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.

TCK Lessons: After “Everyone Leaves”

by Tanya Crossman

My first post in this series explored a “lesson” TCKs learn through growing up internationally: that everyone leaves. Next, I paused to address a very common response: “what about the internet?” The internet allows for relationships to be maintained long-distance, which is so very helpful! But it doesn’t actually solve the underlying problem.

Now in part three, I am finally getting to the “solutions”. Only after we stop to really hear the sadness that TCKs experience can we start talking about what happens after everyone leaves. With that foundation under us, I’m going to work through a few ideas that can be helpful for anyone dealing with the life lesson that “everyone leaves.” The bottom line is this: you can’t change the past, but you can choose what sort of future to build. Understanding what we think, and learning new ways of thinking, can make a huge difference in this regard.

 

Change, transition, and goodbyes
While the focus of this post is dealing with the aftermath – the life lesson encoded from a childhood full of goodbyes – it’s worth taking a moment to consider what to do in the thick of things. It’s important to understand the relationship between change and transition and the impact transition has on our daily lives – whether we stay or go. Understanding this process, leaving space for it, and practicing self-compassion during it, goes a long way toward encouraging future healing and growth.

Saying good goodbyes is also really important. Anything that matters (a person, animal, place, group) is worth saying goodbye to. Any relationship that will be changed, any routine that will be lost, is worth marking. There are lots of ways to do this (parties, gifts, memory books, photos, last visits, etc.) but it can also be an internal process. I can stop and recognise the importance of each person/place, expressing sadness and gratitude, any time – even after the fact, even years later, regardless of whether a good goodbye was not said at the time. This is especially helpful when a family moves unexpectedly – for both the ones who leave, and the ones left behind.

 

Living “everyone leaves” long term
What I really want to focus on in this post is what to do later in life, when the lesson that “everyone leaves” has sunk in and affects the way I think and act. As I’ve listened to and mentored young adult TCKs in particular (especially as I start preparation for my next book) I’ve found a few tools that help us reframe our thoughts – and take control of the future. Taking time to consciously understand how these very valid past hurts impact our present-day reactions allows us to stop the past from stealing the future.

Saying goodbye sucks. Losing friends sucks. There’s no point sugar-coating that fact. The reality of change and loss can be painful, and it can’t be changed. The past is what it is. But staying in that place of pain, and the helplessness and hopelessness that often goes with it, doesn’t change the past. We must acknowledge the truth of our lives. But we don’t have to be ruled by it forever. We get to choose what happens next.

 

Sunk costs
In business there is a term for money you’ve already paid: a “sunk cost”. It is money you can’t get back. You’ve already paid the rent, bought the inventory, paid the salary – whatever it is, good decision or bad, it’s done. The question now has to be what is the best way forward, given that you can’t get the “sunk cost” back. This rule means that sometimes the best decision for a business is to sell old inventory at a loss – because that’s better that having it take up space in a warehouse.

Let me use a mundane example to explain. Imagine you’re at a restaurant, and having eaten 3/4 of your meal you are feeling very full. Part of your brain is saying you should eat the rest because you’ve already paid for it! A “sunk cost” mentality says that you pay the same price for the meal no matter how much you eat, that the money is already spent. So, would you enjoy the meal more by stopping now, or by making yourself sick eating too much? Forget what you can’t change, and make the best decision starting from now. Perhaps you can take the small leftover portion home to be a snack later. But even if that’s not possible, eating it all in order not to leave waste may not be the best decision.

I’ve found sunk costs an extremely helpful concept in my personal life. Something has already happened in my life. I can’t change that. So what am I going to do about it? I don’t need to “fix” something that’s already happened. Blaming myself for a bad decision, or blaming someone else for causing me pain, doesn’t change the situation I find myself in. Instead, I can look ahead and decide what to do next.

When it comes to the “everyone leaves” lesson, we can’t change what has happened. We can only decide what is the best way forward, all things being as they are. Yes, I have experienced many goodbyes, and that hurt. But what sort of life do I want from now on? What choices will help me build that sort of future?

 

Change happens
Change is a part of life everywhere – you can’t insulate yourself against it, no matter what you do. You may decide you want to settle down in one place for the rest of your life, to minimise the potential for change and loss. But anywhere in the world, your best friend might choose to move away, perhaps without warning. No matter what you do, you can’t eliminate change. To be happy and healthy moving forward, therefore, you must find a way to cope with change.

Some people want to be the one who initiates change so that they are in control of it. They may move frequently, change jobs, or locations. One adult TCK told me that she had lived in the same town (with her husband and two kids) for six years, but in five different houses. Most of those moves happened simply because she wanted to move. She would find a better area, look for a better house. It took her years to realise she felt uncomfortable staying put for too long; when work kept them in one place, moving house helped soothe her itchy feet. Having recognised this, she wanted to try addressing the underlying feelings, but in the mean time she was pleased she had found a compromise that worked for her – that kept her living in the same city, not running away.

Another adult TCK finds moving stressful, but still has a deep desire to see the world. So he and his wife travel frequently, but always come home to the same house.

I think the important part of this isn’t how I cope with change, but that I do cope with change. That I am able to face my feelings about change, and make conscious choices about how to respond to those feelings – not be controlled by fears I avoid. Each of us needs to acknowledge that change happens, and we can’t avoid that – but it doesn’t mean we don’t have choices.

 

Pick your poison
Many TCKs I’ve talked with over the years have laid out the two choices they have: either go through the horrible pain of saying goodbye over and over, or don’t invest deeply in people to begin with. For many, avoiding deep relationships seems like the obvious and logical choice. The problem is that it’s not a choice between pain or no pain, it’s a choice between two different kinds of pain.

Yes, getting close to people only to have to say goodbye, over and over, is painful. But going through life without those close friendships, without people who know you, without anyone to share life with, is also painful.

So this is the real choice: either enjoy the beauty of friendship while you can, and pay the price in grief when someone moves away, or swap that sharp pain for the constant dull ache of feeling isolated and unknown. There is pain either way. But one path leads to relational connection – pain with gain. The other leads to isolation – a more lonely and sad kind of pain.

Faced with the reality of this choice, most of us instinctively understand the benefit of continuing to take the risk of investing in people.

 

And THIS is where the internet comes in
Maintaining friendships via the internet helps with a middle ground here. There is still the grief when a friend moves, or something happens and I’m not there in person. There is still the ache of not sharing everyday life. And yet, an ongoing bond through different life circumstances (in different countries!) can be rich and rewarding. My own best friend and I have only spent two of our 13 years of friendship in the same country. We both travelled across oceans to be in each other’s weddings. We come from different passport countries but have each visited the other’s family home, met parents and siblings.

