Some Thoughts From Adult TCKs to Those Who Raise Them – Part 2

A year and a half ago I put out a request to a group of adult TCKs asking what advice or thoughts they might have for the parents of TCKs. The response was excellent and informative. Responders ranged from 25 to 60 and everything in between.

I have been asked ever since then to do a part two to that post. This time, I put the question out to several different groups, mostly people I have never met. There is diversity in age range, countries represented, and in the occupations of the Adult TCKs parents.  In a couple of cases I edited the quote, just because of length, but mostly these are raw and unfiltered actual quotes, either written or spoken, from Adult TCKs.

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“Home” is something different for parents of a TCK and the TCK. In some internationally living families, every family member has another place or feeling they call “home”. The sooner parents accept and recognize this, the sooner they will be able to help their children and support them during the most challenging periods of their lives.

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I think the most important thing for me is to let the TCK experience things on their own terms without imposing the parents’ views on them about different cultures and places. For me it was extremely disorienting to move to my passport country only to find out that I did not find it nearly as amazing as my parents did. Conversely, the place where I grew up was a location where my parents experienced a lot of heartache and so we rarely share memories of it. My parents did a lot of things right in raising TCKs, but it would have been so helpful if I had felt the freedom to legitimately disagree with them on what felt like home and what felt foreign, especially in my early adult years.

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 Remember that tcks tend to breed tcks and that once you have sowed the seeds of the sojourner, the eternal wanderer, then be prepared when you grow old to live apart from your kids and grandkids.

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Treat your kids as well as you do the rest of the world

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Give your kids permission to share their problems. Let them know that the work of the gospel will not fall apart if their needs are considered.

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Moving overseas as an adult and moving overseas as a kid are not the same. It shapes you differently, in your mind, your heart. I know sometimes its people trying to relate, but saying that it’s the same can be hurtful too. Let your kids be tourists sometimes, and let them be kids too. Even when they act really grown up, they need time and space to just be “normal” kids.
Give them people to whom or opportunities where they can ask the “dumb” questions. How are we supposed to act? Why do we do that? What is that? Nothing causes stress like not knowing those things you think you are SUPPOSED to just know.

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Don’t put the weight of “representing God well” etc on their shoulders…let them be kids.

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Be prepared for your children to have different national loyalties than you do.

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ALL TCK parents should read up on TCKness! I returned to England aged 20 after 6 years and 2 countries…My parents and brother had moved to yet another country. No one in my extended family had lived overseas. No one I met through college or otherwise had either. No one ever suggested I treat my passport country as another new country where I needed to learn how everything worked. It was assumed I would know because I was ‘home.’
My re-entry was so painful I hid my TCKness away from myself as well as others and lived a somewhat crippled life….Mine, I know, is a fairly extreme example of how unrecognised and unsupported TCKness can affect someone. Life wasn’t all bad before but I’m sure it would have been a lot happier if I’d been more prepared for the reverse culture shock of returning to my passport country, been able to stay in contact with friends overseas and parents who were at least aware of potential problems.

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Give your child hard copies of photos and help them create a treasure box of mementos. A picture, a blanket, a couple keepsakes. These become precious tangible reminders of their life, little pieces of home. Then, in each new place, set up their bedroom filled with treasures first so that they have a sanctuary of familiarity in all the new. I still do this whenever I move into a new place.

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When you move a lot your nuclear family becomes “home.” My parents gave us a safe place to be together and encouraged us BE in the culture and create relationships. We cried all together as a family when it was time to go. I wouldn’t change a thing. I learned to love and open my heart to people even for a short period of time. It opens me up for sadness, but the relationship is worth it every time.

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In my late 30’s, a packet in the mail delivered the surprise gift of letters I had written my parents during grades 8-12 at the Alliance Academy in Quito (and my sister received hers as well). All these years later, the detail in those written conversations carries the health history of our siblings back in Lima, and the names of friends with whom we shared extraordinary experiences and trips.Combined with yearbooks, these are the archives of our memories… a treasure we never anticipated would be saved. In a modern era of emails and social media, it still matters to create a form of “hard copy” that can be “read” in any country, any decade. It’s a gift beyond price.

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Allow us to remember. Don’t try to deny memories, don’t be afraid that our memories will make us discontent. Rather, remember that there is strength in remembering. 

