“My book is called Misunderstood because that is how many young TCKs feel.” – Tanya Crossman
It’s true. Many kids grow up among worlds and end up feeling completely and totally misunderstood. They may feel misunderstood by the societies they’ve grown up in and the societies they’ve returned too. They may feel misunderstood by the nuclear families they’ve grown up in and the extended families they’ve returned to.
So what do we do?
What can parents do? Parents who know they don’t understand all the ins and outs of growing up globally?
Well, what do we do when we interact with anyone we want to get to know better? Read a book? Google them? Ask other people? Read an article? Maybe.
But typically the best solution is just to treat them like the unique human beings they are and start asking questions.
I think that one of the simplest things we could do to help the TCKs in our life to feel more seen, more loved, and less misunderstood, is to get better at asking questions.
And of course we have to care about their answers.
“Smart parents give their kids lots of answers, but wise parents ask their kids lots of questions.” – Unknown
Questions give value and open the door to deeper intimacy. Questions are Christ-like, with one scholar identifying 307 individual questions that Jesus asked during his earthly ministry.
It’s hard to ask questions, though, because I have to shut up long enough to listen to the answers. Most of us simply prefer giving answers to asking questions.
Oh that we would excel in question-asking! And not because we’re trying to control or manipulate, but because we’re genuinely interested in what people have to say.
One teenager who grew up overseas said that she would love to be asked “any meaningful question by someone who was truly interested in knowing the answer.”
No two stories are the same. I’ve had teenagers here in Cambodia thank me for NOT being a TCK. I was a bit confused until they explained: “Sometimes, adult TCKs come in here and think they know everything about us because they grew up abroad too. But they have no idea!” Apparently, I earned points for knowing what it was that I didn’t know, which caused me to keep asking questions.
May we all know what it is that we don’t know. And may that knowledge lead us to ask questions.
May we echo the angel of the Lord in Genesis 16 when he asked Hagar, “Where have you come from?” and “Where are you going?”
May we communicate to the TCKs in our life that we care about where they’ve come from. That we care about their stories; the good stuff and the hard stuff. May we communicate to the TCKs in our life that we ALSO care about where they’re going. That we care about their hopes and their dreams. And their fears.
And at the end of the day, may they feel, as Hagar did, seen.
Of course, we can’t fully know or understand anyone, but we can keep asking questions, we can keep being interested.
We can keep reading their book, even if it’s as small as a passport.
Tools & Resources
The Key Jar: A fantastic list of questions in PDF format. I screen captured this thing and then just keep it on my phone. Occasionally, when I’m out with one of my kids, I just pull it out and say, “Hey, do you want to do the questions?” Some of my kids like it more than others, but I can tell you that it’s generated TONS of fascinating conversations that we wouldn’t have had otherwise.
Gottman Card Deck: Although it’s designed for couples (you can easily see why), there are some great questions on here that are totally appropriate for kiddos. If you’re like me, new or unique questions are hard to self-generate. I can do, “How was your day?” but it’s a bit harder to just come up with more involved questions. So I use an app. Not all the time, but sometimes. This app is free, so try it out and see what happens.
If you’re interested in more of the story about Hagar and how asking questions is Christ-like, here’s a link to a message I preached at an international church this year: The Questions of God, Hagar, and Genesis 16. [Links to the podcast on iTunes and mp3 download.]
Tanya Crossman’s article on A Life Overseas: Parallel Lives: TCKs, Parents, and the Culture Gap
A popular list of questions MKs would love to be asked, by Taylor Murray. [MKs and TCKs are not the same, but the majority of these questions seem to apply to both.]