I’ve had to grieve the changes in our relationship many times. But each time, I knew it was worth continuing to invest in her, and in our friendship.

This is the bottom line: you can’t go back. You can only go forward. Take the time to acknowledge hurts and grieve losses – then move forward.  Make choices about where you want to go, and who you want to be, rather than what you want to avoid. Invest in people, even though it means investing in harder goodbyes. Work out what you want from life, and start building toward that.

You can’t change the past – but you can make choices about what happens next.

Read more TCK articles by Tanya

Originally published here

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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.

A Public Service Announcement for Parents and their TCKs

Years ago my dad was reading A Lesson Before Dying and my sister warned him, “Whatever you do, do not finish reading it on a plane because you will cry. I am just warning you. You want to finish that book in private.” 

If only all books came with warnings. So, to help you out, my public service announcement is: Do not finish A Wrinkle in Time on public transportation. I wish I had known this because I finished A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle riding on the light rail after returning home from the MC2 conference (which I recommend if you are in Minnesota in February!).

If you already love A Wrinke in Time, I bet like me you read it as a kid. I was first exposed to AWIT when my mom read it to my sisters and me after swim lessons one summer. I remember liking it. Last month I reread the classic with the Velvet Ashes Book Club and now want to know why it isn’t required reading for parents and their TCKs.

Here is a brief summary from Amazon:

“It was a dark and stormy night; Meg Murry, her small brother Charles Wallace, and her mother had come down to the kitchen for a midnight snack when they were upset by the arrival of a most disturbing stranger.
“’Wild nights are my glory,’ the unearthly stranger told them. ‘I just got caught in a downdraft and blown off course. Let me sit down for a moment, and then I’ll be on my way. Speaking of ways, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract.’
“A tesseract (in case the reader doesn’t know) is a wrinkle in time. To tell more would rob the reader of the enjoyment of Miss L’Engle’s unusual book. A Wrinkle in Time, winner of the Newbery Medal in 1963, is the story of the adventures in space and time of Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin O’Keefe (athlete, student, and one of the most popular boys in high school). They are in search of Meg’s father, a scientist who disappeared while engaged in secret work for the government on the tesseract problem.
“A Wrinkle in Time is the winner of the 1963 Newbery Medal.”

I had forgotten how many scriptural references and Christian themes L’Engle used, but what I had never noticed was how Meg and her father give voice to parent/TCK relationship. The final forty pages of the story give voice to some of the dynamics that go on between a parent and child that I have seen on the field.  

1. Though both working for the government, it was Mr. Murry who traveled first and then got lost on some planet. (Like TCKs, Meg and her brother CW were thrust into their “adventure” because of their parents.)

2. The parent/child relationship experiences a twist when the kids are called on the help their dad. (Anyone with children who have better language and end up translating for you?)

3. When they find their dad, Charles Wallace has been captured by IT and Mr. Murry needs to escape with Meg and her friend Calvin. Mr. Murry is not very skilled at tessering and his lack of expertise ends up causing the three to land in an unexpected planet. “He shouldn’t have taken me, then,” Meg said, “until he learned to do it better.” Oh man is Meg ticked with her dad, thinking he has abandoned Charles Wallace.

4. Not only is Meg angry, she’s physically hurt and requires medical attention on this unknown planet. At first Mr. Murry does not want to trust the beasts on the new planet to help Meg, but he has no choice. How many parents on the field fear more for their child having to face an unknown medical situation than for themselves?

5. Throughout the medical treatment and healing, Meg kept asking (more often accusing) her dad if he really cared about Charles Wallace. She could not see the bigger picture. 

6. Eventually it is determined that Meg, instead of her dad or Calvin, has to be the one to go back from Charles Wallace. “All right, I’ll go!” Meg sobbed. “I know you want me to go!” “We want nothing from you that you do without grace,” Mrs. Whatsit said, “or that you do without understanding.” (It is hard to watch our kids experience their own journey and not be able to stop bad or hard things from hurting them.)

7. As Meg prepares to return for her brother, she apologizes to her dad and says, “I wanted you to do it all for me. I wanted everything to be all easy and simple . . . So I was scared, and I didn’t want to have to do anything myself—“ “But I wanted to do it for you,” Mr. Murry said. “That’s what every parent wants.”

8. During this conversation, Mrs. Who quotes this scripture to Meg and her dad. “The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called, but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty.” Reminding us that God has called our children in his mysterious way as well.

In the end, Meg is able to rescue Charles Wallace and they were all able to return home to Mrs. Murry and their twin brothers with lessons about love, joy, and the power for a family of a shared journey. 

If you have a copy of A Wrinkle in Time on your shelf, pull it out and read the final four chapters. You won’t be disappointed, but be warned, have a tissue near you.

TCK Lessons: “What About the Internet?”

by Tanya Crossman

In part one of this series, I explained the lesson “Everyone leaves.” This is something most TCKs “learn” through their experiences growing up internationally. I chose to leave space at the end of the piece to reflect on how this “lesson” affects TCKs, rather than jump straight to solutions. When we skip straight to “it’ll be okay,” we don’t stop to sit with TCKs in their sadness and grief. We miss the opportunity to act as witnesses, to listen, to say that their feelings about this are valid. It’s hard to listen to pain, so we don’t often take enough time to wait in that place. I wanted to create space, to honour the sadness, even in blog posts.

Now it’s time for part two – but I’m not jumping into the solutions just yet. I’ve decided to address something else first: What about the internet?

A really common response I hear from parents, and even older ATCKs, is that with the internet and social media, TCKs these days can stay in touch with their friends after a move. It’s not the same, but surely it makes things easier. A lot of TCKs I interviewed for Misunderstood had heard this, too. There’s a few problems with this idea, and I want to break them down.

 

The internet doesn’t erase loss
Most of the time these comments aren’t comforting for TCKs. It makes them feel that they aren’t supposed to grieve, or that they shouldn’t show their sadness. The ability to stay in touch after a move doesn’t take away the sadness of losing that person from their daily life. And there’s no guarantee, even with the internet. When a child says goodbye to a friend, they don’t yet know what that friendship will look like on the other side of the move – whether it will continue or not, whether they will ever see their friend in person again or not. Sometimes there will be reunions, but not always. It is so important for TCKs to be able to grieve friendships that change or are lost. Their feelings of sadness are real and valid and need to be expressed – and are worth listening to.

