A Life Overseas – To the Parents of Third Culture Kids

Readers – it’s Marilyn and today I’m back at A Life Overseas where I write specifically to the parents of Third Culture Kids. I would love it if you joined me, even more if you contribute to the conversation through comments!

To the Parents of Third Culture Kids

If you are raising your children in a country other than their passport country, you are raising third culture kids. The definition used most often is this one from the late Dave Pollock: A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background”

I was raised as a third culture kid and went on to raise third culture kids for 10 years. There is much I don’t know, much I can’t articulate. But some things I do know and in these next few minutes I offer them. They are not comprehensive and they are not formulaic; there are far better and wiser voices that have documented research on the topic. But these words are offered with humility and a prayer that they will resonate with grace and hope.

Guilt will get you nowhere. If you feel guilty for raising your children overseas, I encourage you to seek counsel. Guilt is an unproductive emotional pitfall that will warp your parenting. Guilt is defined as “the fact of having committed a specified or implied offense or crime.” Living overseas is not an offense, nor is it a crime. For many it is a high calling, for others it is a career move. No matter, guilt cuts deeply and helps no one, instead causing stress, undue anxiety, and ultimately destroyed relationships. The guilt felt over raising children overseas is false guilt. No child has a say in what their parents become. My husband’s father is a mechanic. He did not consult my husband and ask him if that would be okay, and rightly so. This overseas life is not about kids agreeing or disagreeing with your life calling. It is about living well and faithfully within that calling. Lose the guilt – take a helium balloon, write the word GUILT in big letters, then release it and watch it go until you see it no more. That’s where guilt belongs – out of sight, leaving your body and your heart free to live faithfully right where you are.  Okay – so you live in Somalia or Mumbai and helium balloons are nowhere to be found. A piece of paper will do just as well. Write the words, then light a match and burn them. Watch them burn away through the light of the holy fire of faith.

Your ‘back home’ is not your children’s ‘back home’. You may have grown up in a small town, surrounded by generations of family and friends who are still in the town. That is home and that is what you miss when overseas. You miss the smell of newly mowed grass, the sounds of downtown, the feel of putting on a heavy sweater in the fall as you walk through vibrant colors of red, gold, and orange. Your children don’t miss those things. They never knew them. Their reality is not your reality. Their ‘back home’ is not your ‘back home’. When they go to their passport countries for periodic visits, that’s exactly what those trips are: they are visits. They are not going ‘home’.

Read the rest of the post here.

5 thoughts on “A Life Overseas – To the Parents of Third Culture Kids

  1. I agree with Dounia. Children need not only to be informed but they need to discuss about it and they should also be allowed to be sad, to argue etc. It’s time of the process. Many parents are so busy with all the organisational side of the move, that they neglect that their children need to be prepared and that they go through the same stages as they do. Talking and taking time to discuss is really necessary. Transitions are not easy neither for parents, nor for children.


  2. This is a great post, Marilyn, I really enjoyed reading it. One thought I would add is that communication with the kids about moving is very important. My parents always talked us through all the moves – they would let us know once the decision was made, telling is how much time we had left before moving, where we were going, why, etc… We were informed, we could talk about it with them and we had time to prepare for that next move. I know other TCKs who didn’t have that luxury – they were simply told about the move a few weeks before it happened and that was it. No preparation, no discussion, no communication. I think the way my parents talked with us about everything really helped us cope through all the transitions and also stay closer as a family.


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