When Your TCK is Bullied

Praying for Answers

There was a time which seemed to last forever, a time when my kids got bullied.

I wish I could say that, because of my spiritual and emotional maturity and love for our host country’s people, I had a good attitude about this. But I didn’t. Instead, when my kids were hit with pebbles and sticks and had their ice creams thrown in the dirt and were told to go back to America, I wished mean things upon other people’s children. Like acne. Or sinkholes.

Thankfully, we were still learning the language at the time.

My children confided in me. They looked to me for answers I only wished I had. How could I help them? I tried talking to parents, and to the kids themselves, but it didn’t help. Thus began more than a year of research and problem-solving, in which I feared I’d wear out both Google and God, and pretty much everyone else I knew, in my quest for a solution. Perhaps you are facing a similar situation. If so, I want to share six strategies that worked well for us.

1. Give it to God

It can be difficult to know whether a given case of bullying is something that will burn our kids or refine them; crush them or make them stronger. I’ve found that, like in many parenting challenges, I have to bring this kind of issue before God and lay it at His feet, praying for wisdom and guidance. It’s possible that removing your kids from a bullying situation will be the best option. Or God might direct you to stay and work through it. Trust Him, and trust your instincts as a parent.

2. Teach Confidence

According to nearly every article I read on the Internet, bullies want an easy target. Someone who won’t fight back, who will give a good reaction—whining, crying, cowering, tattling. Bullies love this because makes them feel powerful, when, perhaps, they feel powerless in other areas of life. This is sad and disturbing, yet it is true in our sinful world.

I decided to focus on teaching and modeling confidence. We worked on standing straight, chin up; looking around; having a relaxed, pleasant expression. We worked on reacting to unkindness in a calm, amused manner or cheerfully ignoring insults. A fellow TCK mom and good friend of mine also recommended encouraging my kids to focus on people who do like them, and spending time and energy on those people and activities that bring joy.

I was recently with a group of expat teens who were asked to share their biggest struggle in their host country. Several mentioned not knowing the local language. It takes time and effort, but solid language skills can give a huge boost to confidence. If you’re looking for help in this area, you can check out my earlier article, 3 Ways to Help Your TCK with Language Learning. 

3. Stay Curious

I know how frustrating it is when your child asks you to explain someone’s behavior, and your only answer is, “Um, yeah, I have no idea.” It hurts our parental pride not to have tidy, sitcom-succinct answers. But press into that discomfort. You may find an opportunity to better understand your host culture.

Find a friend—a local mom, a thoughtful teenager, a language helper—someone you can talk to. Questions might include: Is this normal behavior? Is it seen as a problem here? What do people in your culture normally do about this issue? Why do you think it is happening? 

Involve your child in this cultural research. Approach it like a puzzle. By staying curious, you model how to approach the other cultural mysteries your child will face in his or her life. We learned that in our host country, hitting is seen as a problem-solving option for both children and adults. It’s a part of life. This helped us to see and understand the difference between frustrated, childish whacking and targeted hitting that is meant to intimidate.

4. Make Great Memories

Being bullied takes large withdrawals out of several banks, including the Bank of Self-Esteem and the Bank of Love for the Host Culture. You, as a parent, can help balance this by making deposits.

For the Bank of Self-Esteem, we arranged special times both as a family and for one-on-one dates with Mom or Dad. This gave us a chance to learn more about what each child loves and to give them opportunities to develop their talents and dive into their interests. Consider helping your kids find ways to serve your family such as cooking a meal or fixing bike tires. This will naturally increase self-esteem and put bullying in perspective.

For the Bank of Love for the Host Culture, we sought out other people and families and purposely spent time with those we all got along with. To help your child find new people to hang out with, you could help them join an art or sports club, or learn skills that are unique to your country. One TCK I know learned to play bagpipe when she lived in Scotland; another taught English classes in her Cambodian community; a third learned to tie a sari in India. Look beyond just peers — younger kids and elderly people are also great places to find positive relationships.

5. Be Creative

As I observed the neighbor kids interacting one afternoon, I had an epiphany. These kids were bored! And the more bored they felt, the more they pecked at each other. They needed something to do.

Now, gross motor stills are not my gift from Jesus. I spent most of my elementary PE classes feeling really, really confused. But I swallowed my pride, gathered some of the rocks the neighbor kids had been throwing at each other, and started a relay race. Surprisingly, the bullying nearly disappeared for several weeks. (And I had a childhood dream fulfilled when the kids rang our doorbell and asked me to play!)

Rock relay races may not be applicable in your circumstances, but the problem-solving principle might be. Maybe someone has a habit of putting others down to boost their self-image. Would a one-on-one playdate without group pressure help them feel less threatened? Maybe everyone else knows how to play soccer and your kids love basketball. Could they ask one of the friendlier kids to coach them? Pinpointing the reason for the bullying is the first step in equipping your child and/or other kids to redirect behavior and energy in more positive ways.

6. Practice Forgiveness

Six months after I started this journey with my kids, I got an email from a “mother in Israel,” an elderly woman who prays for us and our mission. She’d read a kids’ article I’d written about the bullying and advised my children to forgive their enemies. I read the letter, then looked around self-consciously. Did she know about the acne and sinkholes? And, more importantly, how did I forget about forgiveness?

I had taught my kids to be diplomatic, to act confident, to walk away, to be helpful to the neighbors, to love themselves as children of God despite their flaws, to know the bullying wasn’t their fault, to be willing to grow. . . . But I’d never mentioned forgiveness.

We began to pray for our enemies. It was hard. Hard for them and for their mama bear. I began a months-long dive into Jesus’ sermon on the mount, the sermon where this famous advice is given. Suddenly, it seemed, the entire sermon was about bullies and bullying and what we’re supposed to do about it all. 

I learned that Jesus wants us to see all people as just that: people. It’s easy to objectify someone who hurts us. Praying for our enemies, forgiving them, and even trying to love them leads us to see them as people. 

And maybe that’s why it’s so hard to forgive. Because by forgiving, we realize that our bullies are just as in need of grace and help as we are.

Why We Stayed

I’ll be honest. At the beginning of our bullying journey, I was ready to pack up my cubs and move. After all, our landlord even confessed to our helper that his family moved out because of rude neighbors!

I submitted these plans to God… strictly as a formality. I mean, I assumed God had read all the same articles on bullying and depression and anxiety that I had. He would surely give us the green light and send us to a more emotionally functional neighborhood. But, long story short, God said no. I very clearly sensed Him telling me to wait. I second-guessed myself daily, and talked to God often, ready to rescue my kids from this trial at a moment’s notice.

But as I waited, something unexpected happened. I saw my children grow and mature. I saw them start living their faith. They began to lean on it and to depend on it. I watched them come to Jesus because they didn’t want to forgive, and I saw Jesus help them do the impossible. That is hard heart work. And in the end, this growing relationship with God was more valuable than the comfort of always being loved by everyone.

If you’d like to hear more about our journey, I’ve written about it on my newsletter, Whatsoever Things. I’d love to see you there.

On Launching Kids From Great Distances

“You’ve given her roots, now give her wings.”

That is what they all say.

“God loves her more than you, trust Him with her.”

That is what the spiritual and wise will advise.

As mothers and fathers choosing to live and work far from our passport countries and most of their institutions of higher learning, the day of sending a child out of the nest to college can feel even more daunting for us.

I think we can all agree that it starts out quite daunting enough.

While those words of advice can sound cliché, we need people to remind us that this is the nature of the beast. We don’t have these children in order to keep them under our roofs and thumbs for a lifetime. We can usually be rational enough to agree that we raise our children fully intending to launch them; we want to produce self-sustaining, responsible, grown-up-ish individuals.

When I am not so rational, I believe I have been tricked, like someone sped up time and I wasn’t given my full 18-year allotment. In those irrational moments I think about destroying the passport, bolting the doors, refusing to buy an airline ticket, sobbing until my blood vessels burst, or thrashing on the ground with my arms gripping her ankles like a vice. I’ve heard things like this happen from time to time. (Ahem.)

In my own upbringing I was given two free “backs.” That is to say, the first two launch missions were aborted and I returned, tail between my legs, begging for mercy and access to Mom and Dad’s refrigerator. It was the third try that finally stuck, when I was 25 years old.

