Departure

Are We Really Signing Up for This?

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  My dear friend and her husband have recently become global workers and are heading overseas next year with their 18 month-old boy in tow. This past summer they attended a training where they spent two weeks with a great group of people from their organization, which included families with other little kids around the age of their son. They developed close friendships in this short time.

As they left their training, my friend called me and said, "It was so hard to leave people that we just spent two weeks befriending, knowing that we might not ever see them again. And then I realized, this is the life that we're signing up for. And not just us— this is the life we are signing our son up for as well."

Around the same time, we (CultureBound)  finished up our summer culture and language training for families. One of the little girls in my class, a 4-year-old, was having a difficult time during the first couple of days and didn't want to make friends. She had moved overseas and back to the US before, and though she is only 4, she knows what it feels like to make friends and then have to leave them. I think that she sensed this coming. But, sure enough, by the end of the week she was best buddies with the other girls in the class.

As she finally began to make friends, I felt the tension along with her. I was silently cheering her on, but also dreading the goodbyes I knew she would have to say in a few days. Her subconscious fears that kept her from making friends at first were not incorrect. In fact, they were incredibly accurate. 

This tension is very real. By choosing the TCK life for your children, you really are signing up for a life of goodbyes. There is no sugar-coating it. It is hard.

So how can I endorse this?  

This is something that I wrestle through regularly. Why do I think that this is a good idea? Why do I encourage parents who are signing their family up for this life?

In some ways, the TCK-life isn't something that I want to promote. Having been that child myself, I know how hard those goodbyes are. BUT, I also know that so many of the good things in my life can be traced directly to my time overseas.

I have experienced the most profound growth, the deepest relationships, the most incredible experiences, and the best opportunities because of my life as a TCK and nearly every TCK who I have met expresses a similar sentiment.

By signing up for a life overseas, and consequently signing your children up for the life of a TCK, you are not choosing the easy route for you or for them. BUT, you are choosing a life that will give your children a love for the world, for diversity, and for justice. It will give them a unique perspective, cultural savvy, great communication skills, and multi-cultural friends all over the world. Yes, signing up for a life of goodbyes is terribly hard, but if I had to go back and choose my own life trajectory, I would sign myself up for the TCK-life again. This gives me the strength and joy to encourage parents to do so also. 

 

10 Ways to Entertain Kids on Long Flights

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My daughter just turned 2 and has already been on 18 flights. Though we have yet to fly internationally with her, we have become quite skilled at on-flight entertainment. To my surprise, "Have any tips for keeping them entertained on the plane!?" is a question that I am asked very frequently by families with little kids who are embarking on their first overseas flight. Here are my 10 go-tos!

  1. Window clings. There's a reason this is #1. They are seriously amazing. The Dollar Store is where I usually buy them. They peel on and off the windows and provide hours of entertainment.

  2. "What Could This Be?" Game. Choose any object and take turns acting out all of the things that the object could be. For example, a cup could be a hat, a musical instrument, a giant nose, a goatee, etc. This was my mom's brilliant idea and I have great memories of playing this game with her and my brother on the long flights to and from Africa.

  3. Sticker books. Again, Dollar Store for the win. Books with lots of stickers and pages with scenes to put them on are great entertainment.

  4. Make up stories. Use the stickers or window clings to make up and act out stories with your kiddos. This can also work with action figures or just your imagination!

    This can also be a great way to begin conversations with your children about how they are feeling now that you are really on your way to the new place. Have the characters in your imaginary story fly to a new place and ask your child how the characters are feeling. They may give you an indication of what is going on in their own mind!

  5. Water painting. Paint-with-water books are great for planes because they are not too messy and only require water.

  6. Language-Learning Games. If you are planning to learn a new language when you move overseas, the airplane ride can be a great place to start that process. Dinolingo is my absolute favorite language-learning program for kids and a subscription includes many games that kids can play on a smartphone, computer, or iPad. With most airlines offering Wifi on international flights, this can be a great way to keep kids busy and working on language at the same time.

  7. Talk about the new place. Build up the anticipation for the new place. Talk about the first things you'll do when you get there. Talk about the things they're most excited or nervous about. Look at photos or watch videos from the place where you'll be living. Talk about what they can expect to happen after you land and what your expectations are of them.

  8. Travel games. Amazon has some great magnetic games like these that are fabulous for plane rides.

  9. "Tell Me About a Time When..." Game. Take turns asking the question, "Tell me about a time when... (you felt angry, you felt scared,  you were really excited, you were embarrassed)." Take turns letting your kids ask you and visa versa. Keep the stories short and to the point, and enjoy sharing them with one another! Kids love hearing stories about when their parents were kids, so consider sharing some of your childhood stories.

  10. Journal. For older children, give them a special journal when you get on the airplane for them to write all of their thoughts in as they process through their feelings about moving to a new place. This is a healthy way for them to think through their feelings, and it also helps to pass the time!

The time on the airplane can be a great opportunity to talk through some of the emotions of moving to a new place. Use the above ideas as ways to enhance your "talk-time" and to bond with your kiddos. They will need your love and attention during this transition and playing with them on the airplane-ride there is a great way to start that! I hope some of these ideas help to keep you and your kids entertained on your international flights!

5 Ways You Can Help Your Children Foster Long-Distance Friendships

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  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. 

TCKs CAN have forever friends

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"It's sad that my daughter won't be able to continue her friendship with her best friend since we're moving to Europe."

