The adaptable and flexible nature of your child can be a great quality. It is a skill that they have learned or will learn out of necessity to cope with the transition between cultures and it is one that can serve them very well in life if they learn to use it effectively.
Your job as parents is to help them develop the skills to do so from a young age.
The majority of TCKs will always have the itch for change and because of their upbringing, the “easy” solution is often a big change. This is where TCKs differ from mono-cultural individuals who feel they have a need for “change”. When a mono-cultural individual feels they need a change in their life, they might redecorate their house. When a TCK feels they need a change, they might move to Iceland.
The TCK’s solution to their mental alarm clock is often a move (sometimes cross-culturally), a major career change, a school change, or a relationship change. These may not seem to be problematic and often aren’t when the TCK is a child, teen, or young adult. However, when they don’t learn how to satisfy this need in a healthy manner and this “need” arises later in adulthood, it can be incredibly crippling to their career, marriage, family life, etc.
So what can you do, as parents, to prevent this from the get-go?
Acknowledge the Need for Change. The reason I am writing this series is because awareness can bring about change. If you know that your TCK will likely struggle with the need for change into and through their adulthood, then you can subtly teach them, from a young age, how to channel that need positively. Talk about the things that you can routinely and flippantly change (house decor, wardrobe, bedrooms, hairstyles, etc.) and the things that you really need to think and pray about before you change (friends, places, schools, jobs, etc.).
Talk about It. Talk about this concept of being comfortable in the adapting process and less comfortable in a settled life. Your children may not understand and your teenagers may not want to hear it, but we can hope that when they become adults and are faced with this challenge, they will remember your words and be proactive about controlling the change instead of letting it control them.
Leave Well. When you leave your passport country for the first time, and every “leave” after that, make sure you are intentional about how you leave. It is nearly impossible to settle well in a new place, if you have not left the previous place well. When we (humans) know that we are about to leave people for an extended period of time, we tend to emotionally disconnect from people prematurely. This can very easily become a habit of TCKs and this can lead to a lot of “burnt bridges” and unresolved grief over the years. Your children need to learn how to leave well from a young age. One of my favorite tools for leaving well is David C. Pullock’s concept of the RAFT. There is a great explanation of RAFT here: How to Build Your RAFT. This is great to work through as a family each time you leave a place.
Arrive Well. Show your children how to settle. It can be tempting, especially as an adult, to live with one foot in this new culture and leave the rest of you back in your passport culture. Some people do this by trying to keep their home and family life as “American” (or whatever other nationality) as possible while living in a different country. This will not do your TCKs any good and will definitely not teach them how to settle well. Wherever you are living, dive in. Make friends. Learn the language. Eat the food. Engage. When in Rome…. As I said in Part 1 of this series, TCKs become incredibly good at adapting and settling, so this will become their comfort zone. That is OK as long as they also learn to step outside of their comfort zone and settle in some areas.
Encourage Deep Friendships. When TCKs move often, it becomes easier to forgo deep friendships rather than deal with the hurt of frequent goodbyes. Encourage your child to maintain friendships. TCKs become very skilled at making friends, but many have a more challenging time maintaining and developing deep, lasting friendships. When TCKs have moved frequently, the idea of deep friendships triggers that dreaded settled feeling. Teach your children to push past it and into those deep friendships. Encourage them to keep in touch with friends they have left behind and be willing to make new friends. Technology nowadays makes it much easier for TCKs to keep in touch with friends all over the world. Take advantage of it! Older TCKs may just need your gentle encouragement, while younger children may need more time and help on your part. Trust me, it is SO worth the effort for your TCKs to have deep, life-long friendships!
Teach the Process of Making a Healthy Change. Be an example of the process of making big changes. If you are looking at moving or changing your child’s school, pray with them about it. Ask God for wisdom, make a pros and cons list, make it a big decision. Often parents of TCKs don’t invite the children into the decision-making process and instead only tell them once a decision has been made. In some scenarios this is necessary, but in most, allowing them to be a part of the process gives them the opportunity to see changes made well.
I want to be clear that the healthy version of a TCK who has overcome the need for constant adapting, is not necessarily the TCK that settles down in one place for the rest of their life. That may be the case, but most likely is not.
The healthy TCK realizes that they have a need for change and knows that they are more comfortable with the adapting process than with the settled life. However, they have learned how to control the need for change instead of letting it control them. They are willing to be somewhat uncomfortable so that they can live a settled life in the necessary areas. For TCKs, doing this effectively is a life-long learning process and that process begins with you, parents, the second you pack your bags and move overseas.
If you are a TCK, Adult TCK, parent of a TCK, work with TCKs, or are just interested in the topic, I would love to hear your thoughts on this! Do you have any stories of how this process was done well? Or wasn’t?