I remember my parents not seeming too terribly annoyed at having me back. In many ways they seemed happy to have me. As we are launching our second almost fully functional adult right now, I am understanding the patience my parents exhibited upon my return(s). Our kids grow up too quickly, and it never feels very comfortable to transition to the next phase. Change is hard. Letting go is harder. Drastically changing our long-held role, a role that can be a part of our very identity, is difficult albeit necessary.

Many years ago when my daughter was little, I was explaining to her that my new job required me to travel and I’d be gone more often. She listened without comment. I finally said, “Change is really hard, honey.” She thought about that a moment and said, “I agree. I hate change. I like dollars.”  Even though our conversation never connected in any meaningful way, we found agreement.

Change stinks. 

This stuff is painful. The idea that I will be 3,000 miles away without any knowledge of her comings and goings strikes panic in my Momma heart. It seems I’ve been telling myself that knowing where she is all the time is what keeps her safe. Now, I know that is ridiculous, but it is true nonetheless. I thought it might get easier with the second child. My husband and I are finding it just as daunting the second time around.

In a letter I wrote to her earlier this year, I said,

“When they hand you a baby after you have performed miraculous feats of superhuman proportions to bring that little person into the world, they don’t tell you about what is coming: the greater pain of letting them go. They don’t tell you that those hours and hours of contractions and pushing are just the warm-up, eighteen years early, for the real pain.”

Our job as parents doesn’t end here, but it changes drastically. We hope to take the advice of our friends and give our girl wings as we look to God, who loves her even more than we do, and trust Him with her future and ours.

 

Originally published November 12, 2013

I went to a foreign country to share the gospel. My children grew up and chose not to believe.

by Anonymous

I never intended to be an overseas missionary. Then in 1997 I found myself living in Russia with my husband and four small children. We believed God had sent us to this place, and we had a glorious ten years of serving and ministering there. When we arrived, our children were two, five, and six, and eight. I homeschooled them, and they enjoyed being a part of the local church family.

I had always believed that if you raised a child in the love and nurture of the Lord, they too would follow Jesus. We believed the verse, “Raise up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.” You can only imagine the shock we felt when our son entered University, lost interest in spiritual things and began to date an unbeliever!

We were wholeheartedly following the Lord! How could this happen? We tried to get him to go to the campus fellowships, but there was no interest. Little did I know at the time that two of my girls would follow the same path. My next oldest daughter went to a Christian college near our home; I didn’t want her to attend a secular university like her brother! She was fine for a while, but then she, too, began to drift. Eventually she lost interest in being a Christian. My next daughter stayed closer to home, faced some difficulties at college and did not stray from her faith. My youngest daughter, after graduating from a Christian high school, followed her brother to the secular university near our home and also lost interest in the things of God.

What can I say? I never expected this. I honestly thought that since they were being raised in the Lord with a loving and involved family, our children would never depart from Him. Since that time I have blamed myself, my husband, our mission, and even our church, but in the end I realized that it may not have been any of these things. I have come to believe it was their free will. They became curious about life “outside” the Christian world they were raised in. They, like all of us, need their own salvation experience, and though we trained them in the fear of the Lord and tried to do our best, God gave them the freedom to make their own choices. 

I have wrestled with their choices and struggled not to compare our kids with others serving the Lord around me. I have been to dark places of disappointment with God where I felt betrayed by Him. I laid down my life in obedience on the mission field and gave up so much to evangelize and bring his gospel to the Russian people – how could I have lost my own children in the process? It crushed me to see so many come to faith and then watch my children lose their own. I began to read everything I could get my hands on about prodigals, trying desperately to find some answers. 

It was during this time of praying and crying out for His peace that the Lord gave me a vision. He showed me a lighthouse on a hill overlooking a harbor. Tied to the shore were four small boats. He revealed to me that those small boats were my children and that some of their boats had come undone and were starting to drift out to sea. My husband and I are the lighthouse on the hill, and our job is to abide in Him and shine His light so that it is visible to the children when they need us to guide them safely back into the harbor of His love. This picture really set me free from the temptation to nag and guilt my adult children back to Jesus. Their salvation belongs to Jesus. He is the savior. He is the one who leaves the ninety-nine to seek the one. I can “just be mom!”

As I write this, my children are in their twenties and thirties. I have learned much about prayer, faith, and total trust in the Lord through this long trial. I have learned about my need to have “unconditional love” for these children God has blessed me with. I didn’t realize that I was not loving them in this way until one year when we were on vacation. The pressure cooker seemed to explode, and our son and daughter said these words: “I feel like you will only accept and be proud of us if we do what you want, if we become the ‘Christians’ you want us to be, then you will love and accept us.” These words were incredibly hard to hear and broke my heart, but I began to examine my attitude and the words I was speaking to them. It was a revelation into their hearts.

Since that painful encounter, I have determined to simply put my whole trust in the Lord and enjoy my children, the four gifts that He has given me. I have come to realize that it’s not about me and what I have done or not done. I do not have to feel the shame of their decisions or take the credit. All glory in their salvation belongs to the Lord. This has really set me free. We are now enjoying a closer relationship with our kids, one that allows us to do the loving and the Savior to do the saving. 

These painful circumstances led me to start a prayer group for moms of prodigals. I believe it is of vital importance to have others around you who understand your pain. We often felt misunderstood and judged by people in the church (usually those with kids still at home) who would ask us questions like, “Are your children going to church?” Or “Are they dating a Christian?” And then I would feel the judgment come. Each of these questions was like another knife in my heart. Then I would meet with my ladies, and the pain would lift. It is a wonderful gift to meet weekly with these other moms who feel and experience the same challenges. We are a living testament to the truth of Galatians 6:2: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

Waiting for the salvation of three of our kids has been an unexpected cross to carry, but the comfort, help, and presence of the Holy Spirit has kept us abiding and shining the light for Jesus. His word keeps me grounded, and meditating on the truth gives me great hope in what He has done and will do in the future. I know these kids belong to Him. I will pray and wait and watch for the salvation of my God.

 

“In Him we have this hope as an anchor to the soul, both sure and steadfast and which enters the Presence behind the veil.”
Hebrews 6:19

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The author has chosen to remain anonymous to protect her family’s privacy. If you wish to reach out to her for support, you may reply to this email, and the leadership team will connect you through email.

When the Third Culture Kids Are Not Alright

by Elizabeth Smith

Editor’s Note: Christianity Today recently published an article by Rebecca Hopkins (who has written for A Life Overseas in the past) titled “The Missionary Kids Are Not Alright.” This guest piece by Elizabeth Smith was submitted prior to the publication of the Christianity Today article, but it beautifully addresses the concerns raised in the article. ~Elizabeth Trotter

I don’t know how many times my father told me that he had been around the block a time or two. All the troubles I faced in my childhood, he had faced too. He had experience to guide me through the complexities of life. What a gift to possess that level of expertise! I can’t relate.

That’s because years later, I looked into the eyes of my own baby as a helicopter took off behind me, leaving us in a village in the middle of the jungle. There were no blocks here. I had not been around them. I had no experience for my own cross-cultural challenges, let alone my son’s third culture challenges. While I navigated American sleep-training in Papua New Guinean baby bilums (portable baby hammocks), I could only wonder what it would be like growing up in a world of blended cultures. 

What was it like ducking under a mosquito net to pull up Paw Patrol on the tablet?  What was it like deciding between cereal or roasted taro root for breakfast? What was it like transitioning from running naked and free in the village to having to wear clothes all the time in America? (That one I knew would be hard!)

In those years, there weren’t a lot of resources for little Third Culture Kids. Most resources came in the form of terrifying statistics of suicide rates among TCKs or support groups for struggling adult TCKs. When it came to preventively nurturing TCKs, there was a void. Until Raising up a Generation of Healthy Third Culture Kids was published.  When the author, Lauren Wells, founded TCK Training, she outlined the unique needs of TCKs and how to support them in practical ways. 

Finally I saw how TCKs are influenced by more than one culture but belong to none of them, and I saw how that impacted their identity. I saw how TCKs were praised for smiling through the confusion and uncertainty of transitions, and I saw how that stunted their emotional intelligence. I saw how TCKs normalized loss, transitions, deep poverty, social injustice, crime and more, and I saw how that added to an unstable Grief Tower threatening to collapse. I saw how TCKs expect to go back to their passport countries as adults, and I saw how subconscious expectations set them up for lives fraught with disappointment. 