“‘Graduation’ was a word that most people in my grade did not want to say, because ‘graduation’ meant ‘goodbye’. I used to say this a lot to my parents but they just kept telling me that “back in my day we only had snail mail and you guys get email and Facebook and so many other opportunities to stay in touch.” I gave up trying to make my point – it’s not the same. If home is where the heart is then after we all graduate my home will be in Korea and America and other places I’ve never been to, because that’s where my friends will be.”
Katherine, as quoted in Misunderstood

 

It’s not the same
Friendship online is different to friendship in person, for many reasons. Also, not everyone is good at online connection. It relies on a different set of interpersonal skills, and sometimes a friendship that is amazing in person just doesn’t translate that well to long-distance. Lots of TCKs hold onto the hope that staying in touch online means they’re not really saying goodbye. It doesn’t end well. I’ve heard so many stories of ways TCKs struggle with delayed grief – because they thought staying in touch online would erase the problem. One mother told me she learned to expect the sadness to hit her son a year after being left behind. A teenage boy spoke to me of being deeply hurt by a friend not investing as much in maintaining their friendship online. A young adult woman found she was offending friends; she learned to tell herself this wasn’t really goodbye, so she didn’t have to be emotional about it. When a person leaves, the friendship as it has been ends. A new friendship can be negotiated thanks to the wonders of the internet, but it will be a NEW friendship. There is still sadness is losing what was, even when there is a continuation of connection.

“I had to say goodbye to a close friend knowing I would not see her for at least five years. I missed her so much. Immediately after she left, I could not make new friends. I think I was still sore from the goodbye. I still talk to her online but it really isn’t the same. I do believe I will see her again, although I know the relationship will never be the same. A lot can happen in five years, and people change.”
Joy, as quoted in Misunderstood

 

It’s not just one person
We’re not talking about one or two friends moving away – we’re talking about one or two a year. Or more. No matter how much time and energy you invest in online relationships, there will always be people you don’t keep up with. There’s just no way to stay in touch with that many people, especially if you’re also working hard to build new connections in person. While having the ability to stay in touch via the internet is amazing, and so good for TCKs, it also adds complications. The more time I spend investing in friends online, the less time I can spend investing in people nearby. And while it’s so valuable to stay in touch with friends who used to live nearby, it’s also important to continue building new relationships. The friends I stay in touch with from previous locations know certain parts of me, have shared certain parts of my life. But if I don’t invest in new relationships, I won’t have friends who knew THIS part of my life.

“People who haven’t moved as much or as far do not understand that it is usual for TCKs to have more than one best friend. They are my best friend in this circumstance and this location.”
Callie, as quoted in Misunderstood

 

Who is in control?
Remember that we’re talking about children. They don’t have full control over their lives and ability to connect. Younger children especially can’t just stay in touch, because the ability to do so is filtered through their parents, and their friends’ parents. TCKs are heavily dependent on their parents to support the maintenance of friendships with people in other places. And even with parents’ support, it’s not always that simple. Time differences can make it really hard to coordinate schedules. Perhaps a TCK is living in an area without reliable internet access – or her friend is. Plus, I have heard many internet-age TCKs tell stories in which a friend moved away with little or no warning, and was never heard from again – especially if they were in primary school at the time. Staying in touch via the internet is great in theory, but it doesn’t always happen in practice – and TCKs often don’t have much control over that.

“Friendships maintained online helped and still help me a great deal. They served as a way to reminisce and share in the processes and challenges of life with other TCKs. My parents have been very gracious with making opportunities for me to visit friends – this includes driving long(ish) distances, being willing to host friends, and encouraging me to keep in contact. They make a point to ask about the lives of my friends who live far away who I talk to. I would encourage TCKs to be consistent and keep in contact with their friends online and through texting. But don’t let those relationships be the only ones, because they can take away from building relationships in person.”
Becca, as quoted in Misunderstood

 

The internet: worth it, but not without complications
A Third Culture childhood is a good thing overall, for most kids in most situations, but it is not without difficulties and complications. Erasing mention of hard things doesn’t solve the difficulties. The internet is a tool, and a good thing overall, for most kids in most situations. But it doesn’t solve the problem of how frequent goodbyes through childhood affect a person. It adds different opportunities, and also complications. It changes what goodbye looks like. But it doesn’t erase the underlying lesson, that “everyone leaves”.

Read more TCK articles by Tanya.

Originally published here.

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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.

TCK Lessons: “Everyone Leaves”

by Tanya Crossman

The experience of living overseas as a child is very different to the experience of living overseas as an adult. The impact of childhood experiences last a lifetime. They are formative experiences – they teach us how the world works. We all internalise ‘lessons’ from our childhood experiences.

TCKs grow up between cultures, learning lessons from more than one cultural viewpoint. Often these messages contradict one another, and learning to navigate this conflict is part of what makes a TCK. The lessons they learn about how the world works, therefore, often come less from individual cultures and more from the fact that they juggle more than one cultural viewpoint. The experience of being “in between” greatly affects their understanding of the world.

As I interviewed hundreds of TCKs there were a lot of repeated themes, and even specific phrases, that became familiar. These were the lessons these TCKs had learned through their childhood experiences. In this post I’m introducing one of the most common lessons of a TCK childhood: Everyone leaves.

I heard the exact phrase “everyone leaves” in scores of interviews. Even when a TCK lived in one place a long time (even their whole childhood) most did not live fully immersed lives in their host culture, and were therefore affected by the mobility of other expatriates. That is to say, if TCKs didn’t move on themselves, they watched many of their friends leave. On top of this, most TCKs make trips to visit family in other countries, where they reconnect and then have to say goodbye. Or they attend conferences with their parents’ organisations, where they have friends they make and farewell every year. The end result is that goodbyes form part of the background of a TCK childhood.

It can be hard for adults to really internalise what this feels like for kids – how it shapes them. Perhaps a story will help. When leading sessions on transition with students, I ask how many times a close friend has moved away from them. Not just an acquaintance or classmate, but someone they felt close to. I get a lot of wide eyes and dropped jaws – how can anyone expect me to tally that number?? Some just roll their eyes and refuse to even try. One 10 year old lifted both hands and started opening and closing his fingers, representing an ongoing and endless number. One time, a 5th grade girl got a very determined look on her face – she was intent on counting to an exact number. She kept going while the class moved on to discuss another question. When she lifted her head again, I turned back to her and asked if she had her number. “Yes,” she answered, “it’s 23.” Before even finishing primary school, this girl had said goodbye to 23 people she felt close to.

It’s important to remember that different TCKs respond differently to this challenge. There are several quite rational responses to this experience. Some TCKs try to avoid the sadness of goodbyes, by denying that the goodbyes are real or painful. Others try to create emotional distance to blunt the pain.

