The Challenge of Subconscious Expectations (Part 2: Conversations to Have with Your TCKs)
Read Part 1 here We have identified that subconscious expectations are the root cause of many issues that adult TCKs deal with, so how can we proactively address those hidden expectations in young TCKs?
Overseas living is not "better than"
It is easy for children who grow up overseas to develop a "better than" mentality. This may present as a quiet (or obvious) arrogance and thus, fostering humility in your young TCKs is incredibly important. The other, more hidden side of this, is an instilled belief that their lifestyle- living overseas- is superior to any other way of life. TCKs are often told their whole lives how lucky, blessed, unique they are because of their global upbringing. They are constantly reminded of the incredible opportunity that they have to live in different places around the world and not be "normal" like someone who has been raised in only one country. While overseas living is absolutely a unique and wonderful experience for TCKs, what happens when they grow up and are expected (either by themselves or by parents) to flawlessly settle into a life lived in a single country? Or they expect to recreate their overseas upbringing and find that it is not what they had expected?
There are Pros and Cons
Have conversations with your children about the benefits of different lifestyles. Emphasize that while your family is living overseas and is enjoying many aspects of that lifestyle, that does not mean that it is "better than" any other. There are absolutely challenges that come with it as well. Your goal with these conversations is to simply level out the expectations by talking about the pros and cons of different ways of life.
"Yes, it is wonderful that we live overseas! What are some of your favorite parts about living here? What are some hard things about living here?" "What would it be like if we lived back in our passport country and had never lived overseas? What would be some good things about that? What things might be hard?"
Talking about the positives and negatives of different lifestyles helps your TCKs to not settle into a belief that if they eventually live one lifestyle and not another they are missing out. They are simply trading one pros and cons list for another. Many adult TCKs, after realizing that they are unsatisfied with how their life is playing out, think, "If I just moved there, everything would be better." But, then they move there and realize that there are still challenges. Or, they realize that they do not have the ability to move "there" and resort to the fact that they will just never be happy. Subconscious expectations about the "ideal" lifestyle will ultimately zap the joy out of any lifestyle. TCKs stuck in that rut will always be searching for the "better than" way of life that they felt they had growing up and will ultimately find that they cannot recreate it. They have to create their own and accept (and expect!) that there truly both positives and negatives to any.
It is also important to talk with your TCKs about what life might look like for them when they grow up. What are they interested in pursuing as a career? Does that career lend itself to living overseas again? If not, is that truly a door they want to close? Do they want to live in one place long-term? What happens when their mental alarm clock goes off after 3 years in the same place and they have the itch to move and start over? What happens if they marry someone who never wants to move? Children and teenagers can be fickle and short-sided and that will likely affect their answers to these questions. That is ok! Your goal is not to help them create the perfect trajectory for their life, but simply to get them thinking about how career choices, college choices, relationship choices, etc. will have a direct impact on the lifestyle that they end up living. These conversations are meant to bring these subconscious expectations out of hiding so that they are easier for your TCK (and you) to identify when they start to creep up in adulthood. If they have thought through these questions at different points throughout their life, it will be less of a shock and less of an identity crisis when they have to answer them in adulthood.
Subconscious expectations, because they often go unnoticed, can wreak havoc on the life of an adult TCK. It is, therefore, most important to bring these expectations into the light so that they can be considered and managed well. As you raise up your TCKs or work with TCKs, having conversations about lifestyle expectations can be hugely beneficial to helping them mentally connect the dots when they, one day as adults, realize that they really do have expectations about how their life "should" go. It is incredibly freeing for many adult TCKs to realize that there isn't one perfect lifestyle that they have to find in order to live a fulfilled life. Instead, they learn that any lifestyle has both its benefits and challenges and that their life just might end up looking different than what they had subconsciously expected.