Don’t Call Your Kids “World Changers”

It’s tempting. I get it. It sounds motivating and inspirational. I get that too. But I’ve come to believe that the good-intentioned, hopefully inspiring practice of talking about children as “world-changers” is, in most cases, damaging.

You can cover it with a spiritual veneer, you can call it “speaking truth over them,” you can call it a “parental blessing,” you can even call it “stirring them up to greatness.” But from where I sit, and after what I’ve seen, I’ll just call it probably harmful.

Let me explain.

I grew up among world-changers.

My family was part of an exciting, global ministry which had as its motto, Giving the world a New approach to life! Wow! What a vision! What a large, God-sized dream!

What hubris.

I sang in a choir of 5,000 teenagers, “It will be worth it all, when we see Jesus!” We were going to do it. Our parents had found the hidden truths, the secret. And with derision for rock music, an affinity for character qualities, and a navy and white uniform, we were in fact going to give the WHOLE WORLD a BRAND NEW approach to life.

And then we didn’t.

In fact, one of the most painful parts of my adult life has been watching peers wilt under the pressure of a world-changing paradigm. Families just aren’t designed to raise world-changers. They’re designed to raise children.

I watched friend after friend crumble under the pressure. Who were they? What were they worth when life just felt…normal? When the mission trips stopped and the typical bills came, a sense of dread and failure often settled in.

When the call of God, legitimately and accurately interpreted, looks nothing like the world-domination and global impact you were primed to experience, what then?

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Now, most missionaries don’t dress their kids in navy and white, and rock music isn’t seen as much of a threat. But I sometimes wonder if young parents have exchanged a “solution” from the ’80s and early ’90s for a new “new approach”?

– If we can give our kids enough vision.
– If they can get enough gifting of the Spirit.
– If they can catch a fire for social justice.
– If they can quote John Piper or Bill Johnson (depending on your stream),
– If they can get energetic like Young and Free or Rend Collective….

THEN OUR CHILDREN WILL CHANGE THE WORLD!!!

And the world better watch out, because we’re releasing an army – no, we’re waking up an army and then releasing them, and they will rule the world. For Christ.

This is hyperbole, of course. Sort of.

I feel like I’m watching a replay, where passionate young parents think they’ve found “the solution,” which, when applied correctly, will help their toddlers “tear down this wall!”

I hear parents from both ends of the fundamentalist-charismatic spectrum talk like this. I see parents Instagram like this. And it’s not from a bad heart, I know that. It’s from a gut-level desire to see our children succeed. We want them to have God-sized dreams and we want them to chase those dreams until they actualize their potential and save the world. I get it.

But can I sound like an old guy here? OK, well, here goes. THEY ARE JUST KIDS. Remember, they’re three years old. Or seven. Or even thirteen. They don’t need to save the world. They need to learn how much they’re loved. They need to learn about mercy and grace and hard work. They need to learn how to read, and sometimes, they just need to learn how to use the toilet.

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Have we forgotten the simple things? Have we forgotten the power of quiet love and small faithfulness?

Have we forgotten Paul’s advice to work with all your heart, whatever you do?

Have we forgotten John the Baptist’s counsel to the soldiers? “Be content with your pay.” To the tax collectors? “Don’t collect more than you’re supposed to.” To the crowds, “Share your food, share your wealth.” Have we forgotten that small lives lived in small places matter too?

Have we forgotten the instruction to “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life”?

You know, maybe those instructions aren’t for everybody at all times, but they at least apply to some people some of the time.

It may be that God will call my child to do simple things well, with faithfulness and honesty. He may want them to grow into men and women of integrity who do banal things, boring things. That does sound to me like something God could do.

Not all are called to be apostles.

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As cross-cultural workers, we may be more naturally inclined to love big, global, world-changing talk. Perhaps that’s how we got here. Our children, however, with their individual callings and giftings, may not resonate with the ideas the same way. Remember, what motivates and inspires you might crush your child.

Be careful you don’t project your desires onto them. Do YOU want to save the world? Fine then. Go forth and do it. Maybe God’s called and gifted you to do it. Awesome! But you’re not them and they’re not you.

 

An Alternative
You know where normal people go to worship? You know where normal people go to learn and grow, slowly, steadily?

The local church.

You want to bless your kids? Be part of a local church. Church should be a place where slow faithfulness and deep relationships are encouraged.

Cultivate in your children a deep love for the local church, wherever that is, and see what happens. Be careful that your family isn’t so holy and set apart that you cut yourself off from local fellowship. I’ve seen fundamentalist-conservative families and hyper-charismatic families do this, flitting from church to church, never finding the perfect fit. Consider honestly assessing your family’s pattern of church involvement.

Hopping around might not be detrimental to you, but your kids may end up lacking the attachments that will really make a difference in the long run.

Again, the old man speaks: settle down! Get used to church being not perfect. Find a local, inadequate, warty Church, and love her. Love your brothers and sisters and let your kids develop some long, slow relationships with real humans. Read Eugene Peterson and Tim Keller. [I hope this goes without saying, but it’s important to clarify: I’m NOT saying you should stay in an abusive, legalistic, graceless church just for the sake of staying. That type of environment could suck the life right out of you, and your kids.]

Now, of course I realize that our overseas communities are largely transient. And I realize that there may not be an identifiable church where you’re at. But for most of us, most of the time, that’s not the case; if we lack a good church fellowship, if our kids are Homescapes MOD flipped and flopped from here to there and back again, that might be more on us than on our circumstances. Don’t blame the environment or the cross-cultural lifestyle unless that’s actually what’s caused the disconnect.

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May our children play. May they explore and experience life, without needing some grand purpose or some world-altering goal.

May our children know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that our love for them is immense, never-ending, flowing straight from the heart of the Father. And when they feel our love, may they feel Him.

And when they doubt our love or His, may they remember. May they turn.

And in their search for Home, may they find the One who’s been standing there all along, at the other end of baggage claim, with a beautiful hand-written sign, that says “Welcome Home.”

 

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Further Reading:
I realize this has been heavy. I realize it’s potentially been a downer. So I’d love to dialogue with you about it, if you want. We can visit in the comments below or on Facebook. Do you disagree? I’d love to hear from you too. This issue is worth some conversation, for the children’s sake.

In the meantime, here are some articles that explore similar ideas:

3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Third Culture Kid

3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Missionary Kid

My Kids Are Not Little Missionaries

It’s Not All About War

The Idolatry of Missions

Why Be a World Changer [I don’t know this author, but I’m indebted to him for his well-formulated thoughts on this issue]

Devastating Secrets of Living Abroad

By Aneurin Howorth

Moving abroad is a wonderful privilege filled with blessings. Those of us who grew up internationally are able to experience the richness of the world in a way which we couldn’t have otherwise. In short, it is great. Yet there is a price to pay. Life is often filled with death, loss, and grief to an unprecedented level. This pain takes its toll on the human body, often in the form of mental illnesses.

It is difficult to pin down what causes mental illnesses. Both genetic and environmental factors are at play. However, there are some situations where mental illnesses become easier to spot. Think high-stress situations such as dealing with pressure to get visas sorted whilst trying to find a school for kids. Or potentially dealing with cycles of loss as you say goodbye to good friends, not knowing when you will see them again. Or wrestling with questions of identity as re-entry into your passport country becomes painful. Any of these sound familiar?

This is particularly challenging for TCK’s. Whilst these challenges can wipe anyone off their feet, dealing with these difficult circumstances during your developmental years can be devastating to your mental health. In the years where humans’ brains are primed to learn about identity, culture, and belonging, we are pulled from one place to the next in painful upheavals. Whilst it does vary from TCK to TCK, the general trend is one of dealing with far greater stress and grief than your average child.

It then comes as no surprise that mental health is a bigger problem among TCKs than the global trend. Whilst data is notoriously difficult to obtain (turns out being all over the world makes it hard to collect data!), there is a connection between cross-cultural living and struggling with a mental health disorder. When this happens during one’s developmental years the issue is magnified.

Unfortunately, mental illnesses are not taken as seriously as they should on the mission field. For example, depression is the leading cause of disability in the world and seems to go hand in hand with missions work. Despite this, most missionaries don’t have an extensive knowledge of the issue. I have many MK friends who struggle with depression, anxiety, bipolar, or other mental health problems (I, myself, am ill with a suspected somatization disorder). Missions is messy and painful work, contributing to mental illnesses in MKs.