Most importantly, I learned that when supportive adults provide preventive care, these challenges can be mitigated. When TCKs receive support and preventive care like this, they experience the unique gifts they’re entitled to: high emotional intelligence, healthy empathy, responsible adaptability, a beautiful mosaic identity, and rich contentment in life. I clearly shared a passion with TCK Training, and in time I joined their team, helping to train TCK parents and caregivers in preventive care.  

The question most of us have is: How do we as supportive adults provide preventive care for the TCKs we love? That is the question TCK Training was created to answer! Here are some of the ways TCK Training can help you as you seek to help the TCKs in your lives. 

 

  1. Parent and Caregiver Education. We realized early on that the most efficient and practical way to care for TCKs is to empower the adults already in their lives. For that purpose, we have a huge archive of workshops, with more being added monthly. We have practical tips for all ages, from TCK toddlers and elementary-aged kids to teens and university-aged TCKs, but the foundational information on how to practically care for TCKs is found in our Raising Healthy TCKs workshop.
  2. Family Curriculum. To take the education we provide in workshops and bring that to your TCKs, we developed the Family Curriculum. These are fun lessons that you can do as a whole family that specifically target the key challenge areas for TCKs. 
  3. Debriefs. There is a very widely spread myth that children are resilient. What this looks like in practice is that they don’t receive the care that their parents receive from their sending agency. So TCK Training offers debriefs geared specifically for the kids or for the whole family. Again targeting the key challenge areas for TCKs, our debriefs focus on the TCKs while also supporting the parents with practical ideas on how to care preventively. 
  4. Family Care Packages. Our family care packages are a year of care in the form of monthly or bi-monthly check-ins. These packages are excellent for families who want someone in their lives who is prioritizing the emotional lives of their TCKs. 

 

As I’m writing this, we’re packing up from our time in Egypt and preparing to transition to Jordan. My son is a pre-griever, so we’re making space now to think through our losses.  We’re breathing deeply as we do brunch one last time on the Nile. We’re talking about how much we’ll miss our resident stray cat as we dip pita bread into baba ganoush. We’re thinking about how much time we’ve spent in Egypt and wondering how this will change us. We’re crying because it was beautiful, and we will miss it. 

I still haven’t been around the block. The village streets in Egypt are more like a labyrinth, anyway. But I’ve been around the globe, digging into research and collecting stories from TCKs worldwide. Through my work with TCK Training, I’ve learned that the number one thing TCKs need is for their parents to make space for their grief and loss and to sit with them and say, “It makes sense that you feel that way. I do, too. Let’s learn together how to walk around this block.” 

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Elizabeth and her family are full-time travelers. They started their global journey doing mission work in Papua New Guinea for 5 years. Now Elizabeth works remote for TCK Training, traveling for in-person debriefs, conferences, and speaking engagements. She never travels without her French press, chef’s knife, flyswatter, and pop-up hamper. Elizabeth is the author of the upcoming book The Practice of Processing: Exploring Your Emotions to Chart an Intentional Course. Follow her travels on Instagram @elizabethvaheysmith and @neverendingfieldtrip. Learn more about preventive care for TCKs @tcktraining

Please Pray for My Alex, and I’ll Pray for Yours: When Our Children Don’t Believe

by Anonymous

Will you pray for my Alex?

That’s not my child’s real name, but that doesn’t matter. It also doesn’t matter whether Alex is my daughter or son. What matters is that Alex has decided not to follow Jesus.

It shouldn’t really matter that Alex is an MK, either, but it does to us, Alex’s mom and dad. I know that a parent is a parent and a child is a child, but when we went overseas to take the gospel to the lost, we didn’t plan on losing one of our own.

While Alex was growing up, we were trying to help the people in our new country taste and see that the Lord is good, but somewhere along the way the taste our Alex ended up with was bitter or, at best, bland.

Were we too strict as parents? Were we too lax? Did we spend too much time working with others at the expense of our child? Did our move and ministry overseas have anything to do with Alex’s choice?

There’s a voice inside me that can easily quote the verse “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” I’ve learned how to explain that verse away, but that doesn’t make it go away. When I open up Proverbs, there it is.

Another voice says, Now you know what it feels like to have a child leave the family faith, and there are days when wrestling with Alex’s lack of a foundation shakes my own.

We hear others say that their greatest joy is that all their children are faithful believers, and we want that joy, too. Sometimes we feel so alone.

But I know we’re not.

I know that some of you, too, have an Alex. I’ve read your hesitant emails and listened to your hushed words.

You grieve, as we do, but you haven’t given up.

So we pray for our Alexes to hear God, in whatever way he chooses to speak, we pray for them to return to his eager embrace, and we pray for them to be given the time to do so.

We love them and want them to know the blessings of Christ, in this life and the life to come.

We pray and we hope, even when we’re hoping against hope.

Please pray for my Alex. I’ll pray for yours.

Neither Here Nor There, I Do Not Belong Anywhere

by Chris Moyer

Not fully in France. Not in America,
Not by the Seine, Not by the Susquehanna.
My belonging is mixed-up, Sam, you see.
I do not belong fully here or there.
I do not fully belong anywhere!

If you are a Third Culture Kid like me, you may read the word “belonging” and feel that it is an ephemeral or even impossible concept to grasp. Endless strings of transitions leave many TCKs wondering how they could ever find a stable sense of belonging. In many ways, the TCK life feels like my adapted stanza from Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham (above).

I struggled most intensely with my sense of belonging when I was a teenager and young adult because I experienced an intense push and pull between countries and continents through those years. Each year – from 9th grade through my first year of college – I faced a new phase of starting over. In 9th grade I had my last year in French schools. Then, in 10th grade, I shipped off (of my own volition) to Black Forest Academy in Germany. Next, I had a one-year stop in America (not of my own volition) for 11th grade. Then once again, I hopped the Atlantic to return to BFA for my senior year. Finally, I moved back to the States for college.

As I typed the above paragraph, I could feel my nerves amp up, my palms get sweaty, and butterflies begin to flutter in my stomach. Even though the last of those transitions took place over twenty years ago, the overwhelming sense of dread that accompanies having to start over is a feeling I can never quite shake. Yes, I have processed – and even learned to embrace – what took place during those years. But I can still vividly recall my desperate longing for stability and for a sense of true belonging, something for which my heart ached during that time in my life.

While I was blessed to develop meaningful relationships with many special people during those years – people I never would have met had I stayed in a single, stable environment – I can still keenly feel the tension that constantly pushed and pulled at me. The tension of wanting to fully fit in with those around me, all the while knowing deep inside that I was inherently different from both my French and American peers. My desire to belong remained just outside of my grasp because I was stuck in the perpetual reality of being an outsider in both of my “worlds.”

When living as a teenager in France, many of my classmates thought it was “cool” that I was American. But their understanding was based on the American shows they watched and the American musicians they listened to, rather than inquiring what it was like for me personally to be a US citizen. Instead of questions, I frequently heard comments such as, “You are so lucky to be American!” and, “I don’t understand why you would leave the US to live here!” And, just in case there was any doubt that I was not a local, my peers even nicknamed me, “Made in USA.” In some ways I liked that I had something that other kids wanted, and yet I struggled with being different. In my heart I simply wanted what most young people desire, that is to be like my friends and not stand out.

When in America I looked and sounded like my peers, which on the surface felt good. But on the inside, I felt like a zebra running among horses. Zebras sound like horses when they run, and outside of their black and white stripes, they even look like horses. But zebras and horses are different species. Try as I might, I could not ignore or fully hide my stripes. I did what I could to blend in like a cultural chameleon, but just as zebras cannot be tamed, so I could not suppress my multicultural identity.

At BFA, we were ALL zebras! Our base color (passport cultures) may have been different, as were our stripes (our host cultures), but within this community I finally found my “herd.” This offered me the sense of belonging I had been looking for and longing to find for so long. But before I knew it, graduation came along and we all went our separate ways. Many of us were once again living as zebras among horses.

