Some Thoughts from Adult TCKs to Those Who Raise Them

A few weeks ago I sent messages to many Adult Third Culture Kids. The question I posed was this “So you’re all third culture kids from different countries at various stages of life. If you could tell people who are living overseas and raising their kids 2 things what would they be? 

The answers came in sentences and paragraphs. Most responded with “Only 2?!” There was a lot these adults had to say. They were from various countries and within the TCK world come from diplomatic, business and missionary backgrounds. Some have lived in as many as 8 countries, others have lived in 2 countries. I’ve compiled just a few of these into today’s post. As you read this it’s important to remember that we are not one story. As Chimamanda Adichie would say There is a danger of a single story.” We are not one-dimensional – we are complex beings. This post is not designed to cause angst or discomfort, rather it is to give voice to these adult TCKs because there is wisdom in their earned fact.

set of books with quote

Live fully in the moment. yes there may be frustrating things, yes you may live far from family but experience the country where you are fully and pass on the excitement of travel to your kids, the adventure of exploring a new place as a family.”

“Make use of social media and technology to keep in touch with family as much as possible. You may not be able to get to see them as much as you like but there are some great ways of connecting kids to grandparents and cousins and they make it better.”

The first thing that I would point out is that being an MK or TCK does not put you in a cookie cutter category.  Every child is unique, with different needs and personalities.  I often felt that I was in some sort of religious box that I did not choose.  I had to present and perform according to what was expected.”

“If you send your kids to boarding school, give them an “out” so that they can change their mind and come home. There is always an adjustment period but extended home-sickness is damaging.”

“No matter what your occupation, your kids need to know they are your first priority.”

Growing up overseas is an incredible privilege – I wish I could communicate this to parents. They miss their suburban homes and white picket fences but I think it’s safe to say that their kids don’t. So parents don’t focus on the ‘things’, focus on being okay with your child’s grief, really listening to your child, understanding that each kid may process differently. Also recognize the strength of family and of your family story. Knowing we are a part of a larger family story is critical to our identity.

“I am not bitter at all but knowing myself now, would have chosen a different path for myself as a child. I also had extenuating circumstances such as my dad’s death, which added to my sense of homelessness and loss.  Being a mom, also, has shaped my perspectives. My kids both have individual needs (what people term special needs) and I know that their lives would be hell if they were in an environment like I was.”

“I’m tired of parents saying they feel ‘guilty’ raising their kids overseas. If there’s any guilt it should be that there is an unspoken assumption that we will come back to our passport countries. I’ve talked to other TCKs and we wonder why this is. Nothing has prepared us for actually living in our passport countries, yet that is what is expected.”

“No matter how often a child has returned to their passport country for visits to extended family, or even for a school year or two, nothing has prepared the child for re-entry, the point when they return “home” permanently. If the family returns together, at least there is a family structure to fall back on. If the time of re-entry is college, it is actually one of the most dangerous points in a TCK’s life, and whatever can be done to help provide some structure for emotional support should be done. This could be as simple as searching out a group of other TCKs for your young adult to socialize with, calling on family, friends, or relatives in the extended family to check in with your child more than once or twice and asking them to just listen with a supportive ear. It is difficult to describe the complex layers of emotion and experience of being dropped off at a campus and being expected to fit in while learning that no matter how well the TCK thought they knew their passport country, it is foreign to them. The experience can be so intense it can lead to depression, despair, and thoughts of suicide, never mind that the person feels they shouldn’t have a right to feel those emotions since their upbringing has been so rich and full of experiences most people never have the opportunity to have in a lifetime. We are complex creatures with the same need to belong as any other human, and when we find we don’t belong in our “home” country, it adds another layer to the complexity.”

Give your child time and permission to mourn for the losses they have with each move. For example, instead of saying, “be a big boy (or girl) and don’t cry,” say, “I know it hurts. I am sad too.” I lived in so many different houses growing up, but have no clear recollection what the interiors were like, what my bedroom looked like. Take some time to record these critical reminders of old homes. A photo can be a source of comfort years later in our complex search for “home” and identity. I cannot remember my Ayah’s face, but I remember her name and that she spoke with me in her own language. It may not mean so much now while your TCK child is young and looking forward to the next move, but in mid-life, these losses can manifest in complex ways.”

Are you an adult TCK? What would you add? Are you a parent raising TCKs – what are your thoughts? Are you someone who has spent a lot of time as a cultural broker with immigrants, refugees or global nomads? What is the wisdom you can offer? This space is for us to learn and grow so I look forward to hearing from you.

*picture from  quote from Communicating Across Boundaries.

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Out of Darkness, Into Light

Every day I ride the subway line into the city of Boston. It’s a short ride, going from Central Square in Cambridge to the busy Park Street stop just off the Boston Commons. At one segment in that short ride we come out from the deep underground of the city and we are above ground overlooking the Charles River, the city of Cambridge on one side, the city of Boston on the other. It is glorious to come out of darkness into the light of the day. It never gets old.


In the quiet night the girl lies alone. She can hear the breathing of five others in the boarding school dormitory room where she lies. All of her roommates have been asleep for a long time.

They don’t know she is awake. They don’t know that every night she wakes in a panic, a scream just ready to break the silence. That it takes her a moment to calm, to realize she is not being attacked – she is safe with 5 other girls, all of them young teens. She cries out to a far away God, desperate to reclaim the innocence of her faith from before the attack, desperate for some measure of comfort.

The man who violated her is a respected member of the missionary community in the city where her parents work. He is a household name; a frequent household guest.

No one would ever believe her — a 14-year-old teen who is known for her sparkling personality; her love for the dramatic. She physically wards off the panic and the tears by folding her arms tightly across her chest, feeling the warm flannel of her pajamas. It’s in the early hours of dawn when she finally falls back into a dreamless sleep.

In another room and building a little boy has just woken up in tears. He has wet the bed. The other missionary kids are white – and he is not. He is subject to sometimes merciless bullying – and no one stops it.

He curls into a ball. How can he change his sheets so no one will know? He cries out to an absent mom, longing for the comfort that would come from her presence, knowing he will never tell her.


Cairo, LightIt’s dark and it’s painful – but abuse of missionary kids is rightly being brought into the light. The loyalty code that makes people hesitant to confront is being replaced by a Godly recognition of sin and the need for confrontation and repentance, the need for justice.

There are some horrific stories – and there are some just plain sad stories, but they can’t heal until they are brought to the light. It’s a warped sense of honor, a twisted allegiance that tells us we need to forgive without confronting and bringing to light that which has wronged or destroyed.

And the thing with light is this: Even a bit can dispel darkness, even a candle illuminates and makes room for us to see more clearly; even a little light can comfort. And God who sees into the silent, sleepy dormitory asks us to speak into the dark, speak truth where lies were planted, offer hope where despair has been rooted, offer comfort in the face of torment.

Because these ones who were hurt have been called out of darkness into His glorious light; a light that dispels darkness and blinds us with its beauty and power. A light that never grows old. 

Blogger’s note: I wrote this as I do all my posts – with a deep breath and a prayer. The post is not intended to hurt further – rather to offer a word of hope. My great prayer is that it does that. For those who have been hurt, violated, abused as missionary kids there is a conference that will be held in April in Chicago.

“Abuse sent many MKs and their families on an ‘Unexpected Journey’. This conference will address actions and steps to help us move toward reclaiming our lives and breaking the silence.” MK Safety Net Conference in Chicago Unexpected Journey’April 19 – 21, 2013