The severity of these illnesses varies, but they cannot be ignored. I would not be surprised if many of you reading this know of someone who has tried to, or has, committed suicide. I went to an MK school in Kenya (RVA), which I loved. Yet, every year multiple people struggled with mental illnesses. I am not writing this to reflect badly on my school. Whilst the school is far from perfect, mental illnesses are part and parcel of missions work. Suicide is a terrible consequence of mental illnesses, but not the only one. The destruction they cause is pervasive and casts a menacing shadow over every area of our lives. It is a topic nobody seems to consider until the situation is already devastating.

One of the curiosities of mental illnesses is that they tend to show up later in life for us. The trauma the we carry around as TCKs usually manifests itself through mental illnesses once we are adults. The counselor Lois Bushong says that most TCKs tend to only start going to counseling once they are in their 30’s. [1] I am not yet in my thirties, but already, increasing numbers of my classmates report having mental health issues, almost exclusively struggling from unresolved trauma or grief on the mission field. Being a TCK does not stop when we become adults; both the blessings and the curses will follow us forever.

This is not a TCK-specific problem. Many cross-cultural adults report bouts of depression after transitioning culturally. This is often the case when people return to their passports culture.

The reality is that anyone who lives a stressful lifestyle, moves a lot, has had to say lots of goodbyes to friends, places and languages, struggles with questions of identity or belonging during their formative years will be more prone to mental illnesses. Obviously, missionaries (including MKs) fit right into these categories. It is something that we will have to deal with, whether we want to or not. I can guarantee that every missionary knows someone who has a mental health problem. They might not be aware of it because of the painful and secretive nature of these illnesses, but they affect almost all missionary families.

To their credit, mission organizations are ahead of the game in member care. They are the best international groups in this regard. However, with mental illnesses we still have a long way to go.

Here are some thoughts on how we can fight mental illnesses: they can only be fought as a team. Given that we are all one family under God, it is something we should all care about.

1. Have a well-rounded theology of suffering. We should not expect a comfortable life as Christians, but rather the opposite. We live a broken world in desperate need of God’s grace. There should be a constant dialogue around suffering, both its inevitability and how to rejoice in it (think Colossians 1:24 or James 1:2). Without this understanding we will grow inconsolably despondent in tough times. For a brilliant book on this check out The Call to Joy and Pain by Ajith Fernando.

2. We need to be proactive in conversations about mental illnesses. This is not a topic we should only learn about when we encounter its consequences. It needs to be part of all healthy discussions about being a cross-cultural missionary. If you have kids, it is crucial to bring them up discussing them. Not only do they have a decent chance of being ill in the future, but they will also play a key role in supporting other TCK friends who are likely to struggle with mental illnesses.

3. We need to have a proper understanding of mental illnesses as medical issues. Missionaries cannot go onto the field thinking that mental illnesses are spiritual failings or defects. This attitude will crush them, their children, or their friends when they encounter mental illnesses (regrettably this is still common). Whilst suffering from a mental illness is tough spiritually, medically speaking it is as physical as breaking a leg (although it’s more complicated because our brains are inspiringly complex). If you trust a doctor to fix a broken bone, please trust doctors as they tell you that mental health is physical too. (I can provide a plethora of evidence for anyone interested.) Like any problem, proper education on the topic will allow us to be supported and get the help we need quicker.

4. Pray for all those suffering from mental illnesses. It is a terrible burden and cannot be carried alone. Feel free to get in touch with any questions. Please keep this conversation going.

 

[1] Bushong, Lois. Belonging Everywhere and Nowhere: Insights into Counseling the Globally Mobile. (Indianapolis: Mango Tree Intercultural Studies, 2013), page 47.

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Aneurin Howorth grew up up in East Africa as an MK. Both his parents are British, but he has an American accent from time spent at Rift Valley Academy. Aneurin is passionate about mental health and the relationship it has to living internationally. He believes we need more discussion around these topics and blogs about both at https://noggybloggy.com/.  He is currently studying for a Master of Science in the psychology of mental health at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. You can contact him here or on his personal blog.

When a Third Culture Kid Goes “Home”

by Nicole Baldonado

Out of place.

Emotionally unstable.

Awkward.

Overwhelmed.

These are all common experiences of third culture kids who “go back home.” In other words, they return, or move for the first time, to live in the country listed on their passport. Regardless of citizenship, a third culture kid’s identity and sense of home become far more complicated than a single country on a passport.

I grew up as a third culture kid (TCK) in Ukraine, attended a two-year college in Hungary, and then moved back to the States for university. This post is written from the perspective of an American TCK returning to the States. Some differences would occur for those going “home” to another nation, but I believe we’d share many common experiences and reactions.

 

Out of place

When I moved back to the States, I assumed I would feel at home. After all, this was my native language and culture, right?

Instead, I realized I couldn’t even talk “normally” with friends. I often stopped mid-sentence because I couldn’t think of an English word. I muttered under my breath in Russian, feeling stupid.

Simple tasks like grocery shopping raised my stress level to the point of mental breakdown. How in the world do they sell THIS MANY types of bread?!

Never mind the more complicated tasks like finding a job or a place to live. No work history? No credit history? Have you been living under a rock?

No, but if you can point me to one, I think I’ll crawl under it and die.

 

Expensive

Some TCKs have lived in high-cost nations and find relief in American prices.

But coming from Ukraine, I was sure that my first American shopping trip would drain my entire savings. Every financial encounter left me with a feeling of despair: how will I ever survive here?

It took me years to learn how to live financially in the States. Most of that time, Americans probably thought I was a miser. But I was constantly wrestling with guilt over how much more I was spending than any Ukrainian I knew.

Even though I survived for a while on Ramen noodles and the Taco Bell dollar menu.

 

You need a car

You can’t navigate most American cities without a car. Often, TCKs got along in their host country with public transportation and have probably never owned a car. Many don’t even have a driver’s license.

When I first returned Stateside, I was at the mercy of anyone willing to drive me and isolated if no one was available. A stark contrast for someone who was free to roam a major city at the age of twelve, thanks to buses and the metro and a safer environment for kids.

 

What’s a deductible?

American life comes with the cost of monthly premiums.

Ukrainian health care is inexpensive, so my family never needed health insurance when I was growing up. I’d never owned a car or had car insurance. I felt like an idiot when someone tried to walk me through my insurance options in the States. Deductible. Premium. HSA. Liability. Coinsurance.

When did we stop speaking English? I briefly debated lapsing into Russian, just so my friend would have an idea how lost I felt in that moment. I was certain the conversation could be no less productive.

And then there was the cost. Once again: how am I ever going to survive here?

 

A different mentality

Third culture kids don’t think exactly like people in any one country.

I was born in Indiana, and Midwestern Americans value politeness and making a good first impression. Ukrainians value directness and believe you should speak your mind (though I’ll admit the level of directness varies from one part of Ukraine to another).

I took offense often during my early months in Ukraine. People told me I was too skinny or that my Russian was really bad. When I returned to the U.S., I was constantly confused, never sure what people really meant by their words.

Today my mentality comes from a strange combination of cultures: American, Ukrainian, and a number of others I’ve encountered over the years. Many TCKs struggle to find themselves thinking like those around them, no matter where they go.

 

Americans have more

Once again, this is a general statement and not true related to every TCK’s experience. Even in Ukraine, the economy has changed over the years, and more people live comfortable lives today.

But I remember first settling back in the States and being shocked at how much more stuff Americans had than people in other countries. I knew plenty of Ukrainian families who squeezed three generations into tiny apartments and never ate out because there wasn’t enough money.

I remember breaking down into tears one night after dinner at an American family’s house. They were wonderful, generous people who had worked hard and made a wealthy living. I did not fault them for their wealth. But I was struggling to make sense of a world where some people have so much and others have so little.

Third culture kids returning “home” often find themselves wrestling over their ideals and worldview.

 

What about you?

I’ve given just a few examples of why TCKs struggle when they return to their passport country. There are many more, and the experiences vary depending on both the host and passport country of each person.

If you’ve lived outside your native land and returned, what was it like for you? Do you have any particularly funny or noteworthy memories?

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Nicole Baldonado and her husband are missionaries raising two kids in L’viv, Ukraine. Nicole grew up as a third-culture-kid and loves watching her children experience life in other countries. She writes weekly at jnbmission.com and can be found on Facebook at facebook.com/jnbaldonado or Twitter at NBaldonado.