TCKs do not have the power to change what makes them different from their peers in either their passport or their host countries. And now, as I parent three TCKs of my own, I want to help my children successfully navigate the treacherous path of belonging. While one side of the TCK “coin” represents challenges, the flip side to this is an intense richness that can only be found in this reality. Together, we will celebrate the beauty and accept the losses that come along with the multicultural life they did not personally choose for themselves.

It is my desire to lead my own TCK children to learn, as I did, that you do not need to fully belong to fully engage with those around you. No, you won’t ever “belong” to just one group or culture. And while that can be hard, it is ok. Understanding, acknowledging, grieving, and celebrating are all joined together to create the jumbled richness that is multi-cultural living. While I always felt different from my monocultural peers, coworkers, and family, I grew to accept these differences, while learning to belong — at least mostly. To explain what I mean by “mostly,” I highly recommend watching this short video from Michèle Phoenix: MKs & BELONGING – Three Options to Consider – YouTube

Below are three things (this is not an exhaustive list) that you can do to help your TCK(s) learn to mostly belong wherever they may be.

 

1. Process their sense of belonging with them.

For older TCKs, asking them reflective questions can draw out what is going on beneath the surface of their desire to belong:

  • Where do you feel you most belong?
  • What makes you feel like you belong there or with those people?
  • What it is like for you when you feel like an outsider?
  • What do you do when you feel like an outsider (look for specific behavior that helps or inhibits their desire to belong)?

For younger TCKs, you can still try to ask reflective questions like the ones above, or you can read a book like Swirly, which will draw out feelings and desires through story.

 

2. Help them make decisions that grow a healthy sense of belonging (be sure to process #1 with your kids before moving to #2).

As Michèle Phoenix says in her video, some TCKs will do whatever they can to blend in. They will forsake their heritage for the sake of belonging. While TCKs need to grieve what they have left behind, suppressing where they come from will create additional challenges of unresolved grief along the way.

Because of the mobile nature of their parents’ employment, some TCKs will experience short transition periods such as the one I had in America for my 11th grade year. I did not want to be in America that year, and my attitude and behavior clearly matched my disposition. It can be tempting for TCKs, when they know they will only be somewhere for a short period of time, to stay withdrawn and be unwilling to invest much into their momentary place of residence. This was my approach to my stop-gap year in America for two reasons. The first was that I longed to be back with my friends at BFA. The second was that I knew I was going to be leaving and did not want to get close to people for fear of how hard the goodbyes might be.

Whether TCKs are in a short transitional period, or whether they are in a more permanent phase of life, it is important to help them make conscious decisions that lead them to connect with others. Understandably, it is hard to move toward others when you feel like a cultural outsider, when you are in the middle of grief, or when you’re just plain tired of “putting yourself out there” yet again. But, relationships with peers are a crucial first step to a growing sense of belonging. Below are some ideas (again, not exhaustive) of how to help your kids connect with other kids:

  • Encourage them to invite a classmate to your home to play. If your TCK does not want to risk rejection, be the one to take initiative and invite their classmate’s family over for an afternoon snack or a meal.
  • When possible, have your TCK get involved in something they love to do. In our family we chose to forego extra-curricular activities during our first year in France because we thought the language barrier would be more stressful than the activity would be beneficial. However, after our initial “waiting period” we’ve witnessed our three kids blossoming more and more since beginning their hobbies here.
  • If your TCK(s) goes to local schools, check in with them regularly about how well (or not) they are connecting with their classmates. Some kids naturally jump into new settings with both feet. But others may be shy and insecure about finding their “place,” as we found was the case with one of our children who needed regular encouragement to move toward others. With time and some gentle nudges this kid has really grown in their ability to initiate with others, and as a result, their sense of belonging has been strengthened.

 

3. When possible, gather with other expat families.

There is a good chance that your TCK(s) will feel their greatest sense of belonging when they find themselves with other TCKs. They will likely no longer feel like a zebra running among horses when they come together. There is a comfort, often an unspoken one, through a mutual understanding that comes with being alongside of others from their “herd.” In light of this, make every effort to meet up with other expat families when possible.

When it is not possible to meet in person, whether because of where you live or because of the current global pandemic, your TCK(s) may enjoy having online gatherings with their TCK peers. Our youngest loves to connect with a TCK friend in Eastern Europe and do a “show and tell” with him. Our older kids simply enjoy sitting across the screen and chatting with their TCK friends.

Lastly, let me encourage you to find conferences/retreats to attend with other expat families. There are some great events put on by educational service organizations, mission organizations and others that will be like a breath of fresh air for you and your TCKs. These types of events were some of the biggest highlights of my childhood and I know my kids have loved the handful of retreats they have attended with their TCK peers.

 

In the end my hope is that we can see our kids mostly belong and that the adapted stanza from Sam I Am changes to:

Mostly in France. And in America
By the Seine and the Susquehanna.
I belong mostly, Sam, you see.
I belong mostly here and there.
I belong mostly anywhere.

~~~~~~~~~

Chris Moyer grew up in France and Germany as the child of missionaries. After spending nineteen years in the States and serving as a counselor and then as a pastor, he returned to France in 2018 with his wife, Laura, and their three children to serve in church planting and global member care with World Team. Chris loves running, biking, following his favorite sports teams as a faithful “phan” (all teams from Philadelphia and France soccer), and travelling the world. You can read more of his reflections on his personal TCK experience and on parenting TCKs on his blog TCKonnective.

To the Fathers of Third Culture Kids

by Chris Moyer

Woosh…….Pop! For as long as I can remember I have found immense satisfaction in the sound and feeling of a baseball hitting a mitt just right. Of all places, this love of mine started as a 7- or 8-year-old in suburban Paris while playing countless hours of catch with my dad in the parking lot across the street from our house.

Over time, and as we moved from place to place, the “woosh” and the “pop” got louder as I grew in strength and ability. But while these things changed, my company remained the same. As a pre-teen, and then as a teenager, I would frequently knock on my dad’s home office door, peeking my head in while asking, “Want to play catch?” While I imagine there were times he was not able to acquiesce, all I can remember when thinking back on my childhood was that dad was always available and willing to spend that time with me. Looking back, I know that my requests interrupted his work, but he never once made me feel bad about it. 

I have grown to realize that it is not really the sound of a ball hitting a mitt that is so satisfying. No, it is everything that is associated with the pop of leather hitting leather: the quality time spent playing and being coached by my dad; his propensity to say “yes” to me rather than “no;” his patience with me when I would get frustrated and pout because I would mess up a throw. If I were to sum up why I have such a fondness for hearing a baseball hit the sweet spot of a glove, it is because in many ways it reminds me of my dad’s presence in my life. He was safe. He was available. He valued me and spent time with me.

Last week I read the first issue of Interact Magazine that has been released since 2005. One article spoke of a study that had been conducted among adult children of missionaries (AMKs) on the key factors relating to their well-being and life-satisfaction. Researchers were surprised at the top answer participants gave related to what relationship was most important during their childhood and why:

Most of the CORE researchers, basing their experience on studies regarding the influence of mothers on their children, thought AMKs would say “Mother.” Instead, 55% of the respondents identified “Father” as the most important person in their life. Why? “He spent time with me”; “He knew I liked basketball, so he would play basketball with me in 120 degree heat”; “He included me in his work”; “He lived out what he preached”; “When I came out of my bedroom in the morning, Dad would be kneeling by the couch praying for me and the family”; “When I was falsely accused of doing something wrong at school, Dad drove 200 miles to come and defend me”. Again, the quality of a close, caring, loving, and committed relationship with Father formed the foundation for these AMKs further well-being in life1.

These survey results certainly do not minimize the important role of a mother in her child(ren)’s life. Rather, they highlight the vitality of a father’s relationship with his child(ren). When a family’s support system is upended through cross-cultural living, a father’s care becomes all the more important. An intentionally present, safe and caring father can help immensely as Third Culture Kids experience and process the destabilizing effects of countless transitions and as they seek to figure out who they are. While fathers cannot fix the challenges that their TCK(s) are facing, their relationship with their child(ren) is a key factor to their current and future well-being and life-satisfaction.

 

Say “Yes” as Much as Possible
I have now been a father to three TCKs for a little over two years and I am working on being more and more purposeful in the way I relate to my kids. I vividly remember a conversation my wife, Laura, had with her mom about parenting. I do not remember how the subject came up, but my mother-in-law told Laura this: “Whenever possible, I said ‘yes’ to your requests when you were growing up.” Of course, there are times when it was/is necessary to say “no.” But her statement struck me for a couple of reasons: (1) this was what I had experienced as a child when I would ask my dad to play catch; and (2) this is what I want my kids to remember about me when they grow up.

And so, as much as I enjoy running on my own, I try to say “yes” to my son when he asks if he can ride his bike alongside of me. The same goes for when he asks with a glimmer in his eyes, “Daddy, want to wrestle?” or when my girls ask to play games or cuddle with me. Since I most frequently work from home, my children’s requests often interrupt what I am doing so sometimes my “yes” has to be a “we will do that as soon as daddy is done.” Whether my “yes” is immediate or slightly delayed, I want my kids to know that I love them and highly value being with them.

 

Take Special Interest
In a world with countless connected devices at their fingertips, TCKs need their fathers more than ever to connect with them on a personal level. Similar to saying “yes” as often as possible, taking special interest in what our children enjoy is a key to building a safe relationship with them. So, whether our kids play sports, are aspiring musicians or artists, or have a special love for nature, valuing their interests by being physically and emotionally present when they are doing their activities will go a long way to show them that while circumstances might change, daddy’s care remains.

 

Be Quick to Listen
Let’s be honest, men, we have a propensity to want to fix things. And that’s a good thing! But unlike a kitchen sink that is clogged, the challenges our children face should not be viewed as problems to fix. Yes, sometimes there will be situations in which we will need to stand up for our children or take other protective measures. But most often, our children simply need to be known, understood, and feel safe. Going into “fix it” mode may come off as dismissive of what they are experiencing, which in turn will lead them to come less and less to us with their concerns. Lauren Wells, of TCK Training, has been posting short examples of this on TCK Training’s Facebook page. One such example that dads often struggle with is as follows:

“Being a safe space for someone processing their grief means…not responding with a phrase beginning with the words ‘at least.’”2

I have a theory as to why we are so prone to respond with words like “at least.” Many of us are uncomfortable with our own suffering and have been taught to always look for the positive. I have frequently heard people say of their own suffering that someone else has it worse in life. While it can be healthy to put our experiences in perspective, immediately dismissing our own difficulties may lead us to dismiss our children’s too. Instead of offering a quick reply, simply listen, try your best to understand what they are going through, ask questions, and be present.

So, to my fellow fathers of TCKs, let me encourage us all to say “yes” as much as possible, to take special interest in and connect with our kids, and to be listeners before being fixers.

 

Sources:
Wilkerson, D. 2020, September. MK Research Foundations. Interact Magazine, 61. Retrieved from: https://interactionintl.org/publications/interact-magazine/
Wells, L. 2020, October. https://www.facebook.com/tcktraining/posts/980148309154258

