I was listening to an expat podcast the other day about raising children overseas. The host was answering questions that had been sent in to her by parents living abroad. A mom wrote in and asked, “What can I do to make sure that my kids stay American while we’re living in Europe?” She went on to say that she and her husband wanted their children to not feel “different” when they move back to the USA in a couple of years and thus, want to be sure to keep them from adapting to European culture.
The host provided a myriad of ways that they could “keep their children American.” The ideas included making sure to celebrate all American holidays, spending time only with American friends, and not allowing them to learn the local language.
It’s a good thing that this was a pre-recorded podcast because if not, I probably would have called in very emphatically to offer a quite different perspective. My response would go something like this:
1. You cannot prevent your children from becoming TCKs. By choosing to live overseas, you have chosen for them to no longer be solely American. No matter how hard you try to “keep” them American, they will still soak up parts of the culture that you are now living in. Because you are living overseas during their developmental years, this is not preventable. Trying to counteract this natural process will only create problems.
2. Trying to keep your children from becoming a part of the culture they are living in is unhealthy. By trying to keep them American, you are teaching them that there is only one right way to do things; that the American way is the best way and any other way of living life is wrong. This leads to a very ethnocentric mindset and definitely doesn’t promote a love and appreciation for diversity.
3. Why would you want to? Living overseas is an incredible experience with a multitude of benefits for children. By trying to keep your children from adapting to the culture, learning the language, and spending time with the locals you are limiting those benefits. Yes, absolutely teach them about their American roots. Celebrate American holidays and follow the news. But, also give them permission to grow new roots in this new country. Yes, they will be different than their peers in America. They will have a unique perspective, a keen ability to adapt to new cultures, and an expanded worldview. They may even have challenges to work through because of their overseas upbringing, but attempting to keep them American while living overseas will not eliminate those challenges nor will it offer them the amazing benefits that can come with being a TCK.
So please, don’t deprive your children of the immense benefits of being a Third Culture Kid. Please, don’t try to “keep your children American.”
Are you raising children overseas? If so, what would your response be to this parent?