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.

How to Encourage a Family that has a Child with Special Needs

by MaDonna Maurer

The African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child” is a saying that most overseas workers would agree with. We do not have easy access to trusted family members to help us in times of need. We rely on those in our host country to help. I live on the island of Taiwan. For me, it has taken the island to help me raise my children, especially my daughter with special needs. We have lived on the island now for fourteen years. We have made friends in various cities due to my husband’s role, but also because he grew up here.

It wasn’t until we started planning to attend our son’s graduation that I began to think more about this African proverb. We knew our daughter with special needs would not be able to attend the ceremony. She is deathly scared of the auditorium where it would be held. As we tried to plan it out, a couple of friends let me know that whatever we needed, they would be there. That was when I realized that for me it has taken more than just a village, but actually an island, to raise my kids. I realized that in almost every major city on the island there were at least a few families that knew our daughter well enough to help at any given moment. And last year we even had a friend come from a different city to stay in our home for one week so my husband and I could go away for our twentieth anniversary, something we hadn’t done in over ten years. Seriously, that is more than friendship.

I don’t think we are special or have this amazing gift that people want to help. I think that most people want to help, but just may not know where to start. So, I asked some of my other online friends who happen to have raised or are in the process of raising children with special needs outside their passport countries.

Here are a few of their answers:

  1. Meals: Invite them over or offer to bring supper to their house if that is easier for them as a family. We have had both done — the latter when our daughter was younger, and it was easier to have her eat in her own highchair. But both ways allowed for these new-to-us people to engage with our whole family.
  2. Hangout Time: Take the child with special needs on a “date.” Gloria, mother to a child with Down Syndrome, says of her friend, “Beth has been intentional in investing in not just my life, but also in {her son’s} life.” Just taking him to a 7-eleven for a treat gives Gloria a break and has “meant the world” to her. Karis who lives in Mozambique, a mother to an adult son that is virtually nonverbal, also noted how she and her husband are encouraged by the people in the village and fellow co-workers singing with their son.
  3. Date Night/Lunch: Watch the kids for an evening, afternoon, or if possible, for an overnight. This is different from the above because it involves all the kids and the sole purpose is to let both parents have time together alone. If you can do an overnight, awesome, but if not, consider what one mother living in SE Asia says, “We appreciate our teammates babysitting our kids once a month so my husband and I could go out for a date lunch together.”
  4. Video Chat or message – Another mom living in SE Asia says that this was very helpful during the quarantine time when her adult child with special needs couldn’t go out and interact with others. Please make sure you have the parent’s permission before you begin this idea though. As we all know, parents have different rules and ideas about technology and social media.
  5. Don’t be so quick to judge – It’s easy to look at a family and think if they would just try {fill in the blank} then their struggles would be gone. Most likely, the family has tried your idea along with about 50 other ideas, and none of them worked. Maybe the child is just having a bad day. Typical kids have bad days and so do kids with special needs. Get to know the family and listen to what their needs are.

I believe you can sense a theme in these five ideas. This theme is of engaging and building a trusting relationship with the family. Maybe these ideas seem way out of your comfort zone. Trust me, before having a child with special needs, they would have seemed challenging to me. If this is the case, then let me leave you with one last idea, one last thought. Karis shared how the people sing with their son, but she also shared that it was wonderful to have them simply give him a handshake.

You could do that, couldn’t you? Or at least an elbow bump or a wave?

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

MaDonna lives in Taiwan with her husband, a German MK, and their three children. She deeply believes that a cold grapefruit tea cures the summer time blues. She enjoys a good book and loves to write stories for children about life overseas. Visit her at her blog, raisingTCKs, or on Twitter @mdmaurer.

