I fell asleep in the car as we left my aunt’s house in San Jose, CA to head home to Modesto. To my surprise and horror, I woke up in a motel room and had no recollection of moving from the car to the bed that I woke up in. I found my parents in the adjacent room (much to my relief!) and soon found out that they had taken a surprise detour to Santa Cruz where we would spend the rest of the weekend playing at the beach and exploring the famous boardwalk. I was convinced that I had the coolest parents ever. Sometime during our stay there, my parents sat my brother and I down on the motel bed and told us that we would be moving to Africa in 6 months. Once I realized that they weren’t joking, the news sank in and I went through a kaleidoscope of emotions. Excited, nervous, happy, anxious, thrilled, scared. But mostly excited. For about 3 months. As the reality and gravity of the move set in, I slid from mostly excited to mostly scared, nervous, sad, upset, and angry. The closer we got to moving day, the more terrible the idea sounded.
As we went from church to church support-raising, I struggled to keep a smile on my face through the grief that was brewing under the surface. Sometimes I was good at playing the part of the happy missionary kid, but most of the time, I was not. Especially the closer we got to our moving date.
In my experience now working with TCKs, I have learned that there is a natural progression that children (and adults!) go through. The closer you get to moving day, the more you struggle with leaving. What was exciting about the move 6 months before, is now a daunting, grief-inducing reality in the days and weeks leading up to the move.
I have heard it said that tension is good, and I believe that this is especially true in regards to TCKs. As hard as that tension is, it is an essential part of leaving and grieving well, and it is important that you allow your children and yourself to fully experience that tension.
Teaching your children at a young age to “put on a happy face” creates a breeding ground for unresolved grief and attachment issues later in their life. When you teach your children to ignore the tension, you are teaching them to not care.
A significant issue that has arisen among young adult and adult TCKs, is the ability to move from one place to the next, one relationship to the next, one job to the next, without any tension. Without caring. They have learned to ignore the grief, or worse, to not grieve at all because they never cared about the people, job, or place enough to grieve the loss. Oy. You can imagine the destruction and devastation this can bring to relationships, careers, families, etc. This, combined with the TCK’s tendency to not settle and adapt, but instead remain in a surface-level, adapting state is a lethal combination for TCKs in adulthood.
Your young TCKs will learn either to or not to embrace the tension, feel the heartache, grieve the losses. While it is horribly difficult to watch your children grieve and struggle, remember that the tension means that they care, and you absolutely do not want to raise TCKs who stop caring.
Embrace the tension. Embrace the tears. Give them permission to grieve.