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Quote from Between Worlds: Essays on Culture & Belonging 

“The losses felt by those of us raised in a country that was different from that indicated on our passports can be heavy. To be sure, the gains are also real: the way we look at the world, the wonder of travel, our love of passports and places, our wish to defend parts of the world that we feel are misunderstood by those around us.

But along with these come profound losses of people and place. For many of us, the only thing we feel we have left are our memories. We cannot go back to the place that was home. Either it does not exist, will not let us in, or danger and cost prohibit a casual trip to indulge the times of homesickness. In its place is memory. Our memories may be biased, or relayed in a way that would make our mothers say, ‘That’s not quite the way it happened,’ but it is inalienably ours.”

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Third Culture Kid - Grew up in Pakistan, lived and worked in Pakistan and Egypt as an adult. Moved to the United States and learning to live away from curry, Urdu, Arabic and the Pyramids.

9 thoughts on “Some Thoughts From Adult TCKs to Those Who Raise Them – Part 2

  1. Thank you Marilyn, both this and the first post are wonderful. Great to know that there are other people putting thought into this topic. For when you do Part III :) here are my two pieces of advice:

    1. Help kids understand the social and political contexts that they are witnessing (to an age-appropriate degree, of course), and help them answer the question of, “Who am I in all of this?” One aspect of being a TCK is seeing a lot of diversity: diversity of cultures, ways of life, skin colors, socioeconomic classes, religious and political conflicts, etc. But, more than this, TCK mobility means that you’re often moving in and out and between these contexts in ways that can be extremely confusing to a child. Your family might have significant financial privilege while those around you are living in distressing poverty; and then one day you move to a new place where you’re suddenly just middle class like everyone else. How to make sense of that? Why am I, as a (black/white/brown) person, treated differently in different countries? Why are there armed guards, or protestors, or bomb threats? Experiencing such a wealth of diversity is wonderfully enriching, but it can also spark some pretty profound existential questions, that, left unanswered, can compound a TCK’s sense of dislocation and exacerbate the emotional distress that comes from other aspects of TCK life.

    2. Some kids make friends easily after each move, but some kids don’t. Many kids have to *learn* how to make friends, how to become part of a social environment, and how to not remain a perpetual outsider. Kids learn by example. If you, as parents, don’t prioritize making social connections, having friends, and being part of a community, your TCKs won’t have a model for how to do this either. They’ll have a harder time learning that social connections are one of the best ways to create happiness during a transition. I didn’t figure this out until my mid-20s, but it changed my life once I did.

    Oh, and also, don’t ever tell your TCK, “You didn’t move that much.” (!!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love this comment. I meant to tell you that a couple of weeks ago, but got caught up in life. Thank you. I’m going to repost it for A Life Overseas parents.

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  2. Thanks for collecting these, Marilyn! I agree with all of them. Parents need to be aware of their kids’ needs, as much as they might differ from their own. I am always glad when I go to TCK or MemberCare conferences and they talk about calling and families. A call is for the whole family, and this might sometimes mean interruptions or detours from the ‘original’ plan.
    I really like the idea of keeping a treasure box!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Still wandering. Working alone in a country 7000 miles from my passport country and 3000 miles from my growing up country. Still excited for new things and I try outrageous new things every week.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Marilyn,

    Is there any reason the links don’t work? Neither the title or the ‘read more’?

    Thought you’d want to know, and I want to know your good content.

    Blessings in this New Year, sister!

    Anne

    Like

  5. Yes! Although my mom and I share certain things from living in the Bahamas, we do have different viewpoints. When my Bahamian stepfather died, she said she was never going back there because it was too painful. But we still have family there, and I can’t imagine never seeing them again.
    She *has* gone back a couple of times now, but she considers that part of her life over, whereas I see the islands as still being a part of my life, albeit distant.

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  6. Thank you for this, Marilyn. I am an ATCK, but also raising my own TCK’s. Recently I have fretted about the upheaval that is certain to come in my children’s lives, and then remembered that I, too, had a lot of upheaval in my own childhood–yet I wouldn’t change any of it. It comforts me to know that God can do the same in my own kids’ lives. I recently wrote a memoir of sorts on this subject, in the form of a letter to my parents. Maybe you will be interested to read it.
    http://gilandamy.blogspot.com/2015/12/dear-mom-and-dad-if-i-suffered-it-was.html

    Liked by 1 person

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