“I lived with a mentality that ‘everyone leaves’. I just recently moved off to college and I had a really close friend get mad at me for pushing her away and trying to do anything I could to minimize the hurt I knew was coming. Honestly I still expect us to eventually lose touch anyway because people move on. That’s all I’ve ever known.” – Maddie, as quoted in Misunderstood

“I never feel sad until a half hour before the person I know leaves. It hurts too much, so I numb myself to the pain, block it out, and refuse to think about it until it’s actually happening.” – Faith, as quoted in Misunderstood

Some TCKs decide it’s not worth the pain to invest in relationships, especially if they know a goodbye is imminent – such as when they will be leaving soon, or the other person will. “Soon” being anywhere from six months to two years. Another common reaction is a highly developed ability to connect superficially – to be warm and friendly and welcoming – while holding back their deeper selves. There is great vulnerability in sharing my whole self when I know that the deeper a relationship gets, the more it will hurt when the (inevitable) goodbye comes.

“I didn’t want to devote myself to new friendships because I knew it would just be another goodbye at the end of the six months.” – Eve, as quoted in Misunderstood

“I remember feeling ‘popular’ but looking back, the majority of my friendships were quite shallow and superficial. I did not open myself up to the different possible friendships I could have had. I did not properly invest time or emotions in my ‘friends’. I was prepared to say goodbye to those people from day one.” – Siyin, as quoted in Misunderstood

Other TCKs dive deep into relationships as quickly as possible because they don’t know how long they have. This can create friction outside non-international circles, as they may come across as too eager, or be labelled as too intense.

Whatever method a TCK develops to help deal with the emotional stress of goodbyes, the commonality is that this is an essential survival skill for them. The goodbyes and the losses that go with them can be very overwhelming to a child, especially because it is the only experience they know.

I feel the urge to switch to something hopeful here, so I don’t depress you. But please stick with me a minute longer, as I offer a sobering reflection – to help understand how the “everyone leaves” lessons affects TCKs who don’t yet know there is any other way to experience the world.

Imagine you are 9 years old, and every year of your life you have said goodbye to a close friend, and had to make a new friend. In your world, friends only last a year or two. Is it really worth the effort this time?

Imagine you are 13 years old, and you’ve learned the skill of being warm and friendly and fitting into yet another new circle of friends, but you doubt it’s possible to be truly known by any one person. Am I going to be lonely forever?

Imagine you are 17 years old, your best friend is moving to another country, and this time you’re desperate not to lose them. You think about all the ways to stay in touch and plan around time zones, trying hard to ignore the sinking feeling that it won’t be the same.

How hopeful would you feel, as you look ahead?

Every child’s experience is different, of course, but the weight of having to keep building new friendships, and negotiating long-distance friendships, is something most TCKs experience to some degree.

Losing friends hurts – and that’s okay. The best first step for helping TCKs, especially when they are young, is to validate feelings of loss. Instead of saying “Don’t worry, you’ll make new friends” a far more helpful thing is to say “You’re right, this is really hard. It won’t always feel this way, but right now it’s totally okay to feel sad or angry.”

Instead of telling them things you hope will make them feel better, ask them questions that invite them to share how they feel right now.

Listening to a child’s hurt is HARD – it’s painful to hear. But it is one of the greatest gifts we can offer them. Listening well says, “I see you. I hear you. The way you feel is valid. You’re allowed to be sad, and you’re allowed to tell me about it.”

I plan to write more in future about how to help TCKs with this, but for now I want to stop here, with the truth that losing friends hurts – and that’s okay. We hurt because we’re losing something that matters. It’s a good thing to attach to someone enough that it hurts to lose them.

None of us can “fix” the pain of losing a friend. I can’t change that this friend is moving away, or that our company is moving us away, or any of the circumstances that cause a child the pain of loss. I can’t fix it. But every time I talk to groups of TCKs about this, they share that they don’t actually want someone to fix it. They know it can’t be fixed – and they don’t like adults acting as if it can be. They just want someone (especially their parents) to listen to them, and to say it’s okay to be sad. And that is something we can do.

 

In part 2 of this series, I will consider a common response to “Everyone leaves” – namely, “What about the internet?”

Read more TCK articles by Tanya.

Originally published here.

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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.

Citizens of Heaven: Third Culture Kids and Kingdom Living

by Tanya Crossman

In my previous post, I discussed the importance of citizenship of heaven as biblical theology which brings hope and encouragement to TCKs. The knowledge that their hearts will one day rest in the comfort of a single home brings great peace. There is also great joy in knowing that this single home crosses the earthly boundaries they feel restricted by – that heaven will be a place of inclusion, where difference does not mean separation.

This was one of two findings from my research. The other was more of a surprise to me – that TCKs’ understanding of earthly citizenship provides an important springboard to helping them understand what it means to be a Christian.

 

Christians are expatriates on earth

Throughout the New Testament there are calls for Christians to live as those whose allegiance is first and foremost to the kingdom of heaven. (Philippians 3:20, 1 Peter 2:11, Hebrews 11:13-16). We are strangers and sojourners in this world. Two Greek words often used in this context (paroikos and parepidēmos) have a meaning similar to the modern use of “expatriate” – those who are living long term in a place they do not completely belong to.

Those of us who live (or have lived) outside our passport countries can easily layer our earthly experiences onto this spiritual reality. We know what it feels like to live in a place we cannot truly call ‘home’. We live according to the laws and customs of the place in which we sojourn, while maintaining a different identity altogether.

The experience of TCKs, however, is an even closer parallel to the Christian’s spiritual reality. TCKs grow up far from the place to which they are legally connected. They know where ‘home’ is, but they grow up building emotional connections somewhere else. Is that not our spiritual situation? We are citizens of heaven, a place in which we have not lived, a place that often feels so far away. We aim to live out Kingdom values, though we are steeped in the values of this world. TCKs’ understandings of citizenship, therefore, have a lot to speak to the spiritual lives of Christians.

 

TCKs and Citizenship

The TCKs I interviewed did not feel a sense of belonging simply through shared characteristics – like ethnicity, nationality, work, or church. Belonging, they said, required integration. They needed a sense of shared purpose, working toward a common goal.

“It’s always a two-way thing, to feel like you belong. You can’t just be there and feel like you’re contributing but no one really accepts you, or feel like everyone accepts you but you’re not actually building anything while you’re there.” – Min

This idea of belonging as a two-way street bled through into their understanding of citizenship. While they recognised the legal aspect of citizenship (holding a passport) they also felt strongly that real citizenship meant personal involvement: shared values, understanding of culture/language, acceptance by locals, and contribution to the community. Yet these TCKs also know that no amount of felt belonging can grant one a passport. Legal standing is, to a very large extent, outside the individual’s control.