Goodnight Street Light—a reimagined bedtime story for urban TCKs

streetlight

Outside the big window

There was a buzzing street light

And a dripping AC

And a confident frog

Chirping up in a tree

And there were two little boys playing with toys

And cars driving by

And a jet in the sky

And a little dog barking hellos at a stray

And a shrill horn honking a few blocks away

And a man with a cart loudly selling cheap art

And an old neighbor lady yelling, “Hey, you down there! We’ve got foreigners living next door and they go to bed early for some reason. You’re going to wake them up, so if you could move down the street, that would be a good start!” (or maybe something like that)

Goodnight window

Goodnight street light

Goodnight moths flying around the street light

Goodnight dripping AC

And the confident frog chirping up in a tree

Goodnight boys

Goodnight toys

Goodnight cars driving by

And goodnight jet in the sky

Goodnight shops

And goodnight rooftops

Goodnight dog barking hellos at a stray

And goodnight shrill horn honking a few blocks away

Goodnight man

And goodnight cart

Goodnight buildings

Goodnight cheap art

And goodnight to the old neighbor lady doing her part

Goodnight sidewalk

Goodnight city, one and all

Good night noises, big and small

(with thanks to Margaret Wise Brown and Goodnight Moon)

Questions Third Culture Kids (and Their Parents) Dread

Next month I will share Questions Third Culture Kids (and Their Parents) Love, so stay tuned.

You just arrived in your passport country. Someone is approaching. You can’t remember who they are. You can’t remember where you are. What time is it? What language do they speak here? They are getting closer and closer and then the questions start…

Aren’t you glad to be home? Two hard things about this question – first, the TCK most likely does not consider their passport country home, especially if they have been abroad for a long time. My own kids vacillate, but most consistently they say that Djibouti is home. That’s where their bedrooms are, their treasure boxes, their bookshelves, their dog, their holiday traditions, their friends and school and church and sports team, their memories. That’s where they feel comfortable. Second – the TCK might not be glad. That’s a massive assumption. They might be angry or bitter or sad or intimidated or confused.

Don’t you remember me? Probably not! They’re kids. Even adults! We’ve been gone a long time, have maybe visited a lot of churches or gatherings. We love you. And the kids love you and we are so grateful for you. But we might be jet lagging, culturally overwhelmed, weary or broken. Please remind us of your name. I have been so thankful when someone just says, “Hi Rachel, Marilyn. We were in Bible study a couple years ago…” Almost every time, I know who they are, but that little gift is something I’m glad for.

Where do you buy clothes/food/stuff in your country? The kid might start thinking, “Uhh…my parents buy it…or are you saying I’m dressed funny? Or are you asking for a story from the market or…?” This is a complicated question and especially teenagers might feel awkward about it, already wondering if they are fitting in or sticking out.

How is your host country? Um…What do you mean? Third Culture Kids are just kids, they probably don’t know the political situation or the COVID situation or the economic situation. How is it, like the temperature? The food? The education? This is a confusing question.

You must just love it there! Okay, so that’s not a question, but it makes another big assumption. I was never asked that as a kid when people found out I lived in New Brighton – do you just love it there? Wuh? I dunno. I lived there. It was a place. I’ve learned to answer that question with, “Most of the time.” And people laugh and don’t really care for more than that. Still, I don’t like that question because what do you mean? Should I love it there? What if I don’t? Would you care to hear that longer, complicated answer?

How’s the ministry? Not only do the kids maybe not know or not care, they aren’t the missionary, They are a kid. Would you ask a pastor’s kid about the quality of the church work? Would you ask the child of a surgeon how surgery is going? Plus, not all TCKs identify as missionary kids. 

Say something in XXX language. For my kids, their language ability is a treasure. They use their foreign language skills as a shield sometimes, when they feel overwhelmed in the USA, they start speaking to themselves in their learned language. Or, it is a unique gift that they will pull out when they want to, like when they see a Somali at the store. They don’t often want to spill that gift out, or feel like it is a party trick.

How was your trip? Uh, not a trip. A life. Still living it…

Don’t forget next month I’ll share the great questions people can ask.

What are some questions you or your kids dread?

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

 

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

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.

How to Help Our Kids Say Healthy Goodbyes

My kids have to say a lot of goodbyes.

We live in Djibouti but my husband and I are both from Minnesota. Our family spends some summers in Minnesota and when we leave Africa, we have to say goodbye to friends and coaches and teachers. Then, come August, when we return to Africa, we have to say goodbye to grandparents and friends and cousins.