10 Questions to Routinely Ask Your TCKs

by Lauren Wells

It is important for parents raising children anywhere to be continually engaging and checking in with their kids. When you are raising TCKs, this is even more important. TCKs are privy to struggles that mono-cultural children don’t often have to face, so being aware of that and taking time to routinely ask questions such as these can strengthen your relationship and show your kids how much you love and value them.

Set aside time routinely to talk with your TCK. Ensure that this time is not tainted by distractions and that you are not attempting to multitask, but instead be fully engaged and interested in their answers. If these types of conversations are not something you have had with your TCKs in the past, it may take a few times before they truly trust that you care about their answers and that they are safe to answer honestly. For this reason, it is critical to create a safe space for them to speak openly.

Listen and encourage them to explain their answers or elaborate, but be careful to not be too pushy or to respond in a way that invalidates their answer. Remember that the purpose of asking these questions is not to provide a solution, but to open up the communication between you and your child. You might ask your TCK all of these questions, or just have them on hand to ask one or two when you’re spending time with your child.

 

1. How are you doing?

It seems simple, but asking this question is one of the best ways to show your kids that you care. Make is clear that there isn’t a right answer and that it is ok if they really aren’t doing “just fine.”

 

2. What are some things that you enjoy about living here?

Their “favorites” may be different than you expect!

 

3. Do you ever wish that we lived a different life?

It’s important to help your TCKs process the life that they are living. It is unique and it wasn’t of their choosing. It’s healthy for them to think through this question and for you to hear their answer as it may reveal some deeper struggles that need to be worked through.

 

4. What is something that you’re looking forward to?

This gives your TCK the opportunity to share their excitement about an upcoming event. Perhaps you didn’t know about this event or didn’t realize how important it is to your child. Now that you know, you can share in their excitement!

 

5. What is something that you’re not looking forward to?

This question often provides the opportunity to dig deeper and discover why a certain event, place, task, etc. is unenjoyable or uncomfortable for your child. Avoid a positive comeback such as, “But that will be so fun!” and instead explore the question further by saying something like, “Wow, I didn’t realize that place made you nervous. What is it about it that is uncomfortable to you?”

 

6. Do you feel like we spend enough time together?

TCKs can often feel like they are second to their parent’s work or ministry. This question allows them the opportunity to say so if that is the case. If their answer is “no,” be vigilant about finding ways to spend more time with this child.

 

7. Where do you feel most at home?

The question “Where is home?” is a common, confusing question for TCKs. Working through this idea at a young age prevents it from becoming a surprising realization when they are older and feel that no places feels completely like “home.”

 

8. Is there anyone or anything that you miss right now?

It is important to give TCKs the permission to reminisce and grieve their losses. Bringing these up for them can help them to do this in a healthy way.

 

9. Do you feel like people understand you?

Being a TCK has many challenges and one of them is a constant feeling of being misunderstood. While you may not have a solution to their perceived uniqueness, it can be insightful for you to hear your child’s answer.

 

10. What’s your favorite thing about yourself?

Again, identity issues are common for TCKs so asking them to think through things that they like about themselves is a good way to promote self confidence. This is also a good time to tell them a few of your favorite things about them!

 

Do you have any questions to add to the list? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!

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Lauren Wells is a Third Culture Kid (TCK) and Missionary Kid (MK) who grew up in Tanzania, East Africa where she developed an affinity for mandazis (African doughnuts) and Chai tea. Her experience as a TCK fuels her passion for working with globally mobile families. Lauren is the Children’s Program Director for Worldview Institute for International Christian Communication in Portland, Oregon. In her role at WorldView, she developed and now runs a program for children that equips them with the skills they need to learn new languages and embrace new cultures when they move overseas with their family. She blogs regularly at tcktraining.com.

Dear Missionary Mom of Littles

Dear Missionary Mom of Littles,

I see you.

I’m starting with that, because I know that often you don’t feel seen. You stay home with the kids while your husband goes out to teach the Bible study. You hang around the back of the church, trying to keep the baby quiet. You have to leave the team meeting early so that your toddler gets his nap.

Of course, every mom of littles, in any culture, is going to struggle with similar things. But I think that this particular season of life is even harder on missionary moms.

Quite likely, you are raising your kids in isolation. You don’t have your own parents or other relatives nearby to help out. There isn’t a Mommy-group at your church or a pee-wee soccer league in your city. There might not even be a McDonald’s Playland or a safe park to walk to. And you feel trapped.

Yes, there are other ladies in your host country with small children. But they may be parenting their children very differently from you. They might live in their mother-in-law’s house. They might put their kids in all-day preschool at two years old, or hire a full-time nanny, or be okay with letting their children freely roam the streets. They might criticize you for not keeping your child warm enough or spoiling them too much or not spoiling them enough or for giving your child a popsicle, even when it’s 90 degrees outside. And you feel very alone.

Maybe you’re remembering earlier days, when you worked right alongside your husband, or when your job felt significant. When your ministry was thriving and you could look back at the end of the day and feel satisfied with all you accomplished. Now you feel exhausted but have nothing to show for it. Your newsletters are full of your husband’s adventures, but you don’t have anything to contribute. And your life just feels….boring.

And you may wonder, What’s the point? Why am I here? You know the importance of spending these years with your little ones, but it feels like you could be doing the exact same job in your home country. Except there, your life would be less lonely and less difficult.

I was you for ten years. When I see you, I remember.

This is what I learned, and this is what I want you to know today.

Be creative. You get the opportunity to take the best parts of parenting from multiple cultures. You don’t have to do it exactly like they do, but you also don’t have to raise your children exactly the way you were raised. Work within your host culture’s expectations of raising children. Maybe that means hiring a part-time nanny or housekeeper. Maybe that means letting your kids play outside in much colder or hotter weather than your home country.

Find your ministry niche. This is so, so important for moms of littles. True, you probably won’t be able to engage in full-time ministry during this season. But find something. Something that will allow you to use your gifts and interests in your host culture. Maybe it’s hospitality. Maybe it’s doing accounting while your kids are napping. Maybe it’s teaching for a few hours a week. Maybe it’s connected to what your husband is doing, but maybe it’s not. Either way is okay.

Embrace the advantages of this season. Adorable small children are a great way to start relationships. Even better, people talk slower and more simply to children—which is exactly what you need as a language learner. And if the combination of your kids and your city restrict you to your house most of the time, then think of this as an excellent season for learning. Listen to language lessons during playtime. Read books on culture during nap time. Pepper your neighbor with questions about culture. You will learn a side of your host country that your husband or teammates won’t see, and that is an important contribution.

Be brave. Cross-cultural work is always hard, but it might be easier for your husband, who has a school or office or business to go off to every day. It can be a lot harder for a mom who needs to summon up the courage to knock on the neighbor’s door, initiate the conversation in a new language, get to know the woman who just criticized your baby’s sockless feet. Sometimes it feels easier to just stay home. Fight against that tendency.

Be faithful. This season will not last forever. It feels like it—trust me, I know. The days are endless and mind-numbing, but one day you will throw away your last diaper or brush your last set of teeth. Your kids will become more independent and you won’t have to watch them every waking second. Your life will not always be this restrictive or exhausting.

Hang in there, Mom of Littles. Take joy in their giggles, pray through the long nights, and get up in the morning. God will not waste your faithfulness.

 

If you live cross-culturally and are not a mom of littles, I encourage you: Show these missionary moms you see them. Hold the baby. Offer to baby-sit. Ask for their contributions in your strategic planning. Value their voices. Work around their schedules. Look for ways to use their gifts. You and your team will be stronger for it.

My littles from nine years ago. Seems like yesterday.

Is Calling in our DNA?

DNA Strands

“So” said the kindly woman at the Baptist church. “You must want to be a missionary too when you grow up! Do you think God will call you too?” 

I recoiled. I hoped she wouldn’t see the visible distress on my face. She was so kind. She was so excited about my potential. How could I disappoint?

But NO, I didn’t. I didn’t want to be a missionary when I grew up. I didn’t want to raise support. I didn’t want to go from church to church in small New England towns. I did not want prayer letters or ‘deputation’. No. No. No. 

I was 18 years old. I wanted college and boyfriends and travel and stamps in my passport. And then down the road? Down the road of course I would go overseas again – because that was home! But I didn’t even think about being a missionary. 

There are a couple of things that can be huge burdens to missionary kids and their parents.

