You decide to move overseas.
You make the announcement.
You plan your kid’s schooling.
You sell your stuff.
You rent out your house.
Your friends throw a going-away party.
You go to CultureBound training (shameless plug).
The financial support hasn’t come in.
The visa application is taking forever.
Your son in college isn’t doing well.
The visa was denied.
Your company is reassigning you.
Your house isn’t selling.
Your parent is ill.
For many globally mobile families, this scenario is all too familiar. Plans for relocation are made, the family mentally and physically prepares for a major life change, and then things don’t go according to plan and life is perpetually on hold.
This season of waiting can be one of the most challenging for expat families and especially for the children.
What does raising healthy TCKs look like in this season of waiting?
Create Routine. Child Psychologist Danielle Kaufman says “Building routines with your children helps them feel safe…and provides them with clear boundaries, expectations, and consistency.” This is particularly important when life seems to be out of everyone’s control. The kids know that things are not going according to plan, and don’t know what that means for them. It is important that they have a certain routine that they know they can expect no matter how unpredictable their life is or where in the world they are. This routine is equally as important when you finally move and begin to settle into the new place. Keep in mind that the goal is stability, not rigidity. For this reason, keep the goals general so that they can be replicated anywhere. Examples: Going to play outside each morning instead of going to the park each morning, special breakfast instead of pancake breakfast.
Routines could be:
Waking up at the same time each day
Eating breakfast together
Taking a bath every other night
Going to play outside each morning
Having an hour of quiet time each afternoon
Special breakfast on Saturday mornings
By creating a simple and flexible routine, it can be implemented no matter where in the world you are, and thus create a sense of security and consistency for the children (and the parents) during an inconsistent season of life.
Sign Up. After living in Africa for two years as a young teen, we returned to the US for what we thought was going to be the summer months. When returning didn’t go as planned, we waited, thinking each month that we would be moving back to Africa the next. For a year, this meant moving from place to place (18 houses total), and not getting involved in the community, or signing up for any activities because we “knew” we would be leaving next month. After that year, we realized that we couldn’t keep living in transit and I was finally allowed to sign up for a dance team. Though we were still tentatively going back to Africa, and did a year later, it was so healthy for me to spend that year building community, dancing, and having a routine.
If you are in the waiting period and don’t know how long it will last, let your kids get involved in sports, dance, theater, whatever activity they are interested in. If you end up having to pull them out to move, that is ok. It is better that they were able to do it for a time then not at all. And if, like me, your waiting period goes from one month to two years, you’ll be glad you let your kids sign up for something.
Have fun. Fun is the antidote for stress. The waiting period is no doubt a stressful time and is typically also a time when having fun is not the first thing on your mind. Your kids can feel the stress, tension, and anxiety, and few things relieve it like having fun. During this challenging time, make it a point to have fun with your kids. Play on the floor with them, go outside and run around, go to a theme park, or on a road trip. Bring play, humor, and fun into your waiting period. Stressing won’t decrease the wait, and having fun can certainly make it better for everyone.
A family came to our training after three years of waiting to move overseas. The wait was long and hard. When they finally made it to their destination overseas they realized how essential that waiting period was in their preparation for living overseas. They said,
“We were not ready to live overseas. It was the years of waiting that truly prepared us and we are living healthier lives overseas because of it.”
The waiting season is so hard and I ache for the many families I know who have waited and waited and faced disappointment after disappointment. It can seem, or genuinely be, an endless season of waiting. But, during this season I have seen and experienced the benefits for children of creating routine, signing up for activities, and having fun as a family. I hope these add to your toolbox of raising healthy TCKs - especially during the wait.