Nothing short of marvelous

“It occurs to me that the peculiarity of most things we think of as fragile is how tough they truly are. There were tricks we did with eggs, as children, to show how they were, in reality, tiny load-bearing marble halls; while the beat of the wings of a butterfly in the right place, we are told, can create a hurricane across an ocean. Hearts may break, but hearts are the toughest of muscles, able to pump for a lifetime, seventy times a minute, and scarcely falter along the way. Even dreams, the most delicate and intangible of things, can prove remarkable difficult to kill.”

(Neil Gaiman, Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders)


I’ve officially decided that TCKs (third culture kids) are nothing short of marvelous.

In the past three years, we’ve moved from the sand storms, 100 degree plus temps and mango rains of early March in the Sahel/Sahara… to the very white, very frozen and frigid March of a far northern land. As I type these words on what is, officially, the 4th day of spring, a winter storm rages outside, local buses are not running and I heard the snow plow pass at least 3 times before 7 a.m.

We’ve “launched” two who are now living (and living well) in a different country than their nuclear family. A third will be striking out this June.

We ripped out beginning roots again, moving the other six to another new school in another new place in a new-to-most-of-them language.

One of those six? We did “that” to her without realizing it was going to be the equivalent of her senior year. We thought we’d done all of the necessary investigation and research ahead of time to know better…  or to at least warn her before the guidance counselor at her school sat down with her last fall and began the talk about upcoming steps to take as she received her diploma and began life after high school. Yet she’s plunged into life – head first, not a tentative feet first. She is working hard, loving people and making exciting and careful decisions about her future – all the while impressing most everyone who’s interacted with her.

My gentle and tender-hearted third grade extrovert would happily take 30 or 45 minutes walking the hallway after church to greet and hug, everyone – catching up on the week and receiving up-dates on her list of prayer requests? Instead, she has had that part of her personality greatly hampered this year – learning to communicate in a new language while facing the exhaustion of redoing each school day at home every night so that she could make sure she was grasping the actual content. Yet she greets mornings with a smile and the rigorous discipline that she’s going to try to orally respond to at least two questions asked in class – every day – even though it is hard AND scary.

Then, there’s that emerging tweener – entering an age laden with so many social complications. He has speech and language issues in his mother tongue… Yet he has been braving the laughs while giving oral presentations to his class in another language, pronunciation and articulation mistakes and all – because that is a key objective in this year’s curriculum. He’s won over a core group of buddies, his teacher and the entire male preschool crew at church in the process.

And those are just a few of my favorite TCKs – ones who live in my house, ones I birthed.

I’ve also regular and consistent opportunity to interact with a whole boatload of other TCKs – virtually and in real life – and not all of whom claim Christianity or who have parents deeply concerned with their emotional or spiritual well-being. Some of them are friends of my gang; some are children at our present very international church; others are children I’ve taught in the past or am presently teaching.

So, at the risk of sounding repetitive, I’ve officially decided that TCKs are nothing short of marvelous.

So why is it that often times as I peruse the TCK literature, I easily come away with this image that TCKs are

  • fragile
  • incomprehensibly complex
  • overwhelmed by grief in all that they’ve lost and
  • in need of deliberate, intentional parenting, and often, intensive help

just to survive  and adjust to this lifestyle chosen for them by their parents and/or to reintegrate into life outside of their family/TCK culture? That if we, as parents (or teachers , pastors, etc.), don’t do everything just right, our TCK kids will end up messed up for life, lost between worlds… and we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves… and God?

All of “that” may be true – or at least clearly contains elements of truth. It may be true that TCKs are fragile, grieving, complex and that they do benefit from deliberate intentional parenting and sometimes need intensive help. We, as parents, should be “doing” those good things.

But it is also true that it is way too easy to buy into what seems to be a distinctly western (and sometimes Christian) way of thinking: we must protect our children at all costs from all things bad because they are so fragile and so easily broken. Maybe we lean towards that sort of thinking because any preoccupation (i.e. with our TCKs) keeps us from facing up to our own fragility, life complexities, grief and need for someone to come alongside us…

However, I don’t believe that to be so, at least not in the black and white way I often end up feeling as I read the literature.

Let me repeat: I don’t believe that to be so.

I don’t, for a couple of reasons:

First, it sets me, the parent, up as the primary and most important influence in my child’s life – even, in a subtle but very real way, above God. “May it never be!” for that teaches nothing short of idolatry. A verse from Matthew comes to mind – “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” I can do everything in my power, sacrifice all that I have to give – to see my children profit and live a life relatively unscathed by the ugliness often lurking just around the corner, great grief or difficult and sometimes repeated losses. A lofty goal? Yes. But even if I could achieve it, would that really accomplish God’s purposes in their lives?  How clearly can my child see God’s powerful hand working on his/her behalf, and in unimagined ways, if I’m always in the way, monopolizing their attention and fixing things to that feelings of pain are minimized or somehow magically whisked away?

Equally horrifying, this mentality disguises the influence of God’s grace working out and working in the lives of these amazing kids. We’re talking about kids who’ve had opportunity to see and experience more of His world than most. Do I really believe that God so loved the world… then do I not also believe that God so loves these TCKs? They know our world is broken and have seen so first hand. Why not let them also experience, unfiltered, the amazingness of God’s great and amazing grace that upholds our broken world with its broken spaces.

Finally, believing that this fragility, complexity grief and brokenness is bad… or is unique to TCKs… divides and sets apart from what is, essentially, a human condition that helps drive us to the Savior.

This has been our oldest’s biggest struggle: seeing how God intimately and passionately cares for him and what he loves – not just his family, his church, etc… Lately, I’ve been deeply convicted that one of my young mama mistakes was too carefully crafting his world as he knew it – protecting or screening him from too much. I didn’t trust God enough to let my boy see God answering… or to allow him to hear God give “no” as “wait” as the answer. Now I have no choice and so much less direct influence; it is a lot harder to learn how now, for the stakes seem much higher.


Well-adjusted TCKs don’t turn out because of strict adherence to a list of best practices and good ideas… or because of a formula followed.

Even more sobering to consider?

Perhaps socially well-adjusted… emotionally healthy… or whatever other words you might choose… is the wrong goal.


What do you think? What is our goal, as parents of TCKs?

As professionals or others who have opportunities to regularly interact with TCKs?

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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. ||

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