One is behavior. Missionary kids have just as many reasons to rebel as any other kid. Some might argue, more. Our world contains pitfalls that can catch and take us down. I know. I was one who found marijuana growing in the back of Holy Trinity church, that noble and historic church in the town of Murree that the entire missionary community would attend every summer. It’s easy for us to use excuses of belonging and identity to rebel. And then it’s easy for a parent to feel guilt “if we hadn’t brought our kids half way around the world etc. this wouldn’t have happened…” while the reality is that when a kid is bent on bending rules it’s going to happen anywhere.

The second burden is ‘calling’. Because calling is a word loaded with question marks and misunderstanding.

It was a few years later that I began to really wrestle with this word and idea. I had seen the good, bad, and ugly related to call and calling.  I had seen the good that comes from faith and understanding God’s big story. I had seen a kid on the brink of death because a father was so committed to a call that he forgot the call included caring for his children. I had become acquainted with ugly legalism that forgets the beautiful story and call to redemption, reducing it to choking rules and regulations. 

In my wrestling, I  realized that the kind woman at that Baptist church was partially correct. My parents were called. But their first call was to God Himself. After that, their journey took them places where all was initially unfamiliar. Food, clothing, housing, plumbing, language, faith expression — all of it was new. It had to be learned and learned with humility and willingness to admit mistakes.

Along the way they had babies. And sometimes more babies. And what was unfamiliar to them was home to us, their children. We first heard words and phrases in English, Urdu, and Sindhi. Curry was a staple, the call to prayer the first alarm clock. None of this spelled strange, it was all familiar. Home was 18-hour train rides from the desert of Sindh to the lush Punjab; home was a boarding school community with all the good and the hard of dormitory living away from parents; home was plane trips and passports, learning how to negotiate cross-culturally at young ages. This was home.

So pressure that this life overseas would be a ‘calling’ simply because we were the children of missionaries was uncomfortable and so foreign. 

On the one hand it seemed to make sense, like a family business where one by one the kids take their place behind the counter talking to customers and learning how to negotiate transactions. But how many kids actually end up in the family business?  How many children of nurses, teachers, and mechanics become nurses, teachers, mechanics? Some do. But others follow another path, walk a different journey.

Ultimately the call of God isn’t a business, it isn’t an occupation. The call of God is heard in the heart and obeyed with the mind and body. It is a word, the Word, that is planted and watered until it grows into an active, living, breathing faith. It is a call to God himself. 

Missionary kids are called. But they are called to God Himself. After that – it’s anyone’s guess. After that it could be to a small town in England, a large city in North America, an international consulting business based in Holland, a law office in Seattle, a position in an international business degree program, a tenured professorship at a university, a foreign service position with the state department.

Rarely does it look the same as the parents. Our journey may begin through the faith and calling of our parents, but those roots are transplanted and sustained through our own decisions of faith. 

So is calling in our DNA?

Threaded through each strand of our DNA is indeed a Call. A Call described best by the ever-challenging words of St. Augustine to “Love God and enjoy Him forever”.  Only that Call is carefully entwined in our spiritual genetic code from head to toe, from heart to soul.

And after that it’s anyone’s guess.

This post has been adapted from an older version originally written in 2012 for Community Across Boundaries. 

Should TCKs Take Their Parents to College?

By Lauren Wells

When you become a parent, you quickly realize that there are a plethora of strong opinions about just about anything regarding the rearing of your children. When you are parenting TCKs, the voices are even louder. TCKs often have unique challenges that make parenting far from straightforward, and this is particularly true when you enter into parenting teenage TCKs and university is on the horizon.

Do you go back with your TCK for the first part (or all) of their college/university years? Perhaps at least the first semester of their freshman year? Or is it time to hang up the overseas missionary hat all together and settle back into your passport country?

Again, strong opinions abound. Some say, “No matter what, make sure you accompany your TCK for their incoming freshman year for at least the first semester or as long as you can spare.”

Others stress the importance of giving your TCK the opportunity to independently “find themselves” without the peering eyes and pressure of their parents. Perhaps allowing them the freedom of not being “on stage” for the first time in their lives.

I’m going to add yet another opinion. One that will split the difference and hopefully allow you, parents, to let out a collective sigh of relief.

There is not one right answer. There are so many factors that go into this decision, and thus there cannot be a “one-size-fits-all answer,” though many well-intended individuals and organizations try to create one. Instead, the parents, together with their TCK, should strategically make the decision with specific factors in mind.

 

1. How independent and mature is your TCK?

Is your TCK itching to jump out of the nest, or will he or she need a little extra push? I am personally very independent by nature, so when it came time to leave Tanzania for university in the USA, I was ready to leap headfirst. I dove into college life and loved the chance to be independent. Though I did struggle with some stereotypical TCK issues and did have a difficult freshman year, being able to work through those challenges on my own, apart from my parents, was a positive growing experience for me.  After feeling like I had been living in a fish bowl for many years, as many missionary kids do, it was healthy for me to live outside of the gazing eyes of supporters, churches, and organizations.

However, my parents knew that my brother would not have the same experience that I did, and would benefit greatly from having a bit more parental support as he navigated his first year of college. They chose to move to the US for his freshman year, and he was able to live with them and commute to school. This gave them the ability to teach him how to drive, set up and wisely use a bank account, apply for jobs, etc. Having my parents as a “home-base” for him significantly contributed to his success that year and the years after.

God has uniquely wired your TCKs and thus, your decision may (and dare I say, should) change based on the individual TCK. You may have one child that needs autonomy and independence and another that needs more direct support. It is crucial that you make your decision based on the specific child instead of having a blanket policy that applies to them all.

 

2. Is there a good option for a “home-base”?

If you choose not to follow your TCK to university, it is important that they have a safe “home-base” nearby. This can be a relative’s house, a family friend, even a supporting church. If you are still living overseas while your TCK is in college, it is imperative that they have a getaway nearby and people who will reach out to them. University can be stressful, especially when working through common TCK challenges, and it is important that your TCKs have a place that feels “homey” to escape to for the weekend, someone with whom they can process the challenges they are dealing with, and someone whom they can call if they need last-minute help moving out of their dorm.

Communication with the “home-base” is also a critical factor. I know parents who assumed that a family member or friend would be more attentive to the TCK during their college years, but when college began they hardly ever reached out. It is important that you have multiple conversations with the family member, friend, or church to talk about your expectations of the “home-base” role. If they feel they are unable to be that support system for your TCK, you may need to consider reaching out to someone else, looking at a different school if location is the issue, or returning with your TCK to be that home-base for them.

 

3. Be Actively Involved

Whether or not you choose to return with your TCK for university, ensure that you are still actively involved in their experience. There are wonderful online resources that you can take advantage of to keep in touch if you choose not to accompany your TCK to college. You can video chat frequently, ask about friends and events, send care packages, ask for a virtual tour of their newly rearranged dorm, “meet” their friends via the internet, etc. Thanks to today’s technology, you can still be actively involved in your college-student’s life while living on the other side of the world. If you do choose to return with your TCK for some or all of their college years, attempt to find a good balance of being involved while also giving your TCK the space explore their independence.

 

4. Acknowledge the Challenges

Whether or not you live near your children during their college years, you can expect that they will struggle with new challenges unique to their TCK upbringing. Though you may not have seen many of the typical “TCK issues” in your children up to this point, that does not mean that they will not surface during the college years. In fact, the college years are the most common stage of life for many TCK challenges to arise. Expect that this will be the case for your TCK, acknowledge it especially if they subtly express their struggles to you, and help them to find the support and help that they need.

I highly recommend that TCKs seek counseling during their college years so that they can actively process the transitions and corresponding challenges that they may be facing. A counselor with experience working with the TCK population is ideal, but if that is not possible, meeting with any professional counselor can still be beneficial. Many colleges offer these services free of charge, so gently encourage your TCK to take advantage of them.

Unfortunately, I have heard far too many stories from TCKs who told their parents that they weren’t doing well and needed help, only to be brushed off by the parent saying “The first year of college is hard for everyone. Just hang in there!” Whether we like to admit it or not, growing up overseas does create many unique challenges for TCKs as they grow into adults and it is absolutely critical that these issues are taken seriously, addressed, and are not shrugged off as a typical college-student experience.

 

5. Consider a “Gap Year”

Many expatriate families choose to allow for a “gap year” between high school graduation and the start of college or university. This year can be used in a variety of ways and can be a great solution to the question at hand. If you are not planning to leave the mission field, your TCK may benefit from using the gap year to work or volunteer in your host country. This allows time and space to learn independence while still remaining on the same continent, and may leave them more prepared to attend university alone the following year.