"7 year olds just can't maintain a long-distance friendship, so it almost doesn't seem worth the effort to try."

"I'm struggling with the fact that my kids will never have forever friends because of our choice to move overseas."

I have heard these words come from the mouths of many parents who have chosen to move overseas as a family. I think they often expect me to respond with a "True, but it is so worth it!" But, I don't. Instead, my answer is, "False. Let me tell you about my best friend, Corrie."

Corrie and I became fast friends in the 5th grade. We climbed trees and perfected the art of pancake making. (Our mothers were remarkably patient when Saturday mornings turned their kitchens into 10-year old culinary experiments.) We had sleepovers and tobagganed down the stairs in sleeping bags. Then we struggled together through the friend drama, zits and insecurity of being almost 13. When my family moved to Africa in the 7th grade, leaving my best friend was, by far, the hardest part. But, we were determined to keep in touch and to not let our friendship end.

During those first couple of years in Africa, internet was spotty (when it was available at all) and short phone calls were only occasionally possible. We exchanged e-mails when the internet was good, and snail-mail in between. At one point, I mailed her a videotape with a tour of our house, neighborhood, new African friends, and my new school. It got to her 6 weeks after I mailed it, and it was the perfect way for her to see a glimpse of my life in Africa. Our communication wasn't incredibly frequent and there were some stretches that it dropped off completely, but we always got back in touch.

During our furloughs back in the US, we would rekindle our friendship, each time relearning how to be friends with the older versions of ourselves. Those times weren't easy, but again, we were determined and intentional. 

We attended colleges in different parts of the US; Corrie in California and myself in Indiana. But, since we were no stranger to maintaining a long-distance friendship, the distance during those college years didn't stop us from navigating an adult version of our friendship. She flew out to visit me, we spent countless hours on the phone, and she even went with me back to Africa to visit my family for summer break one year.

We were the Maids of Honor in each other's weddings, have taken many trips back and forth to visit each other over the past few years, and now have babies 8 months apart. She and her 7 month old boy are currently sitting in my living room visiting for the week and I am overjoyed reminiscing about the way our friendship has grown and flourished despite the unconventional twists and turns that come with being best friends with a missionary kid.

One of my favorite authors, Shauna Niequist, says,

"Good friends are like breakfast. You think you're too busy to eat breakfast but then you find yourself exhausted and cranky half way through the day and you discover that your attempt to save time totally backfired."

Maintaining friendships while living the life of a global nomad is challenging, time consuming, and may take dedication from you as the parent to help facilitate the communication between your child and their best friend, but IT IS SO WORTH IT. Corrie has been one of the very few constants in my life. She knew me pre-missionary kid, she walked with me through many TCK struggles, and she has loved me in a new ways as we've both become wives and mothers. She truly knows me better than just about anyone, and that is pretty special.

So, while it is not easy and may even seem unlikely, know that your kids can maintain friendships when you move across the globe. Not only is it possible, but I can't imagine many things more precious.

How can you as a parent help your TCKs foster their long-distance friendships? Check back later this week for some practical tips!

It's Not "Just Stuff"

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  The packing process begins as you plan to uproot and move to a new country. This is often the first time that the idea of leaving  "home" and moving to a new country becomes a tangible reality for children. As parents, you have been planning for months and have likely had many "reality checks," but your children may have not had the same experiences. Packing up their bedroom makes the reality of what is about to happen significantly more concrete. During this process, and a repeat of it during any subsequent moves, you may find that your children are suddenly incredibly sentimental and the toys that they haven't played with in years, stuffed animals they haven't touched since birth, and craft supplies they haven't been interested in for months become their most prized possessions that they can't possibly move to another country without. This can be frustrating for you, as you are trying to strategically pack six 50lb bags filled with everything that you need to start a life in a new country. It can be equally as frustrating for your child who is suddenly realizing that life is about to change drastically, and the toys, animals, and craft supplies in his/her room seem to be the only that he or she might be able to hold onto.

As I packed my room at 13 years old to move to Africa, everything became sentimental. I distinctly remember sitting on my bedroom floor in California, crying about having to throw away a tardy slip that I had been given for being late to my 6th grade science class. I begged my parents to let me keep it. I wouldn't have been able to explain it then, but having to throw away that pink tardy slip was a physical representation of leaving that life, that school, to start over in a new place worlds away. It wasn't "just trash". My gracious parents realized this and held me as I cried; letting the reality sink in that I would never again receive another pink tardy slip from my Jr. High School.

During furlough my Sophomore year in high school, we went on a day trip to IKEA. On our way out, my mom spotted a string of battery-operated lights shaped like stars and bought them for me (which was pretty a-typical for her, and thus has always been a favorite memory of mine). Those star lights hung in my room in California, my room in two different cities in Tanzania, my college dorm room, and my first apartment. That silly string of lights signified "home" for me for years and created a sense of comfort during many moves and many hard nights all over the globe. They officially died after I married my husband and I simultaneously didn't feel the need for them any longer.

As you're packing your kid's things, remember that it's not "just stuff". While they may not be able to take everything with them that they would like to, take the time to let them grieve over what they are loosing. The tears may not actually be about the tardy slip or the pillow case, but those are just tangible reminders of the bigger, deeper losses that are on the horizon. Let them keep something that signifies "home" for them or create something new, like star lights or a stuffed animal. While packing can be something that your productive-self just wants to "get done", it is a significant part of the grieving process for most children and patience and understanding on your part can make a huge difference in how well that process is played out. It's not "just stuff".