It is a common misconception that when you move overseas as a family, your children will forever loose the close friends that they had back home. While it is not easy for children and teens to maintain long-distance friendships, it is possible and completely worth the effort.
Here are 5 ways that you, as a parent, can help your TCKs to foster long-distance friendships when you move overseas. I wrote last week about my friend, Corrie. These ideas stem from our many years as long-distance friends.
1) Make writing a habit. Help your child write their friend once a week, either via email or physical letters. If you are homeschooling, consider making this a weekly "assignment". You can be creative with your young TCKs and give them writing prompts such as: "Tell so-and-so about some of your favorite things in this country", "Write about some things that you miss", "Tell so-and-so what a typical day looks like", "Tell them what you would love to show them if they came to visit." Older children and teens may benefit more from gentle encouragement.
2) Create a video or video-chat. Shortly after moving to Africa, I decided to create a video to send to my best friend, Corrie, back in the US. In those days, it was an actual videotape and it took 6 weeks to get to her in the mail. Now, you can do this quickly, easily, and possibly live by using an internet program like Skype. Have your child give a video tour of your home, neighborhood, local market, school, even introduce them to some of their new friends! Corrie still talks about how helpful it was for her to be able to picture the places and people I was referring to when we would talk on the phone or write letters. The video helped her to feel a bit connected to my world.
3) Send gifts. For birthdays, Christmases, or just because, consider sending a gift from your new country. Corrie loved the African trinkets that I mailed to her, and I loved the chocolate chips and other yummy American goodies that she mailed back!
4) Be intentional during furlough. Looking back, it was the times spent with Corrie each time we were back in the US on home assignment that really solidified our friendship. We would rework our friendship, learning how to be friends as older versions of ourselves, and that would launch us into the next long-distance season. While on furlough, my parents were amazingly intentional and willing to let me spend copious amounts of time with Corrie- driving us back and forth between each other's houses, allowing for multi-night sleepovers, and buying us craft supplies so we could create art projects together.
5) Invite them to visit. I have known entire families who went to visit their friends living overseas as a family vacation and cultural experience for their kids. I have also heard of teen's friends who were able to visit as a short-term missions trip, coming to help with a specific event or project. It may seem unlikely, but put the invitation out there and see what happens! What better way for them to truly understand your TCK's overseas experience than to see it firsthand!
Navigating long-distance friendships can be challenging, and may take some effort on your part as a parent. However, these forever-friendships are so valuable for your TCKs, that they are absolutely worth the time and energy. TCKs don't often have people, other than family, in their lives who have known them forever, and this can contribute to that sense of rootlessness many feel. A forever-friend can give TCKs a sense of grounded-ness and belonging, and that is an invaluable gift.