The gap year can also be used as a family’s furlough year. This time in the passport country can be used to teach your TCK practical life skills like how to drive and how to navigate the post office, as well as allowing your TCK time to acclimate to the passport culture before beginning school. This can also be a good time to decide upon and establish a “home-base,” and then universities can be visited and applied to within a drivable radius of that location. By spending time in your passport country, your TCK will become more familiar with the culture and physical area and thus, more comfortable remaining behind when you return to your host country.

I have seen the “gap year” used for travel for either the whole family or the TCK alone, a combination of time in the host country and in the passport country, a year of working or volunteering, an official gap year program such as this one, and a variety of other great options. The gap year can be a great compromise for families who are unsure, or have conflicting opinions, about whether or not to return with their TCKs for college.

 

While it may be difficult, it is important to drown out the multitude of opinions as you deliberate this complex decision as a family. Again, there are many options that resounding voices say you “should” choose. These voices may come from relatives back home, your sending organization, even experienced older missionaries who have successfully navigated the college-years with their TCKs.

While advice can be helpful when weighing your options, remember that every TCK is different and what worked for someone else’s child may not work for yours. I am so grateful that no one persuaded my parents to return home while I was in university, because that would not have been a positive experience for me. However, I also never tell parents to follow the same path with their TCKs, because what was best for me may not be best for another TCK. Again, it goes back to knowing your TCK and deciding based on his or her unique needs and personality.

So, should TCKs take their parents to college with them? The answer: it depends. Consider your TCK’s unique personality, maturity level, unique needs, and whether or not there is good “home-base” option. Most importantly, remember that there is not a “right” way to do it and that there are a number of good options that may work for your family and your beautifully unique TCK.

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Lauren Wells is a Third Culture Kid (TCK) and Missionary Kid (MK) who grew up in Tanzania, East Africa where she developed an affinity for mandazis (African doughnuts) and Chai tea. Her experience as a TCK fuels her passion for working with globally mobile families. Lauren is the Children’s Program Director for Worldview Institute for International Christian Communication in Portland, Oregon. In her role at WorldView, she developed and now runs a program for children that equips them with the skills they need to learn new languages and embrace new cultures when they move overseas with their family. She blogs regularly at tcktraining.com.

Thoughts on Entry, Reentry, and Third Culture Kids


Every summer I begin thinking about change and transition, about reentry and culture shock. With the first warm breezes of the season, I am transported to places and times where this was my reality. And I begin to hear stories from others who are going through these transitions. The stories are told in photographs and short, often humorous, statements, hiding the tremendous impact of transnational moves.

When I began looking into information on reentry, I came across refugee resettlement and orientation programs for refugees entering a country. I was struck by how much the advice resonated with me as a third culture kid. While on one level the TCK and the refugee experience are worlds apart, the goals and the realistic expectations in refugee orientation programs are remarkably helpful.

Because orientation for the refugee is not just about theory and information, it is designed to give the refugee “the opportunity to develop realistic expectations regarding their resettlement, to consider different situations that might arise in a new country, and develop skills and attitudes that will facilitate their adjustment and well-being”*

The first thing I realized is that we, like the refugee or immigrant, don’t ‘reenter’. Instead we ‘enter’ a world that is not familiar, a world that calls up all of our flexibility and ingenuity to adjust. It may seem like a small thing, but the difference between those words is huge. 

So I began developing my own list for my tribe, the third culture kid tribe. I offer it here with hopes that both those who enter and those who re-enter may find a nugget of truth. I’d love to here your thoughts through the comment section!

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  • Realistic time expectations. Entering a new world is a journey and it rarely happens in three months or six months. We are moving to a new country, a new world. As such it deserves all the attention we would give to going into a totally different culture. Transitioning to a new life in our passport country is far bigger than spending a summer vacation there. Give yourself a minimum of two years, but don’t be surprised if it takes five.
  • Accepting that we are a combination of worlds. As TCKs, our worlds are woven together in a semi-formed tapestry. Many of us feel like completely different people when we’re in our passport countries. We are not chameleons and we are not impostors; rather we’re trying to make sense of our worlds and figure out what cultural adaptation looks like as we effectively transition to our passport countries. Yes – there is loss of identity. But as we work through these losses, our identities as those who can live between worlds emerge stronger than ever.
  • Understanding culture shock. We don’t go through reverse culture shock – we go through culture shock. Reverse culture shock means we know a culture, have been away from it, and are returning to differences we didn’t expect. In our case, we don’t really know this culture we are entering. We may think we know it, because our passports tell us we should, but we don’t. And while reverse culture shock is described as “wearing contact lenses in the wrong eyes”, culture shock is having completely different lenses.
  • Giving voice to a longing. Struggling to give voice to our longings is enormous. Somehow it doesn’t feel valid. But giving voice to our longings is legitimate. Our world as we know it has ended. We may be able to visit our home, our adopted country, but we know that we must have a valid and legal way to stay there should we wish to go back.

    We will have times of intense longing and wistfulness for what no longer exists.

    This can be captured best in the word ‘saudade’, a Portuguese word that came into the existence in the 13th century. “The famous saudade of the Portuguese is a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness. ~ In Portugal of 1912, A. F. G. Bell”  Giving voice to ‘saudade’ helps take away its power and ability to control. The longings are there, they are valid, but if they control us we will despair. Our longings can be expressed through writing, through connecting to other TCKs, through the visual arts, through theatre, through faith, and through friendships.

  • Understand the shaping of our worldview. While our parents went overseas with already developed worldviews and through their interactions in their host countries had their worldviews affected, ours began developing in our host country. Our first memories may be the sound of the Call to Prayer or a dusty road and traffic jam involving a buffalo, two donkey carts, and our parent’s jeep. They may be of a crowded and colorful bazaar filled with colorful fabrics and bangles. Our experiences shape our worldview this will probably differ markedly from those of our parents and those of our peers in our passport countries. Having realistic understanding and expectations on differing worldviews helps us to not expect or demand that others understand us.
  • Faith can be complicated. For many of us, faith is paramount to who we are. But it gets tangled up in our adjusting to life in our passport countries. It’s particularly difficult if we feel we can’t question God, express disbelief or doubt, or change denominations because it feels disloyal to our parents.This can inhibit our honesty as it relates to our faith journeys. Perhaps doubt was never a part of our faith journey before, but now that our world has changed the doubts surface. A question emerges: “Will the faith that sustained us through our journey thus far be big enough to get us through this crucial juncture?” It’s an important question and often we need to find people beyond our parents who can hear and understand us, speaking truth into our faith and our doubt.
  • The importance of cultural brokers. Often there emerges someone who doesn’t share our background but understands in a way that defies our understanding. This is a gift. This is the person that explains life to us, that walks beside us. This is the one that looks through our high school yearbook and says“Now who’s this with you? And did you go on that camping trip where you got in trouble for sneaking over to where the boys were sleeping before or after this picture was taken?” This personal interest helps us understand what friendship, listening, and cultural brokering look like. So learn from them. Look to them. But don’t put undue burdens on them.
  • Place is significant – significant physically, emotionally, and spiritually. As humans, at our core is a need for ‘place’. Call it ‘belonging’, call it ‘home’, call it anything you like. But all of us are integrally connected to place. We are incarnate beings and so when those places are taken away, we suffer from a “disruption” of place. It is clear that the TCK has a disruption of place – and often multiple times in their lives. If the disruption goes beyond our ability to adapt it becomes a pathology. The late Paul Tournier, a gifted Swiss psychologist, calls this a “deprivation of place”. He says that to be human is to need a place, to be rooted and attached to that place. Many of us downplay this connection to place by over spiritualizing it or underestimating its importance. We need not dismiss it, we need not idolize it; we must only acknowledge it and recognize it as valid.
  •  The yearning heart. All of us have a heart that yearns for belonging, for acceptance, for love. This is the human condition. It’s a fundamental truth and it is not unique to the third culture kid. What is hard is tying this in with all of our TCK experiences, life story, and worldview. It is easy for us to mistake our yearning for only that which we left, instead of remembering that we had a heart that yearned before we ever left our passport countries. If we can grow in an understanding of our hearts, what is global and universal in our yearning, and what is specifically tied to being a third culture kid, we are in a good place.  A desire for place is universal, a desire for our particular place, whether it be Buenos Aires or Bolivia or Cairo or Lebanon, is specific to our TCK background.
  • The need for grace. In the midst of all of this, it is so easy to want grace, and so hard to give grace. Yet all of this is about grace. The grace that we were given by our host country, the grace of others who walked beside us as kids, the grace of our parents in caring and loving even when they don’t fully understand. Those of us who ‘get’ grace will find it easier to give grace. Can we give grace to those who we feel dismiss us, hurt us, misunderstand us, or don’t like us? Can we give grace to the people who we misunderstand, who we don’t like, who we dismiss?