~~~~~~~~~~~

Chris Moyer grew up in France and Germany as the child of missionaries. After spending nineteen years in the States and serving as a counselor and then as a pastor, he returned to France in 2018 with his wife, Laura, and their three children to serve in church planting and global member care with World Team. Chris loves running, biking, following his favorite sports teams as a faithful “phan” (all teams from Philadelphia and France soccer), and travelling the world. You can read more of his reflections on his personal TCK experience and on parenting TCKs on his blog TCKonnective.

Caring for TCKs During Covid

by Lauren Wells

Back when COVID first began to wreak havoc on the lives of expat families with whom I work, I put together a spontaneous video series. I had talked through the same points, concepts, and answered the same questions with many families in those early weeks of quarantine and decided it would be easier for them and myself if I could record those responses. I figured I would send them to those families and put it on my website (TCKTraining.com) in case it might benefit others as well.

I created the Power Points, asked my husband to take our girls out on a drive for an hour (because there weren’t many other options during quarantine), and quickly recorded the series. Oh, and this was the day after we moved across the country so what you can’t see is that I am surrounded by boxes and the wall behind me is the only sliver of blank wall space in the tiny apartment we spent those first few weeks in. All that to say, it was much to my surprise (and honestly, horror because I’m a perfectionist and they are far from perfect) that the videos that I threw together quickly grew to over 1,000 views. It clearly hit a felt need. 

Though it has been nearly seven months since that time, the effects of COVID on expat families are far from over. I pray that these thoughts, practical ideas, and reflection questions allow you to proactively care for your family in the midst of this season.

 

When Leaving Well Didn’t Happen…RAFT (Reconciliation, Affirmation, Farewell, and Think Destination) is still important. 

Reconciliation with those whom you’ve abruptly left is critical. This is especially true for TCKs who learn early on that they can use a move to excuse making amends with people. If the answer to any of these questions below is “yes,” it is important to do the hard work of reconciling.

  • Are there people who you or your TCKs were not on good terms with when you left?
  • Is there someone who was upset about how your leaving happened?
  • Is there anyone that you or your TCKs were relieved to leave because that seems a good excuse to not resolve an issue? 

Affirmation is still important. You may have left without the time to tell the people who you love that you love them. Don’t let that keep you from doing so. 

  • Write a list as a family of all the people you left who were significant in your life. 
  • Decide how you’ll affirm them. This could be a letter, pictures drawn for friends by your children, a video call, a text, etc. 

Farewell needs to be said, even if you’ve already left. Because we live in a very connected world, it can be easy to skip this step because we feel we aren’t really saying “goodbye,” we’ll still “see” them on Facebook. Yet, we are saying “goodbye” to the place that they held in that season of life and that needs an intentional farewell. This can happen over a phone call, in a video message, in a letter, etc. It is particularly important that your children have a chance to do this with their friends. TCKs get into the habit of cutting off relationships without saying, “goodbye” so it is important to show them the importance of an intentional farewell. 

  • Who did you not say a proper “goodbye” to?  
  • Who did your TCKs not say “goodbye” to? 
  • How will you arrange that in the coming days? 

Think Destination becomes think about where you are. If you are in your current location because of an evacuation, you likely didn’t spend time planning for your arrival and all of the things you wanted to do upon arrival (and if you did, that was likely all canceled anyway). As difficult as it may be, one of the things that I have seen be the most helpful in this season is gratitude. 

  • What are 5 things that you like about the place where you are?
  • What are some things that I’m grateful we’ve been able to do/experience in this place? 

 

When Leaving Well Didn’t Happen…Meeting Emotional Needs Becomes Critical 

Prioritize family health and relationships. It can be easy to put these needs on the back burner during transition, but that is exactly when prioritizing them is most necessary. 

  • What do your children need from you as parents in this season? 
  • What are the emotional needs of each family member and how can you work as a family to meet them? Some examples could be stability, playfulness, nurturing, quality time, introverted time.

 

When Leaving Well Didn’t Happen…Assume a Block has been Added to the Grief Tower 

The Grief Tower is my method of explaining the concept of TCK grief. Each time something grief-inducing occurs, it stacks like a block on the grief tower. When those blocks go unprocessed and unresolved they remain on the tower. In early adulthood, TCKs with a high-stacked grief tower are susceptible to it toppling over and wreaking havoc. If your family has been negatively impacted by COVID – an evacuation, a difficult quarantine period, an abrupt end to school, etc. you can assume that your child has added a block to their Grief Tower. If not intentionally unstacked, it will remain there.

So, how do you unstack it? 

 

1. Talk Through the Emotions
Pull out an emotions chart (you can download one for free at tcktraining.com/worksheets) and talk through times in the past year each of you have felt that emotion. Parents, you need to give honest answers to be a model for your kids.

 

2. Begin Family Check-Ins
Each day, ask, “What was the best part of your day?” and “What was the hardest part of your day?” My kids like to ask everyone to point to the emotion face that they felt today on the emotions chart, so you might consider doing that too! This seems like a simple process, but especially during stressful seasons, these regular and expected check-ins become a built-in family debrief. When you have conversations about the challenging, worrying, difficult, parts of the day, it keeps those moments from being stored and unprocessed in the brain which can lead to them becoming a “block” on the Grief Tower. Ask questions like, “What made that so hard?” “What do you wish would have happened differently?” “What do you hope tomorrow looks like?”