Other goodbyes are more permanent. Expatriate families come and go often here. Military and diplomatic families have two-year postings. Businesses move their employees on. Development workers finish projects and leave. Families leave for health reasons, for children’s education, because of insecurity, because they are finished with their work. Local families send children abroad for a French education in Europe or an English one in Canada or the United States.

One spring my daughter had to say goodbye to one of her best friends. They finished fourth grade, the friend was moving to Europe, my daughter was staying. I thought I would have to help with the goodbye – maybe give some ideas or provide some words for how to talk about what they were feeling.

And though we did talk about it, my daughter excelled in love her friend well and in saying goodbye wisely. She showed me how to do those things selflessly and creatively. 

Here’s what she did:

Got Personal. She wanted to give her friend something unique and precious, something that would remind her of their friendship, not a quick toy or bag of candy. She looked at the store and she also looked through my box of gift ideas. Then she saw two matching picture frames in a box in our storage area. I’d had them for years and never used them. Each was 8×10 and covered with sparkly stones. The outer edge was looping wire – perfect. That led into the next idea:

Created Memories. She scoured my computer for photos of the girls together. The next time her friend came over to play, they printed the photos and designed photo pages, slathering them with stickers and phrases cut out from magazines that made them giggle and reminded them of shared memories. Each girl decorated two photos. One to go in the frame and one extra. They signed the back of the frame with their names and hearts.

Kept Memories. She also made her own photo page. She wanted to remember her friend, too. Sometimes it is harder to be the one left behind, the hole seems so noticeable, while the friend who moves away is on to the next adventure. She made her own frame and photo page and propped it up in a prominent place on her bookshelf.

Took Time and Used Her Talent. Two days before the final departure, she and a third friend wrote an original song for the girl who was leaving. The two girls practiced it with me for several days, then performed it and recorded it and gave the girl a sheet of paper with the words written down.

My daughter didn’t cry while she practiced the song with me, but I did. I still do, sometimes, when we watch the video.

Goodbyes will always be hard, but they are also opportunities to help our children remember a good friend with delight and to help them celebrate. I believe this contributes to resiliency and a willingness to engage in the next friendship that comes along, without dreading the sadness of the inevitable goodbyes.

How do you help your kids say goodbye well?

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.

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.

GRIT: A Guide to Praying for Third Culture Kids

by Lauren Wells

The life of a Third Culture Kid is not a simple one. Wonderful, enriching, colorful, and filled with incredible life-altering experiences, absolutely. But certainly not neat and tidy, or without its share of troubles.

We moved to Tanzania when I was 13 years old. The first two years of life in Africa were filled with death and trauma. Because of circumstances out of our control, our time there ended abruptly. We spent the following 3 months at a live-in counseling center where we slogged through all that had happened in Africa. I didn’t want to be there. I blamed my parents, blamed ministry, and blamed God. I was grieving, but I didn’t know it.

That next year, we moved 18 times while I tried to navigate public high school in California. I struggled to fit in, to figure out who I was, and to build healthy relationships – all the while pushing down the grief of our time in Africa. At first, I liked being the girl who came from Africa (especially after watching Mean Girls for the first time!), but then the novelty wore off, and I was just awkward, lonely, and misunderstood. High school is hard enough, but add in culture stress, anxiety, and unresolved grief and it’s the perfect prescription for a horrible experience.

The struggles that manifested that year continued, in different forms, through my high school and college years– through moving back to Africa and then back to the US again. But, few people knew that I struggled. I was determined to be strong and capable and tough. After all, that is what is expected of a missionary kid, isn’t it?

God has taught me a lot in the years since then. He has shown me the power of prayer and how that has had more of an impact on my life than I realize. As I write my narrative, I can see all of the places where things could have gone terribly awry. Yet, because of the faithful prayers of so many people in my life, I am now working with families who are embarking on their own journey to a life overseas – passionate about preparing and encouraging children and youth who are becoming TCKs. I’m constantly learning to let go of my fierce “I can do it myself’ attitude, learning to build deep relationships, learning daily to find my identity in Christ, and learning to let Him heal the hurts of the past.