“You can quite easily be a citizen of a country without knowing any kind of cultural norms or history or the language even. . .citizenship, legally speaking, comes just like that with paperwork, but in terms of actual action it takes time, it takes years to really feel like you have become a citizen of that place. . .If you don’t have the piece of paper to prove it then you’re not a citizen of the place. Regardless to how much that person knows about that place or how much they are familiar with the place.” – Kaito

 

Citizenship and Soteriology

During interviews every TCK used ideas from their description of earthly citizenship to illustrate what they believed heavenly citizenship was. The conversation invariably turned to what makes someone a citizen of heaven – what does it mean to be included in the people of God? In other words, what does it mean to be saved? Suddenly their two categories of citizenship took on a new light, as they map to theology of justification and sanctification.

  • I am a citizen because the ruling authority declares it so – justification.
  • I respond to my citizenship by learning to act according to the culture – sanctification.

I am a citizen because a government accepts me. Citizenship is granted to me by that authority, a decision which is out of my hands. I can apply to become a citizen, but the country must choose to accept me. That declaration makes me a citizen, but there should be more. I should respond to that reality, connecting personally and engaging in the community, by learning language, understanding culture, and contributing to society.

I am a citizen of heaven because God accepts me, declaring me righteous on the basis of Jesus’ completed work, not on the basis of anything I’ve done. That declaration makes me a citizen of heaven, but there should also be a response from me. I need to learn the culture of this Kingdom, learn to live that way, and engage with the community I am now a part of.

 

Discipling TCKs as citizens of heaven

Earthly citizenship comes with both rights and responsibilities; so does heavenly citizenship. TCKs’ understanding of the former can enlighten their understanding of the latter.

I often hear a works-mentality from Christian TCKs – that they need to be good enough, need to learn more, need to work out what to do to earn their place among God’s people. TCKs’ understanding of earthly citizenship provides an open door to explain justification and assurance of salvation – they can be granted the passport, even if they don’t feel they belong, and don’t always act like they belong.

On the other hand, TCKs’ intuitive sense that there is more to citizenship than a piece of paper translates across to their faith: being justified and accepted by God makes me a citizen of heaven, but now I must choose to identify with this King and His Kingdom.

“We should live like citizens of heaven here on earth… For me it means to have a different mindset, a different set of values… You live here how you live when you are a citizen in heaven. You care for other people, you think that every human is equal, you respect each other.” – Yannick

The call to live as citizens of heaven, to live with that cultural mindset, is a challenge today just as it was when Jesus preached the counter-cultural values of the kingdom of heaven. Citizenship is an image that resonates for immigrants and expatriates and especially TCKs. New Testament writers used this imagery precisely because it connects with so many earthly experiences. We can do the same, and in the process speak both comfort and challenge to TCKs and others who live cross-cultural lives.

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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.

Citizens of Heaven: Third Culture Kids and the Longing for Home

by Tanya Crossman

When I wrote Misunderstood, there were a lot of smaller topics that came up in interviews which didn’t really fit into the narrative of the book. I was recently able to spend some time on one of these side topics for a research thesis titled: “A place to call home: citizenship in heaven for TCKs.” I interviewed nine Christian TCKs aged 19-26 (from a range of backgrounds and nationalities) and surveyed another 92 Christian TCKs.

In this post and its sequel, I’m going to explain a little of the two main findings of my research. In short: knowing their citizenship in heaven brings TCKs comfort, and also provides a powerful tool for discipleship.

 

Home and Belonging

The TCKs I interviewed talked about ‘home’ in the context of emotional connections. Home means loved ones, especially immediate family members (34%) and communities they belong to (11.5%). Only 16.5% of those surveyed connected home with a single place.

“For TCKs the word home is more of a concept, as opposed to a place.” – Nadia

“Physical location can be important, but the familiarity of a place is more often than not defined by the people and the interactions you have. For me, that is home.” – Lee

Since home is something that is connected to people, home can move – whether you like it or not. Home is something that can be lost. A community disperses, and so does the sense of home. A family moves on, and suddenly a place that was home is no longer accessible.

“I lost my home, where I used to be. I have many places I could have called home, but now there’s no core community there, it simply wouldn’t feel like home anymore.” – Kaito

Many TCKs go through life aching for a single place to call home, and knowing that what they long for is impossible. There is no earthly way to bring their experiences of home together in a single place.

“To [my passport country peers] home is a familiar place, but to me my family is home. My home is not here, because they’re not here. When I go visit them it’s not really familiar either. I miss places that I’ve never been to, or not been in long. . .My home is literally in three or four countries now, maybe five sometimes.” – Min

Citizenship in heaven answers a deep felt need in TCKs for something that does not exist for them on earth: a singular, comprehensive source of home.

 

The hope of heaven as home

77% of the TCKs I surveyed identified with feeling foreign on earth. The idea that there is a home for them located outside the complications of earthly allegiances is powerful. 80% said citizenship in heaven is comforting. This comfort was strikingly demonstrated in interviews, where some of these TCKs considered for the first time what the idea of heaven as home means for their transition-weary hearts.

“As a TCK or someone who is searching for their home or where they belong, having concepts like citizenship in heaven help us, or give us hope that one day we will belong somewhere.” – Nadia

“Heaven is my home so it’s okay that I’m so confused about where my home is, because maybe there isn’t one here, there’s one there. It’s a huge relief. If you don’t feel like you’re at home, that’s okay, because God is your home.” Alexis

Although heaven is a place not seen, even this connects with the TCK experience. TCKs grow up in a place that isn’t ‘home’ – knowing that somewhere else, on the other end of a long journey, is a place that is really ‘home’. A place they know through the stories of others, rather than in their own experience. TCKs’ complicated relationship with ‘home’ on earth makes heaven as home a powerful truth.

“Currently I’m a citizen of Singapore, that may change, but the constant of being a citizen of heaven is always reassuring to have. . .It’s an overwhelming thought, especially as someone who doesn’t really have a home to go back to every time. It’s nice to know that in the future, in the long term, in the prospect of eternity, I actually do have somewhere I do belong.” Min

 

An inclusive kingdom

There are no distinctions between Christians; all are fellow citizens, with the same rights and responsibilities (Ephesians 2:19). This beautiful truth is powerfully illustrated in Revelation, where people from every earthly place and allegiance gather together to worship the One God (Revelation 5:9-10, 7:9-10). Heaven embraces and includes peoples currently divided by geography, ethnicity, and language.