 

3. Process the blocks
Processing the blocks on the Grief Tower can happen in a number of different ways. Here are ideas for various ages:

For toddlers and young children, tell them their story. You can either talk about them personally or create a character that is like them and tell a story that parallels theirs. Pause routinely to ask “How did he/she/you feel?” Storying allows them to process their emotions by putting themselves back in that time and place. If they don’t want to talk about how they themselves feel, using the narration of character can help them to open up.

Example, “There was a little boy who lived in Indonesia. He loved living there and played outside with his friends everyday. One day, his parents found out that they were going to have to go back to America and only had five days to say goodbye. They told the boy that they needed to start packing their things quickly. How did that boy feel when he was packing his things? Then, they flew to America and had to stay inside the house for TWO WEEKS! How did he feel being stuck inside? They thought they would go back to Indonesia in just a couple of months, but now it has been seven months and they are STILL in America. How is that little boy feeling right now? 

For ages 5 and up, use art processing. You can create your own ideas, but here are a few to get you started.

  • Paint a picture of how your insides feel right now
  • Sculpt something with play-dough that you are excited about and something that you are nervous or worried about
  • Perform a skit with your siblings about something difficult that has happened in the past year
  • Draw a picture of a fun/happy thing from the last week and a picture of something that was hard/sad for you this past week

For teenagers, give the gift of a Safe Space. Create a safe space for your teen to process with autonomy by giving them something specifically for the purpose of processing their grief. You might consider doing this for the adults in the family as well! Along with the gift explain, “We’ve been through so much in the past year and we are learning how important it is to process through it instead of pushing it down and moving forward. We know you like ____, so we’ve gotten this for you specifically for you to use while you think through and process the last year. We are here if you’d like to process out loud at any point.”

Safe Space Gift Ideas: 

  • New art supplies for the one who processes through creativity 
  • A cookbook for the one who cooks when under stress 
  • A nice journal for the one who processes through writing 
  • New running shoes for the one who goes for a run to process 
  • A cozy blanket for the tactile one who need comfort to process 
  • A set of legos or model airplane kit for the one who needs to process while building
  • Seeds and gardening tools for the one who needs to get their hands dirty while they process 

 

This season has been a difficult one for everyone, but particularly for expat families. For many, leaving well didn’t happen. Leaving happened abruptly, spontaneously, and with little chance for intentionally transitioning well. Instead of moving on past this time without processing it, I pray that you will use this time and these tools to help your TCKs work through the grief of this season. Doing so can prevent unresolved grief and the consequences that result and can lead to learning to process emotion in healthy ways for everyone in your family. 

 

*The Grief Tower and Safe Space Gifts are trademarked concepts of TCK Training

To learn more about caring preventively for your TCKs, consider attending an upcoming TCK Training workshop

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Lauren Wells is the Founder and Director of TCK Training and author of Raising Up a Generation of Healthy Third Culture Kids. She specializes in practical, proactive care for TCKs and their families and has trained TCK caregivers from over 50 organizations. Lauren grew up in Tanzania, East Africa, where she developed a love for smokey chai and Mandazis (African doughnuts). She now lives in South Carolina with her husband and two children.

A Letter to My Son About Covid Grief

by Shannon Brink

I wrote the following letter to my son about the grief that he is feeling right now. Our family had to come back suddenly to Canada and it’s not the Canada we looked forward to, nor the one we left.  I hope it resonates and encourages other TCK parents out there who are needing to express similar things to their kids.

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dear Oldest Child,

I know we have already asked a lot from you. We moved you across the globe. You said goodbye to all you had known. You entered into a place that never quite felt like home. The dust on your feet, falling asleep under the heaviness of a mosquito net, forced to be in spaces and places that felt uncomfortable for so many reasons.

I know you have dreams too. You wish you could be a soccer star, but you haven’t had the chance to be on a real team. You wish you could ski down mountains, but there is no snow where we moved. You wish so many things, and we have kept you from them as we’ve embarked on a journey towards our own choices and calling, with you along for the ride.

And you have grieved. Often silently, sometimes loudly, and we have felt the weight of it.  We have grieved family gatherings and playgrounds. We have grieved easy outings and libraries and oh so many things.

You have been so patient. We have counted down days to come back to your home and native land. You have made the lists, stated the hopes, and built your expectations for this special short time, this one gap where you could enjoy all the things you remember and long for. This time when you could take off the foreign face and be familiar. A place where you could play with your childhood friends in our cul-de-sac, and enjoy all the things your hearts have longed for.

We had made oh so many plans in those 2 years for this time now. Just as you got comfortable in this new place, we had to bring you suddenly back to where all your hopes lay.

But nothing is as you hoped.  You couldn’t stay in the house of your earliest memories.

And now here we are.  I had hoped this day wouldn’t come, but here it is.

You didn’t get to go to summer camp.  I know this was your only chance in maybe 5 years. I know I have told you it will change your life as it changed mine. I know I told you it would be one of the best things in your childhood, and now you cannot go. I know that’s the last thing that you were hoping for, after everything else had fallen through. Now it’s not happening either.

You have grieved more than most kids. It’s not really fair, you’re right. How could it be, that we could be so close to all that you had missed, and just when we needed a break from all that was unfamiliar, all that was difficult and uncomfortable, you are thrown back into the fire of uncertainty and confusion. This isn’t the home you left. This isn’t the childhood of your dreams. It has changed.

But remember, dear one, it’s not over yet. God hasn’t changed. Not even a little bit. My childhood will not be your childhood. My experiences will not be your experiences. I know this feels like too much to ask of a 10-year-old, and in many ways it is. Still, I believe this will build in you a resilience that is real and will steer you well in the days ahead.

I know your hopes are crushed, and I feel your pain too. In the midst of all this pain and disappointment, I still believe your childhood will be richer than you think because of our extravagant, loving Father, who will give you all the experiences you need to become the person He is shaping you to be.

This is hard. It’s another loss on a mountain of losses. I am crying my eyes out because it pains me so badly to see your pain. God counts all of our tears mixed together, every one. He has a bright future for you, and He won’t let you down. Our faith will just have to grow stronger together.

I’m so sorry.  We love you, we see your pain, and we’re here with you.

-Mom

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Shannon is a mother of 4 kids, a nurse, a writer, and a missionary in Malawi. Her family is currently residing in Vancouver, Canada because of COVID. Her writing explores the awkward spaces of life like waiting, grieving, calling, and transition, which seems to become increasingly relevant in our lives and in our global story. She has just finished her first book. Find her at shannonbrink.org.

Raising Healthy Third Culture Kids

It was in the fall that I first saw the announcement from Lauren Wells that she would be writing a book about raising third culture kids. Like many TCKs, I get skeptical any time I hear that someone is writing a book about us. But Lauren’s approach and the fact that she herself is a third culture kid had me curious. That curiosity led to a full and enthusiastic endorsement of the book she has now beautifully delivered. I received my copy in the mail a week ago, and it sits here, beside a picture of my own second generation third culture kids. It’s easy to think “Where was this book when I so needed it?” but that is nonproductive at best. What I will say is that I am so delighted to know that this book is now available.

Today we have the opportunity to hear from Lauren about this book and her journey to writing the book. We begin with my review and then move forward in the interview with Lauren. You can read her bio at the end. Enjoy!

“Lauren Wells begins her book by describing what she calls the ‘ampersand’ life of the third culture kid, demonstrating the wonder, beauty, and difficulty of a global childhood. The description is remarkably accurate  If we could ensure that our TCKs would grow up healthy and resilient in this ampersand existence, able to withstand the inevitable adjustment process that comes with the global life and adapt accordingly, we would do it in a heart beat. In Raising up a Generation of Healthy Third Culture Kids, Lauren Wells has gifted us with a gentle guide and a preventive health primer, unique in the field of third culture kid literature.

As an adult third culture kid who works professionally as a public health nurse focused on prevention and wellness, I applaud the comprehensive content between these pages. The preventive wisdom in the book includes evidence-based practice around the adverse child events study and survey, research and findings from Dr. Brene Brown’s work on belonging and fitting in, and important information from key thought leaders in the TCK world. It is a goldmine of wisdom, organized in a practical and readable format.  While we cannot know all our TCKs will go through, we can take a giant step forward by reading this and learning how to multiply the benefits of a global life and conversely pay attention to the challenges that can become stumbling blocks to healthy development.