My story is not unique. The struggles with identity, relationships, self-reliance, and grief are a part of the narratives of most TCKs.

I met Jacus* not long after he moved from Europe back to the US for college. His unresolved grief led to struggles with depression, alcohol abuse, and a DUI. Bailey*, another TCK I know, spent her college years jumping from boyfriend to boyfriend, making poor decisions, and consequently pushing potentially good friends away. Another, Grant*, blamed his parents for his grief and struggles, cut them out of his life, and entered toxic friendships.

Nothing has taught me more about the power of prayer than seeing the effects of intercession in my life and in the lives of so many other TCKs. Through persistent prayer and subsequent apologies, repentance, and reconciliation, Jacus is now in graduate school working to become a counselor for TCKs, Bailey is learning to invest in deep, healthy relationships, and Grant is working to repair his relationship with his parents.

There are 4 specific areas in which TCKs need prayer: grace, relationships, identity, and truth. I’ve structured these prayer points using the acronym GRIT**, because every TCK I know has a special measure of grit—resolution, fortitude, and courage.

 

G – GRACE

God’s grace, love, and comfort to surround them and pervade the way they act toward others.

Pray that they would be lovers of all people and cultures. That they would remember to give grace when they can only see a culture’s faults and shortcomings – especially in their passport country.

Pray that God would comfort them and walk with them through the seasons of grief and transition.

Pray that they would learn to be dependent on the Lord and not on their own strength.

Pray that God would heal the hurt and grief that come with so many goodbyes.

 

R – RELATIONSHIPS

The common theme of feeling misunderstood, out-of-sync with their peers, and uncomfortable in their passport culture causes TCKs to have difficulty building deep, lasting relationships. This opens a great opportunity for the lie to be planted that they are too different for non-TCKs to really know them and love them well.

TCKs also have a rootlessness and restlessness that keeps them moving and prevents them from building a group of long-term, deep friends. Because of this, they often don’t have a “herd” and, like a lion, Satan preys on the weak ones who are separated from the pack (1 Peter 5:8).

Pray that God would teach them how to build deep, lasting relationships with others. That they would be brave enough and humble enough to let people really get to know them.

Pray that God would lead them to people who appreciate and hone their cross-cultural knowledge and experiences.

Pray that they would be humble and willing to learn from others, especially in their passport country.

 

I – IDENTITY

With so many cultures and other factors shaping them, it is a common struggle for TCKs to figure out who they are and their place in the world.

Pray they would learn to be comfortable in their own skin and free to be who God has made them to be, even if that doesn’t perfectly align with any culture.

Pray that God would use their independence and cultural savvy in great ways for His glory.

Pray that God would show them how much He loves them, cares about them, and celebrates them – not for being a Third Culture Kid, but just for being His child.

 

T – TRUTH

TCKs are more prone to mental health issues like depression and anxiety, often stemming from the unresolved grief that commonly accompanies the TCK life. It is easy for them to believe that there is no hope, no solution, no way forward, and no one who understands.

Pray that God would show them that their life overseas was ordained for a purpose. That it wasn’t just God’s plan for their parents, but for them also.

Pray that they would allow God to untangle the truths from the lies about their time overseas and the way they were raised.

Pray for God’s protection on their heart and mind.

 

God hears our prayers, and He acts on behalf of His children. Whether the TCKs in your life are young or grown, whether they are your own children or your teammate’s children, whether they are in your school or in the missionary family you support, please pray for TCKs. We need it more than we know.

 

*Not their real names
**My dear friend Corrie Miller developed the acronym GRIT. She’s been praying for me since we were ten years old.

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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. Her experience as a TCK fuels her passion for working with globally mobile families, which she does as the Children and Youth Program Director for CultureBound in Portland, Oregon. In her role at CultureBound, she teaches families how to learn new languages and embrace new cultures when they move overseas. She blogs regularly at tcktraining.com

Devastating Secrets of Living Abroad

By Aneurin Howorth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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