Several TCKs I interviewed picked up on the idea that heaven is inclusive: a place where people of all nations and languages are bound together as a single people in a single place, where there is distinction but no division. What comfort this brings to the 62% of TCKS who said they feel at home in international or multicultural communities. The place they long for, the place they know doesn’t exist on earth, is real – and it is their eternal home.

“I have this dream of a country that’s completely multicultural. . .I do think that it should be stressed how much relief it brings me, knowing that I’m going to get that… because it’s something that you’re always aching for, and never think you’re going to get, and then realising… I’ll actually get it when I go to heaven. And when you’re 13 and you’re 14 and you don’t belong anywhere, and you feel that there’s no place that’s home, it would have been nice to know, to have this as a curriculum, and to know that it’s completely fine if you don’t have a home…I don’t belong anywhere. But there is somewhere, and that’s great!” – Alexis

The hope we have in Christ comprehensively answers the longings of human hearts, and a key longing for TCKs (one they often feel is hopeless) is for home, a place to belong. The kingdom of heaven is what their hearts long for – and this is a powerful message.

This comfort alone makes citizenship in heaven an important piece of theology to teach to TCKs. This was where I thought my thesis might end, but I discovered another important way that TCKs interact with the concept of citizenship in heaven. Stay tuned for my concluding post to learn more.

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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.

Two Challenges That Homeschooling Families Face on the Field

In 2016 my friend Tanya Crossman published her book Misunderstood: The Impact of Growing Up Overseas in the 21st Century. Tanya worked with Third Culture Kids in Beijing for over a decade before writing her book, and I greatly value her insight into the hearts of TCKs today.

I’m passionate about homeschooling my four TCKs, so as soon as I received my copy of her book, I skipped straight to the home school section. Here is what I found:

“The majority of homeschool families I know do an excellent job. Unfortunately, I have also mentored and interviewed TCKs who had less effective, and less pleasant homeschool experiences. Those who shared negative experiences always referred to at least one of two key issues: working alone, and lack of social interaction.”

As a parent I want to be aware of these two important issues. I spoke about them at a conference earlier this year, and though not everyone in our online community home schools (or even has children), I think these issues are pertinent enough to warrant discussion here. Youth workers, sending agencies, and others who care about the well-being of TCKs may also be interested in how to help parents approach these concerns.

1. Working Alone
When we talk about working alone, we mean that neither parent is teaching the child, and also that no outside tutor or teacher has been engaged either. This could include single parent homes or situations where both parents work full time outside the home. On a practical level, the child has no teacher.

It’s unrealistic to expect a child to teach himself or herself completely, even in high school. (In my opinion, it’s especially important for high school students to have educational and emotional guidance from adults.) Every child needs a teacher, a tutor, a mentor, a guide. And while it’s valuable to learn how to teach oneself through books and videos, and while we do want our children to become life-long learners, students generally need someone of whom they can ask questions.

This is something to be aware of even with curricula designed for homeschooled students, curricula that are marketed to “teach the student.” Our students still need someone to ask questions of when they get stuck. Even university students have this type of help: professors have “office hours” or other times set aside to answer questions and dialogue with their students.

If a parent cannot be available to help with school work, remember that there are still many other options:

  • Classes can be taken online, with online teachers who can teach and answer their questions. Some homeschool curricula are designed completely for online work. Others provide email support for textbook work.
  • Tutors can be hired, either from the local or international community.
  • Teaching times can be swapped with other home school parents in the area.
  • Some families hire a tutor or teacher from their passport country to come live with them.
  • Even when a parent is the main teacher, we must be diligent about setting boundaries around school time and not letting ministry obligations crowd out our kids’ study time on a regular basis. This guideline goes especially for older students, who need larger amounts of uninterrupted study time to complete their high school course requirements. At times there will of course be exceptions to this. It’s simply something to be aware of.

In any case, the message is the same: children should not be expected to teach themselves entirely. Neither we nor our children need to be world class scholars; that’s not the point of education. And we don’t have to teach everything ourselves. We do, however, owe our children some care and attention to their school work. Otherwise they may become discouraged with their lack of understanding or progress. They may also become lonely, which leads us to the second issue.

2. Isolation
When we talk about isolation, we mean not having enough friends or sufficient social interaction. Homeschooling is by nature less social than local, international, and boarding school options. At the same time, we remember that social needs vary from child to child. Some children need more social time than others. Other children are overwhelmed by too much social interaction.

But all children need friends, and teenagers, especially, need friends. The number of teenage TCKs in a community can tend to shrink as families with older children make the decision to move away (for many varied and valid reasons), while families with teenagers don’t typically move to the field.

In addition, we as parents have social needs. The work of home education can be grueling. We need others to help us, to give us encouragement, to suggest fresh ideas, and simply to be friends. For parents and children both, community can be difficult to find on the field. This is especially true when families are geographically isolated.

Here are a few ideas for combating social isolation:

  • Sometimes there are local coops or support groups we can join.
  • Sometimes it’s as simple as planning more times for our kids to hang out with their friends, or for families to spend time with other families.
  • If you live far from other homeschooling families, this may even entail traveling an hour or more once a month.
  • Online community can be helpful. Moms could join a Velvet Ashes community group. Your children could Skype friends in your home country or other international kids your family has met through the years.
  • Depending on their age, kids can text and message friends who live both far and near. This avenue of communication has become important to our family in the last year or so. It involves more technology than our kids may have used when they were younger, but we remember that it’s for the vital purpose of human connection.
  • Some families even move from rural areas to urban areas when their children reach the middle school or high school years.

Homeschooling families in general need a lot of support, but these workarounds are especially important if parents are homeschooling not by choice but out of financial, geographical, or other necessity.

I’ve found personally that when our family started seeking out more consistent community (through a coop in our case), my teaching, my confidence, and my peace of mind all improved, and my children’s social lives improved. It turns out that they needed friends as badly as I did.

And we were in a “good” situation, where I had sufficient time to home school, I felt equipped to home school, and I wanted to home school. We still needed more support than we had been receiving. It’s been about two years since we joined our home school community, and it’s been key in helping our entire family thrive and be able to stay on the field happily.

It’s probably going to take some sacrifices to meet these two needs. But we must remember that sacrifices are ALWAYS made; we just have to decide what things we are going to sacrifice. Are we going to sacrifice our children’s needs in favor of the ministry’s needs, or are we going to try to find a healthier balance for the whole family?

Most families I know care about these issues and work hard to ensure their children are thriving both academically and socially. So this discussion is not a judgment but rather a reminder to all of us to continue to be aware of the issues our children face and to keep finding ways for them to thrive in cross-cultural life.

