total in Africa. Each time someone asks if this is a normal furlough or what, it hits me!

    • Richelle Wright

      So true, Linda.

  • LynnAnn Murphy

    LOVE this! I’m going to bookmark it to read over and over.

    • Richelle Wright

      So thankful you found it encouraging. 🙂

  • HI Richelle, glad to see you again. I wonder about this sometimes. My husband is a TCK and there are a lot of things about him that I know I don’t “get” because of that. And I wonder how I would do if/when we move overseas and my kids become TCK’s. I’ll be the odd one out! 😉
    A friend recommended a book to me and I haven’t read it yet, but it’s on my kindle app. It’s called Third Culture Kids, Growing up Among Worlds. I hope it will help.
    Now I’m off to catch up on your life, last time I came by (via 5 Minute Friday I’m sure) you were still in Niger! Guess my life kind of go put on hold the last 2 years with my twins!

    • Richelle Wright

      Hey Krista. That’s a great book and one of the best first steps you can take. Marilyn Gardner, who also writes for this site, also has excellent resources as does Kay Bruner. Both ladies have their own blogs, so check out the author list and browse around some on their sites for additional info/resources.

      Can’t imagine life with twins. My first couple of pregnancies, I hoped for twins… after that, I might have cried. Hats off to you, busy mama!!

  • Richelle, thank you for a wonderful post and sharing your tears with us. As a TCK myself, the struggle is always the classic conundrum, “the grass is always greener on the other side”, and because we know so many “sides” in the world, there’s always something to envy. For us, for our kids, for the many options we know lay in our future. But you’re right, maybe as adults, we bring all those conflicting emotions and impose them on our kids. For now, all they know is their present world, but perhaps we foresee their future and regret their past all for them? That is a lot for children to bear. Anyway, thanks for a great conversation starter.

    • Richelle Wright

      Thanks so much for chiming in with your perspective as a tck. I know, from my perspective as a parent, my kids tend to live in the moment and we encourage them to do that – whether those be sad moments or joyful ones – and they seem more alike than different from other kids.

      Thank you for kind words!

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