If you are working with, raising, or love third culture kids from any part of the globe, buy this book today! The pages will quickly go from crisp and new to dogeared and underlined, worn in the best possible way for reading and internalizing this gift.” – Marilyn Gardner

 

Tell us a bit about your background, and with it what prompted you to write this book?

My TCK journey began when family moved to Tanzania when I was 12 years old. It was a challenging transition, but I came to love living in Africa, and I integrated deeply into the village culture where we lived. In university, I realized how significantly my years overseas had impacted me and I decided that I wanted to work with families who were on a similar globally-mobile journey. 

I began working with families in 2015 when I became the TCK Program Director for a training organization called CultureBound and created programs for children and teens that paralleled CultureBound’s adult trainings. As I worked with children and teens, I began to also work more and more with the parents, but in the short amount of time we were together, I felt I could barely scratch the surface of what I felt they needed to know. It wasn’t uncommon for parents to ask for a dinner conversation to continue talking about TCK care. 

In 2016, I founded TCK Training as a way of continuing the conversation by providing practical ways for parents to be intentional about every step of raising their TCKs. TCK Training offers a blog, workshops, trainings, consulting, and many other resources. I had never considered myself a writer and certainly never anticipated writing a book, but through four years of writing content for TCK Training, A Life Overseas, and other forums, I developed a love for typing out my thoughts, and people often told me how unique and helpful my practical, preventive approach was. 

In spring of 2019, I attended a conference with others who are in the TCK care world, many of whom are authors themselves and all of whom had read my work. They encouraged me to write a book and believed it would fill a gap in TCK literature. So, I decided to go for it and here we are exactly one year later! 

 

How might this book differ from other literature on third culture kids?

There are many great books on Third Culture Kids, but I wanted to offer something new to the TCK community in three different ways: 

  1. I wanted to create something very practical, easy to read, and not intimidating for parents (understanding what it’s like to try to get through a book with young kids during transition!) while still filled with excellent research-based content. I wanted it to be accessible enough for parents, yet highly informative for member care workers and organizational personnel. 
  2. Many of the TCK books talk about what a TCK is and discuss the challenges and benefits of the TCK life. This is excellent! But I wanted to take it a step further and offer a practical guide for what you can do with all of that information as you parent TCKs. 
  3. Finally, all of my TCK work focuses on proactive, preventive care. Much of the literature available focuses on reactive care – addressing the TCK’s challenges after they have negatively manifested. I come at it from the other side – looking at how parents can begin to address those challenges when they first move and begin a life overseas and doing this through the application of prevention science.

 

How do you think writing this book has helped you as an adult TCK?

Writing this book has helped me to process so much of my own experience. I joke that I never know what I’m feeling until I write it down, and that certainly was the case as I wrote this book. While I have been teaching this content for years, writing it down in book form helped me to process how I have grown in each of these areas – and especially how that has shown up (or still needs work!) in my own parenting.

In some ways, I feel like I wrote a mirror that I constantly need to look into as a gauge for how I am doing as an adult TCK. The premise of the book is that we can raise up healthy TCKs, but it is helpful to realize that there will never be a point when we, as adult TCKs, arrive at our perfectly healthy selves. This book has helped me to have a good way to check in with myself and assess how healthy I am (or not) in each season and transition.



What is the most significant piece of advice or wisdom you have received as a third culture kid?

I was told once that nothing will ever undo the TCK piece of your identity. As an adult, living in my passport country and raising my own kids, there have been times when accepting this life felt like a betrayal to my TCK-self – that I would slowly lose my TCK identity. Realizing that part of me will always be a TCK has allowed me to be willing to learn to put down roots, develop deep friendships with people who aren’t TCKs, and be all right with raising my kids in my passport country for as long as God has us here. 

 

What do you hope parents will gain from your book?

I hope that parents will reach the end of the book feeling hopeful, encouraged, and equipped with practical tools and skills for caring for their Third Culture Kids. I hope that they will see how intertwined the benefits and challenges are of the TCK life and will be inspired to address the challenges, not out of fear, but because it is through working through the challenges that the amazing benefits of the TCK life are magnified. 

 

As an adult TCK, what are some words of encouragement you want to give parents?

I would say two things. First, in the book I talk about the TCK life as an ampersand (&). It is both good & hard. More than anything, I want to encourage parents that while it is difficult to embrace that your child’s life will include the hard, so much of the good comes because of the hard. So many of the amazing benefits of the TCK life like high emotional intelligence, adaptability, and resilience are only there because they were born out of the difficult pieces of TCK life. 

Second, the entire premise of my book is that it is possible to raise healthy Third Culture Kids. As an adult TCK who has had to work though (and in many ways is still working though!) each of the challenges, I know that when the energy is put in, the benefits of the TCK life become incredibly valuable in every aspect of adulthood.

 

Lastly, If you had 20/20 vision, what would you tell your younger TCK self?

This is a hard question! Two things come to mind. I would say…

“I know this is so hard right now, but you won’t regret being a TCK. It will become such a huge and significant part of who you are and what you do with your life. Out of this hard will come so much good.” 

And… 

“You don’t have to work so hard to adapt perfectly to every situation and be a constant chameleon. You can let people see the many different pieces that make you who you are instead of constantly trying to show them what you think they want to see. It’s ok to let your African TCK side show – people will probably even like it!”

 

Other articles by Lauren on A Life Overseas:

10 Questions to Routinely Ask Your TCKs

7 Ways to Teach Your TCKs to Process Grief

Should TCKs Take Their Parents to College?

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

GRIT: A Guide to Praying for Third Culture Kids

 

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Lauren Wells is the Founder and Director of TCK Training, Director of Training for CultureBound, and author of Raising Up a Generation of Healthy Third Culture Kids. She specializes in practical, proactive care for TCKs and their families. Lauren grew up in Tanzania, East Africa, where she developed a love for smokey chai and Mandazis (African doughnuts). She now lives in the US with her husband and two children.

Sorry Kids, It’s Not Your Best Life

by Nicolette

A common caption for pictures on my Instagram feed is something along the lines of “she’s living her best life” accompanied by an adorable shot of a toddler cuddling her puppy or a little boy with an infectious grin covered head to toe in mud.

Sometimes I can just smile at the cuteness, but other times I get a churning in my gut – a mix of envy, guilt and the ever lurking fear that the choices we’ve made for how we live our lives will somehow ruin our children.

If I were creating the perfect childhood for my kids, it would involve living close to family and having a clean, safe outside space to play in. There would be lots of opportunities to try out different sports and instruments and activities, and school would be fun. They’d have access to services when they were struggling with speech or reading, and a gaggle of neighborhood friends to shoot hoops with in the driveway. The air they were breathing would be clean, and they wouldn’t catch salmonella from playing at the beach (or taking a shower – jury is still out on where that nasty bug came from.)

Everyone tells you about the benefits of raising children overseas, and I love that my kids are growing up multilingual. I love that they are exposed to different cultures and the close bonds they have with one another because of our “never quite fitting in anywhere” lifestyle.

I don’t love when my kid comes home crying because some girls filled her desk and backpack and books with glitter… because she won her class math competition and they have to bring her down a notch because she’s a foreigner.

Are my kids “living their best life?” I can confidently answer that with a resounding no. Don’t get me wrong. They are happy. They have friends, they enjoy the activities they are involved in, they are doing well in school. But looking at it from a physical, emotional or psychological perspective, no, it’s not their best life. And yes, I often feel sad and sometimes guilty for this. We knew we would be making sacrifices on our kids’ behalf when we chose this life, but that doesn’t make it any easier when your children are bawling their eyes out because they miss their family or because apparently white people are ugly.

But all this begs the question: is that our primary responsibility as parents? To give our kids their best life?

When our kids were younger and they’d pine for life in America after a fun summer there, we could easily remind them that summertime anywhere is more fun. But as they are getting older, the reality of what they are missing out on is becoming clearer to them. So we let them talk about it. We grieve with them the loss of the life they think they’d enjoy having.

And then we try to teach them why we sacrifice so much. And ultimately it comes down to obedience. We felt like God called us to this life, and so we obeyed. It’s not always easy, it’s not always fun, it’s not always comfortable. My hope is that this is a truth we can pass on to our kids: that striving for our best life is less about the perfect environment and endless opportunities and comfortable relationships and more about just being obedient.