How have you handled the issues of isolation and studying alone? Any advice to give homeschooling families?

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My new book Hats: Reflections on Life as a Wife, Mother, Homeschool Teacher, Missionary, and More has a section on homeschooling, so if you want to dig more deeply into these topics, you can grab an electronic or paperback version at Amazon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Taking the Hypocrisy Out of Home Ministry Assignment

by Michèle Phoenix

Hypocrisy is a topic we don’t like to address in the missionary community—perhaps because of the unspoken reality that a little bit of deception has sometimes proven to be good for ministry. (I’m not condoning it, just acknowledging it.) But where does “putting your best foot forward” end and “misrepresenting yourself” begin?

The line is blurred in this world where personal relationships are often financial partnerships too.

If there’s one chapter of ministry that disguises the line even more, it’s HMA.

HMA (Home Ministry Assignment) is a necessary endeavor. It’s a chance for missionaries and their children to reconnect with their passport culture, to visit family and friends they haven’t seen in a while and to check in with churches and individuals who support their work.

Unfortunately, without careful management and execution, HMA can also teach observant children some unintentional lessons about relative honesty and incomplete disclosure.

We MKs learn the tricks of the trade by watching our parents.

We see them responding with a polite smile to people making comments they fiercely disagree with. We see them being more friendly with potential donors than they’d be with the grocer or a relative. We see them saying eloquent prayers in public that they’d never utter at home. We see them laughing with too much vigor or accepting offense with too much willingness—all in what we assume is an attempt to keep everyone happy…and generous.

Note: I don’t think most people set out to misrepresent who they are or what they think. It’s just one of the ways we can go off-track if we let the approval of others or fundraising mandates become the driving force of our HMA efforts.

Many MKs develop a flawed Philosophy of Furlough at an early age:

  • If supporters like us, they’ll support us.
  • If they don’t like us, they’ll stop supporting us.
  • If they stop supporting us, we’ll have to leave the field and Life-As-We-Know-It will come to an end.

Because a common MK trait is taking on the burdens of our world, we assume that the survival of Life-As-We-Know-It depends in great part on us.

So we enter into the HMA experience feeling the pressure to influence the outcome, even if that means being something other than our true selves. We try our hardest to be cute, winsome, talented, polite and well-behaved. We’ll eat the mushrooms we hate so as not to offend our hosts. We’ll recite John 3:16 in four languages any time we’re asked. We’ll do it all because we’re pretty sure we’re the persuasive props brought along for that purpose.

We live out the cynical premise that performance plus schmoozing equals getting to return home at the end of HMA.

Living in that distorted truth can be debilitating.

When I was sixteen, I sat in a service with my parents after a pre-church morning that had bristled with marital tension. I listened to my dad giving a heartfelt sermon while my mom still fumed in the pew beside me. I braced myself to sing the song that, in my mind, was supposed to “seal the deal” and ensure continued support. The responsibility was an anvil in my stomach as I got up to sing “There is a Savior” with sweet, practiced conviction. A couple ladies pulled out their Kleenexes as I finished and I felt a thrill of victory. My parents got up to make a final statement, standing close and smiling. The church applauded. Successful performance. Life-As-I-Knew-It had been preserved.

So wrong. So un-Christlike.

This mode of influence can be easily normalized in any field where image yields profit. In ministry, however, it takes on spiritual overtones…as if God Himself required it of us. When hypocrisy is attributed to God’s expectations for the sake of his work, it becomes even more sinister and destructive.

Marriage trouble? Don’t ever mention it. Missionary discord? Never refer to it. Ministry discouragement and attrition? Not something we discuss. Problems with lust, money-mismanagement, unethical behaviors? Nobody needs to know. Why? Because even we have bought into the myth that ministry requires that we present a certain image in order to fund our work.

The repercussions of this perspective on honesty and truth can be far-reaching.

If MKs have spent their childhood observing relationships in which approval (and its payoff) is obtained through something that looks like insincerity—or at the very least, careful image management—should we not be concerned about the honesty they’ll bring to the rest of their relationships? How will they find the courage and confidence to risk showing their flaws? And who will they lose to their inability to do so?

In my work with Missionaries’ Kids, I’ve encountered far too many who return to their passport culture to live long-term, believing that relationships will only be achieved through the same kind of selective self-revelation they saw in their parents on HMA. It’s a subconscious tendency that can lead to relational failure.

Early exposure to hypocrisy can affect our ability to be real with ourselves too.

We so keenly feel the pressure to live up to the expectations of others that some of us resort to hiding behind strategically crafted masks, berating ourselves when we let them slip.

We become fierce in our fakeness. Fearful too. And the habit can get so ingrained that we’re not even aware we’re living according to a destructive mandate to be something other than ourselves. It can prevent us from seeking help, maturing and finding an identity born of integrity.

At its worst, our hypocrisy—even just perceived hypocrisy—can eventually cause MKs to dismiss God, Christians and faith itself.

When the God of Truth is represented by envoys who rely on untruth to “get the job done,” it can cause a destabilizing disconnect that skews one’s outlook on all spiritual things. I’ve seen it happen. It is heart-wrenchingly tragic when it does.

How can we begin to reverse this trend? I’ll offer a handful of suggestions below, but please contribute yours too in the comments space beneath this post.

Change must begin with parents—they’re the ones who demonstrate authenticity and set the tone for HMA.

In everyday life:

  • Be real and vulnerable with people you can trust…especially in public. (Dare to defy the unspoken “be perfect or pretend” missionary motto.)
  • Demonstrate how honesty and vulnerability are healthy, especially when they lead to help, healing, and wholeness.
  • Set God’s expectations and grace as a standard, not a church’s or supporter’s approval.

During HMA:

  • Make sure your MKs know that you’re the adult, you’re the public persona, you’re the one shouldering the burden, the effort and the outcome.
  • Relieve your children of any responsibility for the results of your fundraising.
  • Tell your children what your financial situation really is, in terms they understand, so they don’t live in fear of immediate bankruptcy.
  • Validate your kids’ talents, but don’t use them as mere strategies and fundraising tools.
  • Give them the option not to participate in your HMA meetings or attend youth classes. They need to know that they have some degree of control over their part of your furlough. (You may need to clearly express this to supporters and church leaders too, if they pressure your children to be more involved than they want to be.)
  • Make sure your MKs know that you don’t expect them to change in order to be liked by potential donors. The same behavioral rules that apply behind closed doors apply on HMA.
  • Demonstrate Who and what really motivates your exchanges with the people you interact with—God and relationship, not dollar signs.

