One day, I opened up my Facebook feed and right there was this picture:
IF we’d stayed in Niger, our oldest daughter would be graduating from high school with this amazing group of kids representing at least seven different countries… June 2015.
But we didn’t stay. God’s path for our family led a very different direction, including two seemingly never-ending years of transition between our African home and our soon-to-be French Canadian future. I never, in a million years (and yes, that’s hyperbole) pictured this. More truthfully? In the near 15 years we delighted in our West African lives and ministry I could have only just barely imagined this happening, until it actually did.
As I first looked at that picture, my eyes filled with tears.
I thought they were all tears for my daughter. For the friends she’s left behind. For the amazing people she’ll probably never see again. Wondering when would be her next opportunity to praise God in four different languages, all in the same church service. Because she was going back into a world where teens were expected to act like irresponsible, selfish or pampered kids instead of regularly given the opportunity to rise to the occasion while serving and ministering as equals alongside adults. For the amazingness of growing up as part of an expatriate, multicultural community where so many were sacrificing so many to serve Jesus and share His offer of life with others.
And that’s about when I realized that I was actually disguising truth from myself.
A good number of those tears – perhaps even the biggest part of them – were for me, for my dreams of what I had wanted for my girl, for 15 years’ worth of my expectations of how her “childhood” would finish. Yes, our reality is very different. Not bad. Not even worse. Just not what I’d expected during all those years of growing my TCK and a bunch of expectations. I was having a hard time with that reality.
I read, appreciate and learn much from the plethora of books, articles and posts on discipling our TCKs as they go about this business of growing up between worlds. There’s still so much more for me to learn and I know that. Yet, sometimes I get this nagging feeling that if expat parents aren’t careful, they can yoke their children to a burden they don’t need to carry – that of our own expectations of what the TCK life should be, the joys and challenges, and what we’re striving to make it be… for these kids we love.
One late morning, I was walking home from preschool with my then almost five-year-old daughter and her cousin. It was a spectacular autumn morning. Their conversation that day made me laugh; I want to share it with you because I think it makes a fantastic and pertinent point.
Niece (arms flung wide as she skips and twirls in circles): “It’s SO BEAUTFIUL when all the leaves change colors and drop out of the trees.” (She’s a very dramatic child.)
My daughter (also twirling and skipping): “What’s this season called again? I keep forgetting. Is it ‘drop’ because the leaves drop out or is it ‘fall?’ because the leaves fall down?”
Niece: “It’s called fall, silly! And that’s a good thing, too!”
My daughter: “Why?”
Niece: “Calling this season drop instead of fall JUST doesn’t sound right!”
My daughter (hesitating just a fraction): “Yeah. I guess it does sound a little bit weird.”
I laughed because I totally agreed. Thinking about calling fall “drop” instead is humorous and sounds more than awkward. But isn’t that only because I’ve only ever called it fall?
What if, in a similar way, the same is true for my TCKs?
What if some of what I consider so traumatic and so difficult and so worthy of tears I perceive that way primarily because I have preconceived ideas based off of my own childhood and growing up of how things should be and how I would have reacted had I been gifted this life…
…and not because my children automatically have to see it that same way.
Please keep in mind that my purpose isn’t to discredit or argue that our TCKs don’t need support or don’t struggle with the peculiarities of this lifestyle. I know they do. I just want to consider that the possibility that maybe what I expect to be their struggles are just normal. And then there is the corollary: Perhaps those circumstances I believe they’ll breeze right through are the ones that will be the greatest challenges…
What do you think?