It doesn’t mean I don’t ache with and for them when they are struggling because of this choice that we’ve made. The feelings of guilt are very real. But I have to believe that our obedience will bring blessing, even if that blessing doesn’t come in the form of the puppy my middle child desperately wants to have.

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Nicolette grew up bouncing around the US and the world, but has finally settled in Beirut, Lebanon, where she and her family have been serving with WorldVenture for the past ten years.  She is the director of Safe Haven, a home for abused and disadvantaged girls, and is involved with refugee ministry and community outreach through her church in Beirut.  She’s passionate about creating spaces where everyone feels connected – whether the orphaned child, the homeless refugee, the lonely expat, or the mom of the new baby feeling cut off from the world around her.  Nicolette blogs about life as an expat in the Middle East at www.calebandnicolette.wordpress.com.

TCK Lessons: No One Understands

by Tanya Crossman

This series goes a little deeper into the key lessons of a TCK childhood. In part one I discussed the lesson that “Everyone Leaves.” I then wrote two follow up posts regarding that lesson: What About the Internet? and After Everyone Leaves. Now, in this post, I am finally tackling the big one: “No One Understands.”

 

Misunderstood
There’s a good reason my book is called Misunderstood. Very soon after starting interviews, I realised that the topic of feeling misunderstood, and the impact of this, was coming up repeatedly. I started asking TCKs I interviewed if they had felt misunderstood in certain ways and the floodgates opened immediately. Stories (and often tears) poured out of young people who desperately wanted to be known and understood but were hurt by misunderstandings, or even feared it would never be possible that another person could truly understand.

So, why is it that TCKs share this feeling of being misunderstood? Why do they fear that no one can understand?

 

Living in between
I surveyed 750 TCKs for Misunderstood, and (unsurprisingly) I asked several questions about the experience of feeling misunderstood. A third felt misunderstood by their parents, and over half felt misunderstood by extended family members. 41% felt misunderstood by friends in their host country. 67% felt misunderstood by friends in their passport country. The main reason for this? Most of the people in a TCK’s life know only one side of that life.

As I’ve talked about before, the Third Culture experience is about living in between – with connections to more than one place/culture. One consequence of this for TCKs is that throughout their formative childhood years, most of the people they interact with know only one side of them – only one of the cultures/places that they know and are deeply impacted by. TCKs learn to turn languages and behaviours on and off as they move from one setting to another. In the end, however, there are few places in which TCKs can express all their pieces of self at once.

Imagine a German kid attending an English-speaking school in Kenya. Most of his friends in Kenya won’t speak German or understand much of German life and culture. Most of his family and friends in Germany won’t know what life is like in Kenya, and how deeply it impacts him. In each place, a piece of self is quietly suppressed, in order to focus on the pieces the people around him can share. Then his family moves to Malaysia, and the complications continue.

“TCKs often feel they will never be known completely; at best they are known slightly by people all over the world. Each person only knows tiny snapshots of parts of their lives.” — Gabe, as quoted in Misunderstood

 

The joy of being understood
When your baseline assumption is that no one will understand, the experience of being understood is powerful. I had two main goals for Misunderstood, one for each of the two key audiences. I wanted to equip parents and other interested adults with tools to better understand their TCKs; and I wanted to show TCKs that there are others out there who get it – that they CAN be understood.

When Misunderstood was nearly finished I sent excerpts of the manuscript to TCKs I had quoted, to make sure they were happy with how their words were being used. One of them summarised what I heard from many others, “I could have said every quote in here! I didn’t know so many people felt the same way!” Another, when reading the book herself, tried to guess which quotes were hers without looking at the name given. Over and over she thought to herself “oh yeah, that’s me” – only to discover that someone she didn’t know had expressed the same sentiment in words she would have used herself.

Some of the pre-publication reviews of Misunderstood I most treasured came from TCKs themselves, who saw themselves in what I had written, and received that most cherished gift: of feeling themselves to be understood:

Misunderstood left me feeling refreshingly… understood! Compassionate and discerning, its blend of gathered narrative and insight left me with a sense of belonging as well as an appreciation for the many varieties of experience similar to mine. This is the guidebook I want to give people to explain my cultural upbringing.”
– Christopher O’Shaughnessy, Author of Arrivals, Departures and the Adventures in Between

Misunderstood explains ME. Tanya gives words to internal feelings I could not have previously understood as a TCK. While I read, I found myself nodding with a sense of relief and recognition, ‘Yes! That’s what I felt. I’m not the only one.’”
 Taylor Joy Murray, Author of Hidden in My Heart: A TCK’s Journey Through Cultural Transition

After Misunderstood was published and I started to hear from TCKs who had read it and felt the need to reach out and thank me for giving them this: being understood, and finding out they weren’t the only ones to feel this way. The very first letter I got was from a TCK living in Tajikistan. She shared some of her experiences with me and then said that reading my book was the first time since going through all this that she felt someone had understood her. My heart twisted – a combination of compassion for her, and gratitude that my words were able to bring her some comfort. I remember thinking at the time “for this one person, all the years of work are worth it.”

Two years later I had a letter from a young adult TCK who read my book after suffering a breakdown and discovering that they were a TCK. I heard that similar refrain – that it helped so much to know others felt the same way.

 

Understanding is possible!
The title Misunderstood is not supposed to be static, implying that the state of being misunderstood will never change. Instead, I hoped to do justice to the emotional experiences TCKs shared with me, while also opening a door to hope that it doesn’t have to be this way.

Yes, it’s true. Many people in a TCK’s life won’t instinctively understand their experiences. And unfortunately, it’s also true that some won’t want to try. But for those who are willing, resources like Misunderstood can help close the gap. It’s tiring, if not impossible, to be the one who advocates for yourself constantly, so giving TCKs a book (and other resources) they can put in the hands of people who do want to understand can take some of the load.

But more than that, there is hope in remembering that no one completely understands anyone else. We all have to share our stories, and try to listen to what another is saying about their experiences. What we all have in common are our emotions. We have all experienced loss, fun, joy, grief. It might look different, but the emotions underneath help us empathise. Learning to connect with and express the way we feel about things we’ve been through helps others go there with us.

The truth is, I know that there are many out there who are just like me, or at least can understand how I feel. There is a sense of isolation from others who are not TCKs, but I’ve always felt that in time most other people can at least comprehend the feelings we have. Loneliness is a universal trait among humans, whether it’s because you were always the weird kid at school or because you lived two thousand miles away from anyone who spoke English. While the reasons may be different, it’s the same type of pain we share.” – Eugene, as quoted in Misunderstood

 

Now what?

If you are a TCK: you’re not alone. You’re not the only one who has felt what you feel. There are others out there. Not only that, but there will be people in your life who want to listen, to learn, to come to understand you.

If you care for a TCK: a great gift you can give TCKs is to read up on different TCK literature, to start to get an idea of what forces have shaped their worldview. Remember that every TCK is an individual – no book will tell you exactly what they are like. BUT these resources can give you a starting place, to show you where your blind spots might be, and give you ideas of questions to ask to open up different conversations.

I’m going to close by borrowing my own words – from the close of the introduction to Misunderstood. This is what my book, and my work advocating for TCKs, is all about:

“There is no one-size-fits-all explanation of how every TCK has felt and who they will become. Rather, this book is a window into how international life can affect the way a child thinks and feels about their world, and how this different perspective may manifest in the way they interact with others.

Reading this will not teach you everything about any individual TCK, but it will give you a head start in understanding their perspective. From there it will be up to you to take time to talk with the TCKs you meet, and allow them to teach you more about their unique life journeys.”

Originally published here.
Tanya Crossman spent most of her childhood as a local in Australia and most of her adulthood as an expat in China (with stops in the U.S. and Cambodia). Along the way she unexpectedly turned into an expert on millennial TCKs, wrote a book, and starting travelling the world to speak on her favourite topic: why TCKs are awesome and how to serve them well. After completing an MDiv in Australia, she recently got married (to a TCK) and moved back to Beijing. Now she’s enjoying rediscovering everything she loves about China! She can be found online far too often, usually on FacebookInstagramTwitter, and occasionally at her website.