None of this is a formula and it is not a list of stages. Although there are similarities that bind us together as TCK’s, ultimately we each have our own unique story.

Walking through the entry process and emerging on the other side is one more chapter in that story, one more pattern in the ever-evolving tapestry of our lives.

6 Ways to Help Your TCKs Manage Their “Need for Change”

By Lauren Wells

Third Culture Kids (TCKs) have an exceptional ability to become “cultural chameleons.” They have the uncanny ability to subconsciously pick out the subtleties in a new culture and operate successfully in that culture even if they only move between their passport country and one host country. Because of this, adapting becomes their lifestyle. More than that, I believe that adapting becomes their comfort zone.

For the majority of TCKs, moving is thrilling, exciting, and comfortable. This process of settl-ing and adapt-ing is familiar territory, and they know how to navigate it well. It is when they begin to settle that they feel uncomfortable and must make the conscious decision to wade into the uncharted territory of settled and adapted.

The adaptable and flexible nature of your child can be a great quality. It is a skill that they have learned (or will learn) out of necessity, in order to cope with the transition between cultures. And it will serve them very well in life if they learn to use it effectively. Fortunately, you, as parents, can help your TCKs navigate this change and develop the awareness needed to make this trait healthy and productive.

The majority of TCKs will always have the itch for change and, because of their upbringing, the “easy” solution to a difficulty is often a big change. This is where TCKs differ from mono-cultural individuals who feel they have a need for “change.” When a mono-cultural individual feels they need a change in their life, they might redecorate their house. When a TCK feels they need a change, they might move to Iceland.

The TCK’s solution to their mental alarm clock is often a move (sometimes cross-culturally), a major career change, a school change, or a relationship change. These may not seem problematic and, on the surface, often aren’t when the TCK is a child, teen, or young adult. However, when they don’t learn how to satisfy this need in a healthy way, and this “need” arises later in adulthood, it can be incredibly crippling to their career, marriage, family life, and more.

So how can you as a parent of young TCKs prevent this struggle from becoming debilitating when your TCK reaches adulthood? Here are 6 ways I believe you can help.

 

1. Acknowledge that Your Child Will Have This “Need” for Change. If you know that your TCK will likely struggle with the need for change into and through their adulthood, then you can subtly teach them, from a young age, how to channel that need appropriately. Talk about the things that you can routinely and flippantly change (house decor, wardrobe, bedrooms, hairstyles, etc.) and the things that you really need to think and pray about before you change (friends, places, schools, jobs, etc.). Help your child embrace their love, and even need, for positive change.

 

2. Talk about It. Talk about this concept of being comfortable in the adapting process and less comfortable in a settled life. Your children may not understand and your teenagers may not want to hear it, but we can hope that when they become adults and are faced with this challenge, they will remember your words and be proactive about controlling the change instead of letting it control them.

 

3. Leave Well. When you leave your passport country for the first time, and every “leave” after that, make sure you are intentional about how you leave. It is nearly impossible to settle well in a new place if you have not left the previous place well.

When we (humans) know that we are about to leave people for an extended period of time, we tend to emotionally disconnect from people prematurely. This can very easily become a habit for TCKs and can lead to a lot of “burnt bridges” and unresolved grief over the years. Your children need to learn how to leave well from a young age.

One of my favorite tools for leaving well is David C. Pollock’s concept of the RAFT. Here is a simplified explanation and how you can implement it with young children:

R= Reconciliation. Or, Say Sorry. Ensure that you and your TCKs are reconciled with people before you leave. TCKs quickly learn that they can forgo the un-comfortableness of making amends with friends by simply getting on an airplane. This far too easily becomes a habit. Teach them from a young age that reconciling before a move is not optional.

A= Affirmation. Tell the people who you love that you love them. Help your TCKs write Thank You Cards or draw pictures for their friends and family. Perhaps make a list together as a family of all of the people to whom you want to say, “Thank you” or “I love you” before you leave, and then include your children when you do so.

F= Farewell. Say goodbye, not only to people, but to places and things as well. This is especially important for young children. Take a final trip to their favorite park, schedule final play dates, say goodbye. It is critical to the grieving process that children know that it is the final play date, trip to the park, night sleeping in their bed, etc., and are able to say goodbye.

T= Think Destination. Talk with your kids about the place where you will be moving. What do you know about it? What might be different from where you are living now? What is the plan when you first arrive? Perhaps watch YouTube videos or look at pictures of where you will be living.

 

4. Arrive Well. Show your children how to settle. It can be tempting, especially as an adult, to live with one foot in this new culture and leave the rest of yourself back in your passport culture. Some people do this by trying to keep their home and family life as “American” (or whatever other nationality) as possible while living in a different country. This will not do your TCKs any good and will definitely not teach them how to settle well. Wherever you are living, dive in. Make friends. Learn the language. Eat the food. Engage.

Because TCKs become incredibly good at adapting and integrating, this lifestyle will become their comfort zone. That is OK as long as they also learn to step outside of their comfort zone and settle in some areas.

 

5. Encourage Deep Friendships. When TCKs move often, it becomes easier to forgo deep friendships rather than deal with the hurt of frequent goodbyes.  Encourage your child to maintain friendships. TCKs become very skilled at making friends, but many have a more challenging time maintaining and developing deep, lasting friendships.

When TCKs have moved frequently, they may not want to invest deeply in friendships in order to avoid the pain of leaving friends yet again. The idea of deep friendships may also trigger that dreaded settled feeling. Teach your children to push past the fear and into those deep friendships. Encourage them to keep in touch with friends they have left behind and be willing to make new friends. Technology nowadays makes it much easier for TCKs to keep in touch with friends all over the world. Take advantage of it! Older TCKs may just need your gentle encouragement, while younger children may need more time and help on your part. It is worth the effort for your TCKs to have deep, life-long friends who can love and support them in the midst of their moving, changing, and adapting.

 

6. Teach the Process of Making a Healthy Change. Be an example of the process of making big changes. If you are looking at moving or changing your child’s school, pray with them about it. Ask God for wisdom; make a pros and cons list; make it a big decision. Often parents of TCKs don’t invite their children into the decision-making process and instead only tell them once a decision has been made. In some scenarios this is necessary, but in most, allowing them to be a part of the process gives them the opportunity to see changes made well.

 

In closing, I want to be clear that the healthy version of a TCK who has overcome the need for constant adapting, is not necessarily the TCK that settles down in one place for the rest of their life. That may be the case, but most likely it is not. The healthy TCK realizes that they have a need for change and knows that they are more comfortable with the adapting process than with the settled life.

However, they have learned how to control the need for change instead of letting it control them. They are willing to be somewhat uncomfortable so that they can live a settled life in necessary areas. For TCKs, doing this effectively is a life-long learning process, and that process begins with you, as parents, the second you decide to pack your bags and move overseas.

 

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Lauren Wells is a Third Culture Kid (TCK) and Missionary Kid (MK) who grew up in Tanzania, East Africa where she developed an affinity for mandazis (African doughnuts) and Chai tea. Her experience as a TCK fuels her passion for working with globally mobile families. Lauren is the Children’s Program Director for Worldview Institute for International Christian Communication in Portland, Oregon. In her role at WorldView, she developed and now runs a program for children that equips them with the skills they need to learn new languages and embrace new cultures when they move overseas with their family. She blogs regularly at tcktraining.com.

Parenting in Less Simple Times

Raising children outside of their passport culture, parents can tend toward feeling guilty about certain things.

True?

It is not uncommon for parents of third culture kids to beat themselves up about the friends their kids have lost, the lack of community their kids may have, the lack of access to “normal” things (music lessons, movie theaters, social clubs, sports, church youth group, playgrounds, etc. etc. etc. forever and ever) they perceive their little people experience.

For some of us, guilt can cause us to be permissive (read:not very wise) in other areas while we attempt to make up for the ways we feel our kids are suffering.

Warning: Guilt is not a healthy guide to high-quality parenting decisions.

For the sake of context and disclosure I bravely share with you today, my age.

I am forty-four years old.

I am currently the grandmother of two and the mother of seven.

