A family is back in the United States on furlough for a year. The 6 year old girl and her parents attend her school’s beginning of the school year assembly. The assembly starts and everyone stands up to say the Pledge of Allegiance. The girl looks up at her parents and asks, “Mommy, what are we doing?” Her mom’s heart sinks.
A TCK returns to America for college after spending the majority of her life overseas. She attends a football game and before the game starts, someone walks onto the field and begins to sing a song. “This is strange,” she thinks. Stranger still, it appears as though everyone around her knows the words. Then she notices that everyone has their right hand over their hearts. She quickly follows suit and realizes the song is the National Anthem. “I really should know the words to this,” she thinks.
When a child becomes a TCK, they become a global citizen. This is an amazing attribute, but it can leave many parents and family members a bit frustrated and disappointed, as this viewpoint often comes across as a lack of patriotism for the child’s passport country. Unlike their parents who grew up in one country, TCKs don’t have ties to a singular country, and if they do, it may not be to their parents’ country. This apparent lack of patriotism can create rocky ground for both the TCK and their parents.
So, what do you do when your child doesn’t appear to feel patriotic toward their passport country; toward your country?
It can be tricky for parents to understand that, while they have been living overseas just as long as their children have, the impact will be profoundly different for their children than it is for them. The parent who was born and raised in one country may have a difficult time when their TCK does not feel as connected to their passport country. Here are some things for you to keep in mind as you navigate this challenge:
1. Teach your children about their heritage not their home. I use the word “heritage” because for the TCK, your passport country may not feel like their home. By talking about your native country as “home”, you may inadvertently cause your TCK to tune out. Make it a point to teach your children about where you (the parents) are from. Teach them about things like traditions, culture, history, food, and holidays, but approach the topic from a heritage perspective. Your children may learn to appreciate that place more if they don’t feel like you are trying to convince them that your native country should feel like home.
2. Don’t expect them to be comfortable. When you visit your passport country, remember that while it may be your home it may not be your child’s home. I have talked with many TCKs who had a hard time when they visited their passport country because their parents seemed to expect them to feel comfortable and jump right back into their passport culture. Your children may not be aware of cultural norms and social expectations, which can make them feel very out of place. Be mindful of this and patiently give your TCKs space while they (re)adjust to their passport culture.
3. Don’t make them choose a favorite. Often, TCKs feel like they have an expected loyalty to their passport country and that given the choice they should choose that country over any other. A TCK I know once told me, “One of the worst things I can imagine is my passport country going to war with my host country. I have no idea which country I would side with, and worse, it probably wouldn’t be the country my parents would side with.” Intentionally reiterate to your TCKs that they can love different places for what each place uniquely has to offer. They don’t have to choose a favorite.
4. Encourage their global patriotism. I have said before that I think it would be to the world’s advantage to have more TCKs in political offices and the primary reason is this: TCKs have an appreciation for the world as a whole more than possibly any other single people group. They aren’t typically loyal to one place and thus, they can love and appreciate many places without being influenced by stigmas, stereotypes, and prejudices that develop when you have an “us vs. them” mentality. Often, this lack of “us vs. them” mentality is mistaken for a lack of patriotism. TCKs are good at looking at all of the world from an “us” perspective and this is an attribute that you should praise in your TCK.
When TCKs don’t feel like they have to choose an allegiance toward a certain country, they can openly celebrate all of the countries that they have ties to and this is absolutely beautiful. Parents have the wonderful opportunity and responsibility to be instrumental in shaping how their children view different cultures and people groups. Encourage your children’s appreciation of all places, advocate for their global patriotism, and remind them that while every culture has its weaknesses, they also all have something wonderful to offer.