Seven Reasons for Hope: A Foundation for TCK Care

At TCK Training, we talk a lot about potential risks for children growing up outside their passport countries. These children are known as ‘Third Culture Kids’ (TCKs), and we have spent hundreds of hours listening to their experiences first hand – in family debriefs, in Adult TCK groups and coaching sessions, and in our leadership team’s various professional experiences working with TCKs around the globe. We often share stories – our own, and general situations – to illustrate the risks, and reasons we advocate caution be taken.

But caution is not the whole of the story. Our first white paper about our 2021 research study was titled “Caution and Hope” because while the cautions we discuss are real and important, the hope we espouse is also real and important. In this blog post we are going to explain seven things we believe which are cause for hope.

1) Healthy families and life abroad are not in contradiction.

This is our guiding principle. We believe that there is a better way. We help families live abroad – with all the opportunities and benefits that go with international life – but in a way that is emotionally healthy for each individual. This requires intentionality, often in ways that the families were not previously aware of, because of the unique nature (and therefore needs) of the TCK life.

2) Children should not take a backseat to their parents’ work or ministry.

Another guiding principle of our work is that children’s health – emotional as well as physical – should always be a high priority for their parents and caregivers. This means that their children come first, and should know that they come first. At times this will mean taking actions that put children ahead of a parent’s work. We know that this isn’t always easy, but we also know the immense benefits of prioritizing the parent-child bond. A study done on this found that rates of adulthood depression dropped by 21% when children felt they were prioritized and that their parents “stood by them.”

3) Resilience can be cultivated in TCKs through intentional support and care.

Resilience is often listed as a benefit of the TCK life and in many cases it is. However, we know that resilience is not automatic – it must be cultivated. Going through hard times without support leads to emotional fragility; going through hard times with intentional support and care leads to resilience. We teach parents and caregivers how to provide that intentional support and care because we believe that with this support TCKs can develop a wellspring of resilience that will set them up for lifelong thriving.

4) Family health is the best investment a sending organization/company can make.

Sending a family overseas is a huge financial investment, whether they are sent by a company, a government, an NGO/IGO or charity, a mission agency, or an educational institution. One of the main causes of assignment failure is family challenges. Providing preventive care training and support for families, to help them adjust and maintain their emotional health long term, is a very sound investment – especially when measured against the cost of bringing a new employee in after a failed assignment or rehabilitating a family that has suffered a preventable crisis abroad.

Not only this, but when employees are healthy and happy, and their families are thriving, they are free to produce higher quality work. Company culture as a whole is improved when everyone is valued and well cared for – it becomes a place people want to work. Another reason caring for the children of overseas workers matters is the question of legacy: how will the families you send abroad speak of your company in years to come? Will your legacy be one of people who were valued and cared for, or of hurting people who felt disregarded and alone in their struggles? We want all organizations with responsibility for globally mobile families to have the tools they need to invest in the health of their workers, their families, their company culture, and their long term legacy.

5) Together we can lower depression and anxiety in Adult TCKs.

A big reason behind our work is we do not believe all the difficulties commonly observed in Adult TCKs, such as depression and anxiety, are inevitable. We believe that preventive care, begun when TCKs are young and implemented throughout their lives, can prevent the majority of these struggles. When all the stakeholders in a TCK’s life work together – parents, caregivers, educators, sending organizations – we can provide effective preventive care and set TCKs up for success and lifelong thriving.

6) By helping Adult TCKs through the hard work of unstacking their Grief Tower, they can maximize the benefits of their TCK lifestyle.

We also believe that post-care is effective for Adult TCKs who did not receive adequate preventive care as children. Helping Adult TCKs process their experiences, primarily by coaching them through the hard work of unstacking their Grief Tower, enables them to resolve suppressed grief that would otherwise be likely to trigger struggles such as depression and anxiety. The support that may have been absent during childhood is necessary for the Adult TCK’s processing journey, which is why we work hard to provide and share resources and support so they do not journey alone. This is truly hard work, and support is necessary, but it is worthwhile work as it leads to healing and thriving. We want to enable all Adult TCKs to get the most out of their international childhoods, reaping the benefits of their experiences. 

7) The challenges of a TCK childhood can be honored, addressed, healed, and utilized to move toward thriving as an Adult TCK.

We do not believe in erasing difficult experiences. We believe that the wonderful and the difficult can, and should, be held together in tension, with neither canceling out the other. Part of the hope we hold for lifelong thriving in TCKs of all ages is that their childhood challenges can be honored, addressed, and healed. Once our difficult experiences have been acknowledged and healed, they can serve to contribute to our thriving.

These seven reasons for hope are what TCK Training is built upon. If we only saw reason for caution, we would advocate that families not go overseas at all! But no – we see many benefits of a globally mobile life. We want families to gain the benefits of life abroad while being supported to provide an emotionally healthy childhood for their children throughout their international experience. We pave a way forward involving intentional care to provide a healthier childhood for young Third Culture Kids, along with support and healing for Adult TCKs who did not receive enough care earlier in life, leading to thriving for all TCKs.

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