I grew up watching The Dukes of Hazzard, The Facts of Life, and Growing Pains.

It was a simpler time.

In Junior High and High School I never once researched a paper by using the Internet or a Google search.  As a competitive swimmer, had I heard the word Google I would simply have thought some moron spelled the word goggles incorrectly. Had someone asked me, “Did you see that on-line?”  I would have been stupefied and replied, “Do you mean did I see it while standing IN a line?”

It was a simpler time.

I did not post photos of myself or my friends anywhere but on a bulletin board in my brightly decorated bedroom.  I used a thumb-tack to do it. It was a simpler time. None of my peers used smart phones. As a matter of fact, most of our phones had cords and were connected to the wall in the kitchen and we did not consider them dumb phones.

It was a simpler time.

I am raising (and have raised) children currently ranging from the age of 26 years old to 9 years old.  I was parenting two children when the Internet came on the scene and began to be a more widely used tool.

My first-born taught me to use a mouse at a public library when she was five years old. I will never forget her taking it from my hand while I shook it in the air and saying, “No, Mom, you set it down like this.”   My last-born thinks a mouse is a rodent that runs through the kitchen and causes me to scream.  Seventeen years separate the first and last. They are experiencing technology differently – and that is just seventeen years of development. That to say, it is no wonder a forty-four year old might feel helpless trying to keep up with it all.

In 2007 my oldest daughter taught us about Facebook while we worked with folks in a rural village in Haiti. “That is the dumbest thing ever” and “What is the point of that?”,  we said.  That same year these experts talked about raising kids in the ‘Internet Age’.  I bet those experts are not the experts today. (Zero research went into that bet. Do not quote me.)

The truth is, most of us cannot keep up with what our kids know.  Unfortunately, many of us are learning the hard way.

We recently installed “the Circle” in order to limit our children’s access to sites on the web and to control the time the Internet is available to them each day.  We smugly high-five and toasted ourselves as we thought, “Oh my gosh, we are brilliant and awesome and our kids are protected due to our amazing and cutting-edge cultural knowledge. Go us! Parenting is easy!!!”

Approximately seventeen minutes later we were lying face down in despair as we learned that half of the things we allowed the kids access to are neither “safe” or acceptable by our standards.

We learned that Instagram, our kids’ favorite SocialMedia site, has pornography. We learned other terrible things too.

We learned that the despicable and broken beings devote their lives to getting porn in front of our kids.  We learned that we probably cannot stay ahead of it without devoting time and attention to staying ahead of it.  Even then, we probably cannot stay ahead of it.

As we are learning and trying to protect the five kids left in our home we are reading statistics about the age that most children in today’s world will first be introduced explicit and sexual material and images.  If you have a child born last week, it is time to begin to prepare yourself now.

I wish I was bluffing.

It may be that every.single.one.of.you reading this are far more intelligent than my husband and I.   As a matter of fact, I kind of hope that is the case.  If so, let me be the first to congratulate you on your sagacity, sapience, and shrewdness. I’m standing on my patio in Port au Prince applauding (saluting!) you while being amazed at all the useful words that start with the letter S.

If you are just a regular type of person, and have spent the last three minutes of your life longing for the simpler days of Uncle Jesse and the Dukes of Hazzard, perhaps you are not quite so enlightened and need some tips.  Allow me, then, to share some places you can go to educate yourself further.

safekids.com

fightthenewdrug.org

Read articles like this and this and this and this.

I suppose I am required  to close this parenting in a less simple time post with a hopeful little thought for us all.  Parents need hope, after all.

The following is the best I have today:

Hope is good, we can all agree we need more of it. 

 

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Discussion:  Do you care to share how parenting from a place of guilt caused you to make a decision you later regretted?  Have you been (too) permissive when it comes to Internet access?

Teach us your ways, Oh Ye parents that are normal and frequently fail, so that we might stumble (and fail) less.

An Open Letter to Parents of Missionary Kids

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By Danica Newton

Dear Parents of MKs,

Hello. It’s me, an MK. I write this on behalf of other MKs who haven’t found their voices yet, who are still in the midst of constant transition, who haven’t sorted through the confusing and complex joys and sorrows that come with growing up MK. I write this on behalf of my own MK self, to say the things I didn’t know to say, things that were buried deep down and that, as a kid, I could only access through intuition, through approaching carefully sideways in order not to stir up the vortex of emotions. I speak as an adult MK, raised with one foot in Polynesia, another in Melanesia, and a hand straddled all the way over the Pacific, planted firmly in Texas. If the world were a Twister mat, we MKs would be pros at maneuvering ourselves into epic contortions as we shift right-foot-yellow to left-hand-blue.

Parents of MKs, this is what I want you to know.

Transition causes trauma. We know this from academic research across fields. Transition because of divorce causes trauma. Transition because of health diagnoses causes trauma. Transition because of death causes trauma. Transitions from village to town every six months, and then to the States every few years, definitely causes trauma.

During the London Blitz, children were trundled off to the English countryside for their own safety. The philosophy of the time dictated that children were better off not knowing what was happening, that more information would be detrimental to them psychologically. In fact, some of the advice to parents was to tell their children that they were going on holiday to the country, or even, not to tell their children anything about what was to occur. This may have helped the adults not have to struggle to find explanations for the changes their children were experiencing, but it wasn’t helpful for the children experiencing the change. The problem with this way of approaching necessary transition, in short, is that it stems from the perspective and needs of the adults, the ones who already have power and control in the situation, the ones who already have a voice.

Parents of MKs, this is what I want you to know.

Your children are not experiencing the transitions you take them through in a vacuum. Just because they may not be verbalizing the trauma, or expressing it in ways that are easily understandable, does not mean they are not experiencing trauma from the transition. When I was sixteen, I stayed behind in Texas while my parents and younger siblings went back overseas. I remember that time as confusing and dark.  But years later, adults who were close to me at the time have told me things like: “You seemed so mature,”  “You handled it so well,”  and “We had no idea it was so hard for you, you seemed fine.”

I seemed fine because at that point I had spent the majority of my childhood in transition. Moving from village to town and back again. Moving from town to America. Moving from America back to town, back to village. Every transition required that I assume the cultural mores, dress, language, and customs of the place I was moving to. By the age of sixteen, I was an adept cultural chameleon. But how was I able to put on a new skin for each new place? I became an expert at compartmentalization. I carefully packed each place, with its friendships, food, smells, sights and sounds, into its own suitcase in my mind. Into the suitcases also went my feelings connected to the place. My love for the people. My pain at the heart bonds being broken. My anger at having no control. The compartmentalization is why I presented as so mature and well-adjusted to the adults around me.

Parents of MKs, this is what I want you to know.

Your MK may look like they are doing well.  Your MK may even say they are doing well. Please consider that your MK may be very adeptly doing just what MKs do best – assimilating the culture they are in. The culture that says all things happen for the good of those called according to His purpose. The culture that counts it joy when hardships are faced. The culture that counts everything as loss for the sake of following Christ. The culture that celebrates the leaving of father and mother, the leaving of brother and sister, to follow the Call.

Your MK may look like they are doing well. They may even say that they are doing well. But please consider how long they have been in transition. Consider that it’s only when we feel safe, when we have been stable and settled for an extended amount of time (for some, it takes years) before we can begin unpacking the suitcases and examining the emotions that were previously too difficult to process. If your MK moves every few months or years, they may still be in self-preservation mode. Like it was with me, they may not be able to examine the trauma of transition except by carefully looking sideways at it, from an emotional distance.

Parents of MKs, this is what I want you to know.

Your child needs you. They need you to listen, with no judgement or defensiveness, to their feelings. They need you to lay yourself low, to make yourself nothing for their sake, to humble yourself even to the point of death of self. They need you, as the person with all the power and voice, to create space for their fledgling voices. They need to be able to say, “This hurts me.” They need to be able to say, “I don’t want to leave.” They need to be able to say, “I miss _____.” They need to be able to mourn, to be angry, to rage against the dying of the light.

I’m going to say something now, Parents of MKs, that you probably don’t want to hear. But what I share with you, I share from my own experience, and from that experience I can reassure you that although this will be difficult to hear, there is hope for redemption.

My parents’ choices brought me pain. I didn’t know how much pain until I found myself, sobbing and unable to breathe, in the grips of powerful flashbacks that hit me out of nowhere and threw me in a little ball onto my bedroom floor. All of the goodbyes and hellos, the shifting and the changing, all of the transitions and the leavings, finally caught up with me.  This breakdown precipitated some conversations with my mom and dad, who are still on the mission field.  Conversations that had to wait until they could get to me. But once they got to me, my mom and dad presented me with the greatest gift they could give.