I’d be remiss not to mention the role of The church in addressing this issue.

Missionaries who have dared to be real in public settings have sometimes been met with judgment and disapproval by people who think they should be paragons of strength, resilience, virtue and unblemished character. Expressing concerns about team discord or personal challenges on the field has too often been interpreted as being unsuited for ministry rather than prompting a collaborative pursuit of solutions and healing.

In order for missionaries to be real, churches need to allow them to be fully human. The following is an incomplete list of suggestions. Again—please add yours in the comments at the end of this post.

  • Give missionaries permission to experience struggles. (You’re supporting real people who are just as susceptible to sin and weakness as anyone else.)
  • Out of relationship, ask personal questions with loving intentions.
  • Offer a safe place in which they can voice their failures and find compassionate help.
  • When they visit you with their MKs, demand nothing from the children except that they be children accompanying Mom and Dad. Let the family decide how much they’ll be involved.

I can’t end without saying that I’ve seen countless missionary families who have lived authentically on HMA! I’d go so far as to say that a majority of them do, sometimes at the cost of being misunderstood. It takes courage to be real in the face of unreasonable expectations. Let’s affirm and support each other toward that goal for the sake of the children who are watching and learning.

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Raised in France by a Canadian father and an American mother, Michèle is a mentor, writer and speaker with a heart for MKs. She taught for 20 years at Black Forest Academy (Germany) before launching her own ministry advocating for TCKs. She now travels globally to consult and teach on topics related to this unique people group. She loves good conversations, French pastries, mischievous students and Marvel movies.

Making home an emotional oasis for your TCKs

by Tanya Crossman

I receive a lot of questions as I travel and speak about TCKs, but the question people most often ask is this: “If there was one thing you would recommend parents do to help their TCKs, what would it be?”

My short answer? Make your home an emotional oasis for your TCKs.

By that I mean creating a safe space for your TCKs to express the whole range of feelings and preferences stemming from their varied collections of cultural influences.

One reason the family unit can provide this space is that most families travel together. Home can therefore be a place where all the sources of an individual TCK’s linguistic and cultural adaptations are known.

An example of this is the phenomenon of sibling languages. 40% of TCKs born after 1985* reported sharing a unique dialect with their siblings, made up from the mix of different languages they had been exposed to. For one family, it was a mix of their native Finnish, the English they spoke at school, and the local language of the country they lived in. For others, it was favourite phrases picked up in five or more countries that peppered their speech.

The one place these TCKs could speak freely, knowing their words would be accepted and understood without question, was with their siblings.

 

A place to simply be themselves – and learn who that is

Daily life for most TCKs involves navigating two, three or even more different sets of cultural expectations as they move between home, school, and their host country. That’s in addition to any picked up in other locations. This means many TCKs grow up learning to adopt different cultural identities in different situations, shifting between them effortlessly as a natural life skill.

There are many advantages to this! A downside is identity confusion. Am I all of these pieces? One of them? Something completely separate? A 19 year old TCK from France explained it this way:*

“Because I always had to control what I said and what I talked about so I’d be accepted by kids my age, I still struggle to understand who I am. I have no clue what my true personality is and what is a habit I learned to fit in…I’m not sure how to untangle myself from years of camouflage, because I don’t have a clue where I end and the fake begins.”

Making your home an emotional oasis is about recognising this struggle, and creating a space in which your TCKs can remove their camouflage. It is about working to give them a place in which to work out who they are without it.

 

A place they can say anything

Almost everywhere TCKs go, there are opinions they can’t voice, languages they can’t speak, loves they can’t share. Making your home an emotional oasis means creating one safe place in which your TCKs can say all the things they must hold back elsewhere. It means letting them know that you, of all people in the world, will hear what their hearts are saying.

Making your home an emotional oasis means making a commitment to see life through your child’s eyes. To hear what they say, and ask questions about where they’re coming from.

To hear not “I hate this country” but rather “life here is hard for me”.

Not “I don’t like your language” but rather “I can’t express my whole self in any one language”.

Not “This move was a mistake” but rather “I am grieving what I have lost”.

Making your home an emotional oasis does not mean you can never gently correct a child’s negative attitude. It does not mean a child should be permitted to speak with wanton disrespect. But it does mean making your starting place an assumption that the difficult things your child says are meaningful, once you uncover the emotion behind them.

For one family I spent time with, this meant recognising their daughter’s uncharacteristic outbursts of anger as an expression of grief, as she struggled to adapt to life in a “homeland” she had no memories of. For these parents, creating safe space meant telling their daughter she was free to speak whatever language she wanted at home – in this case, the English she was more familiar with – rather than trying to help her practise the “mother tongue” she stumbled over everywhere else.

 

Now for the bad news…

While this sounds lovely, reality can be a challenge. This is because a true emotional oasis needs freedom.

Freedom to speak different languages.

Freedom to express opinions about different countries – both positive and negative.

Freedom to share emotional reactions to various events – or have no emotional reaction.

What if your child says they prefer the way things are done in your host country to your passport country? What if they prefer the language they speak at school to the language that is most familiar to you? What if they don’t enjoy your comfort foods and places? What if they don’t seem to appreciate the cultural values you grew up with? An 18 year old TCK from Zambia explained this struggle, saying:*

“I feel my passport country is my parents’ country, not mine. I refer to it as the ‘motherland’, not my homeland. My parents tried to make me eat traditional food and expected me to know the language, but it’s really hard.”

The cost of making your home an emotional oasis is that your children might use that freedom to say things you don’t like, things that highlight the gap between their experience of the world and your own. Even when parents are deeply committed to making safe space for their children, this can be hard. There’s a sacrifice involved. It’s painful.

It’s okay to be sad that your child doesn’t feel what you feel, that you can’t share everything with them. In fact, it’s really important to recognise that sadness. There’s a grief in not being able to share all your emotional connections to “home” with your children.

For one mother I know, this meant slowly coming to terms with this grief as one of the consequences of an international life. She realised that it wasn’t that her children “didn’t care” about her home country and home town, but that they didn’t have the same emotional attachments she did. She learned to allow herself to feel sad for their lack of shared connection, without trying to force her children to act out something they didn’t feel.

 

The reward?

Making your home an emotional oasis means providing a space for your children to truly be themselves. When you as a parent are the one providing this space, it means you will get to know your children in a deeper and truer way than many people in their lives. This is a precious mutual gift – one you give to them, and one you receive from them.

 

* Statistics and quotes come from Misunderstood: The Impact of Growing Up Overseas in the 21st Century

 

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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 Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and occasionally at her website.