That gift was listening.  They listened to me, with a complete abandonment of self and agenda. I had years of loss to deal with, and my mom sat with me on my front porch, twin cups of coffee steaming in our hands, as I cried and talked and she cried and listened. She never once tried to justify her choices. She simply acknowledged my pain, and acknowledged that it was caused by the life she had chosen for me. My dad listened, too. We took long, cool walks through the expectant predawn stillness, him quietly receptive by my side as I poured out the pain in my heart. He apologized for the pain his choices had caused me.

I talked to God, too. My parents’ empathetic response to my pain opened space for me to be able to voice the very scariest thoughts that I kept buried deep, deep down. One day, heartsick and angry and alone, I looked up to God and shook my fist in his face. “Why, God?” I asked, tears sticky on my cheeks. “Why did my family have to suffer? Why did you make MY family suffer for YOUR gospel? Couldn’t it have been some other family? Why, God? Why MY family?”

As I sat, raw and trembling, I felt his warm, gentle touch. I heard him whisper so sadly and kindly to me, “I know. I’m sorry. I hear you. I’m here.” And that was enough.

Parents of MKs, this is what I want you to know. 

You need to check your defensiveness at the door. You need to acknowledge that your choices brought pain to your child.

When my parents came to me, and acknowledged the trauma my siblings and I had experienced, when they apologized for the pain they had caused, they did not negate the Good Work they have done. They did not negate a lifetime of service for the Kingdom of God.  They did not negate the fruit they had harvested for the King. Instead, they further confirmed Christ to us. The humble Man of Sorrows. The One who laid down His life. The One who sought out the voiceless, the weak, and lifted them up.

Even though your choices to answer the Call of Christ have caused trauma for your children, and believe me when I say that they have, your choices to give space for their pain can make way for their healing. I ask you, on behalf of my fellow MKs both grown and still growing, to give this gift to your child.

Sincerely,

Danica Newton

(an MK)

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13161296_10156874097135022_561442390_oDanica is an MK from the Solomon Islands, who now has found her own little village in the mountains of New Mexico. She lives there with her husband and three children, three goats, two dogs, and an assortment of chickens. Danica has a degree in special education, and is currently working on a master’s degree. When she’s not writing papers for school, she enjoys playing mad scientist in her kitchen, rereading her collection of LM Montgomery books, and working on her yoga moves. Danica sometimes finds time to write about her experiences and feelings, at www.ramblingsofanundercovertck.blogspot.com.

10 Questions Missionary Kids Would Love to be Asked

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Most MKs are asked hundreds of questions during their families’ home assignments. Ironically, many of us leave our passport countries feeling unknown. In all honesty, we usually don’t answer questions well. Our fumbling answers can create distance.  Many times we feel as though these questions are asked politely, without time or desire to listen to our answers. In order to avoid awkwardness or unintentional hurt, MKs can detach and dispel memorized responses.

This makes it difficult for those who truly want to connect. Have you ever longed to know an MK, but don’t know how to reach his or her heart?  Have you sensed that we struggle to respond to your questions, but don’t know what else to ask? As an MK, I’ve learned that certain questions can unlock the heart.

Here are ten questions MKs would love to be asked. There are two different types of questions for two different locations: church-lobby questions and coffee-shop questions.

CHURCH-LOBBY QUESTIONS

Ask these questions when you want make a friendly connection with an MK. Stop. Look the MK in the eye. And listen. Since we are asked so many questions, we usually gauge our response based on the question-asker’s body language.

Question #1 What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you overseas?

Like most MKs, I’ve made enough cultural blunders to fill a book.  Most of these mess-ups include public bathing, getting lost, and/or eating unique cuisine during my family’s travels.

I love sharing these humorous memories. I can easily tell pieces of my story and describe my life as an MK. A side note: Prepare to laugh. (We tend to regularly embarrass ourselves cross-culturally.)

 

Question #2 What do you miss about your host country?

“You must be thrilled to be back!” and “You must miss the US terribly!” and “I don’t know how you live over there!”

While on home assignment, I struggle with these frequent, well-intended assumptions. Most people don’t realize I miss Japan (my host country) every day. “How could you miss a country that you don’t technically belong to?” People wonder. Sometimes I feel as though these longings are misunderstood or unrecognized.

 

Question #3 Can you describe a regular day in your life?

This is my favorite question. In reality, my daily life doesn’t look that different from any other normal teenager: breakfast. School. Homework. Church. But that’s not the point.

I love this question because it indicates genuine curiosity and desire to know the details of my life. Not my parent’s life. Not details of our ministry or the culture I live in. But my life.

 

Question #4 Where’s your favorite place to go in your host country?

This is an easy question for MKs, instantly relieving stress. My answer would be the sushi bar ten minutes from my home in Hiroshima. Sushi is my ultimate comfort food.

This question and the pursuing conversation recognize our love for our host countries that have become a significant part of who we are.

 

Question #5 Which places do you feel most at home?

When I visit the United States, many people tell me, “You must be so glad to be home!” They don’t realize that I left home to return home.  I have many homes, not just one.

“Home” is an ambiguous term for MKs. To answer this question, we might even name a place where we’ve never actually lived. Once, my sister told a church member she felt most at home in Thailand (with other MKs). Sometimes it’s the people, not the place, which creates this sense of belonging.

 

COFFEE-SHOP QUESTIONS

These questions aren’t supposed to be asked in a church lobby.  Ask these questions when you are intentionally investing time and energy into the life of a specific MK.

Coffee Shop Questions

Question #6 What’s the hardest and best thing about being missionary kid?

I would never trade my MK experience. But some people unintentionally dismiss the hardships of life abroad: “You are so lucky!” They exclaim, “You have such great experiences!”

I agree whole-heartedly. But good is always intertwined with struggles. MKs need permission and a safe place to talk about them, without fear of judgement or a quick beckoning to focus, instead, on the positive.

 

Question #7 What characteristics of your host country’s culture have become a part of you?

Many MKs look like one country and act like another.

If you scroll down and look at the picture next to my bio, you might not realize that I’m part Asian. Outwardly, I have blonde hair and blue eyes. Inwardly, I have Asian mannerisms, though-processes, and cultural tendencies. Sometimes I receive strange looks from people who don’t understand the “Asian” side of me. This question conveys positivity and curiosity of the ways my host country has changed me.

 

Question #8  What scares you most about visiting/returning to your passport country?

Visiting the US scares me. This seems ironic, since I was born in the US and am American. But I don’t know how to live life in the US anymore. While in Japan, I am accepted as the foreigner. But in the US, I feel like a foreigner who is expected to fit in.

By asking this question, you will help us process these fears, which is key to a healthy adjustment.

 

Question #9 What are some of your deepest losses as a missionary kid?

When I became an MK at nine-years-old, my entire world “died.” We left family, comfort, and literacy. My family and I had to create a new world in Japan while learning to read, speak, listen, and write.  Even going simple places (like the grocery store) seemed stressful. This significantly impacted my sense of identity.

Most MKs also lose a grounded understanding of their passport countries. Change is a constant in an MK’s life. And with this comes overwhelming, accumulating losses.

 

Question #10  How can I pray for you?

One time, my parents were presenting to a small group in Ohio. A lady came up to me after the presentation. With a kind smile, she asked me how she could pray. I started rehearsing my memorized response, “Please pray for the ministry…” She stopped me mid-sentence. “No, no, no. Your parents already covered that, and I will definitely be praying. But how can I pray for you?

I stared at her. Tears welled. This was the first time anyone had asked for a prayer request from me, personally.

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These are the top ten questions that resonate with me. One of my MK friends recently told me that during home assignment, she wanted to be asked “any meaningful question by someone who was truly interested in knowing the answer.” The questions themselves are not as important as the spirit of those who ask them. Ask specific questions. Ask sincerely. Ask with your whole heart and with your full attention. This is what truly matters most to MKs.

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Head Shot-- Taylor Joy MurrayTaylor Joy Murray, a 17-year-old Third Culture Kid, is passionate about supporting the globally mobile through her writing. She wrote Hidden in My Heart: A TCK’s Journey Through Cultural Transition when she was 13 years old. The book shows the pain and raw emotions during cross-cultural transition. She currently writes from her own struggles to answer TCK questions on her blog, www.taylorjoymurray.com.