Parenting

Ready, Set...Wait.

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).

READY, SET….

WAIT.

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.

Why Have a Family Mission Statement?

I've noticed a lot of hype lately around the idea of having a "Family Mission Statement." At first I chalked it up to an unnecessary trend among millennial parents, but as I listened to a podcast this morning (Parenting Great Kids by Dr. Meg Meeker), I suddenly realized that this "Family Mission Statement" idea may be of tremendous value for TCKs.  The family mission statement is a short description of the purpose of your family. For example, "The mission of our family is to love each other and to love and serve those in the community around us."

Dr. Meg Meeker, a pediatrician and parenting expert says that having a mission for your family to get behind gives children a sense of purpose within the family. It shows them that they belong and are a part of the team.

Purpose and belonging are trigger-words for many TCKs.

When families move overseas, all too often the children feel like they are being pulled along to a life abroad so that their parents can do work or ministry. They are simply extra baggage, or worse, are an inconvenience. This translates to a lack of purpose - a feeling that "I am not needed."

Many TCKs also express a felt lack of belonging. After living overseas, they realize that they don't completely fit into their passport country anymore, but they are also still foreigners in their host country. The question, "Where do I belong?" resounds. Feeling a sense of belonging in the family is a critical component to a child's developmental process.

"Belonging lays the foundation for a strong and resilient sense of self – a self which can be sustained through transitions into the wider world and through subsequent experiences that may be less affirming and inclusive" (Woodhead and Brooker, 2008).

This "strong and resilient sense of self" is a key component of a healthy Adult TCK. By being intentional about giving your TCKs a sense of purpose and belonging within the family unit, you are helping to lay that foundation. Creating a family mission statement is a great, simple way to begin that process.  

Creating a Family Mission Statement

1. Hold a family meeting and explain what you are trying to accomplish. 

Example: "We want our family to live overseas as a team and for us to have a united purpose that we can all work on together."

2. Brainstorm your family values. Simply start listing them and write them down. 

Example: Respecting each other, loving our neighbors, being responsible, being kind, etc.

3. Work together to turn it into a one or two sentence statement. 

Example: "The mission of our family is to love and respect one another and our neighbors, to practice responsibility, and to be kind to everyone around us."

4. Put it on the wall 

Write your mission statement and put it in a frame, on a bulletin board, on the bathroom mirror - somewhere where you all can see it.

5. Implement it! 

The mission statement is pointless if you don't put it into practice. Remind each other of it as you go throughout your days.

Family Mission Statements can be a great tool for any family, but they are particularly valuable for families living overseas. TCKs need to know that they have purpose and that they belong and inside the family unit is a great place for that to be instilled in them.

For more information on family mission statements visit:

https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/creating-a-family-culture-how-and-why-to-create-a-family-mission-statement/

References:

Woodhead, M. & L. Brooker. (2008). A sense of belonging. Early Childhood Matters. Bernard van Leer Foundation: Netherlands. - See more at: https://www.familiesforlife.sg/discover-an-article/Pages/The-Importance-of-Family-Acceptance.aspx#sthash.3v5u9ysd.dpuf

megmeekermd.com

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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. 

 

Are You Meeting Your TCK's Emotional Needs?

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  Babies communicate their needs with their first cry and continue to do so in different ways as they grow and develop more complex methods of communicating. When these needs are met by loving parents, children feel safe, secure, and are likely to thrive developmentally. When these needs aren't met, a breeding ground is created for behavior problems, relational problems, mental health disorders, and many other issues. It can seem like these "needs" are purely physical, but that is only a part of it. The other equally important part, is the more ambiguous realm of emotional needs.

The challenge that I often run into when discussing the topic of "unmet needs" with parents of TCKs is that they, most often, are wonderful parents who have done a fantastic job of meeting their children's emotional and physical needs and therefore, they don't think that this will be an issue. Unfortunately, I believe that this contributes to why the issue of  "unmet needs" is so prevalent among TCKs. During high-stress seasons (such as transitions to and from living overseas), the children's need for emotional support goes up while their parent's mental and physical capacity to meet their children's needs (and even their own!) goes down. This often results in stressed-out parents who have children with unmet emotional needs. Even the most fabulous, attentive parents can run into this challenge if it is not consciously combatted.

When entering a new culture, the parents themselves are in "survival mode" for a while; attempting to find their footing in an entirely new culture. The children are simultaneously relying on these culture-stressed parents for assurance of safety, security, and emotional stability as they also attempt to find a new normal. Unfortunately, this combination can often result in the children subconsciously feeling as if their emotional needs are not met.  Not only is meeting the emotional needs of children critical in the child's own health and development, but if a child's emotional needs go routinely unmet throughout their childhood, it is likely to affect their own parenting one day, thus creating a vicious generational cycle. (This is a common issue that we are seeing in Adult TCKs as they become parents themselves.) By looking at ways to address emotional needs during the child's life spent overseas and particularly during the transition to and from living overseas, parents can prevent this cycle from occurring and strengthen their relationship with their TCK.

So, how can you be intentional about identifying and meeting the emotional needs of your TCK? 

1. Be Sensitive. You know your children and can sense when they are "off," but sometimes the stress of moving can cause parents to forget to pay attention to their children's emotions. Be sensitive and mindful to what they may be feeling and be willing to take the necessary actions to respond well to those feelings.

2. Know your children. Are they introverted? Extroverted? Independent? Anxiety-prone? How might these things play into their emotions during a move? Has your introvert had too much people-time? Does your independent child feel like they're expected to be strong and independent so they don't burden you? Does your anxious child feel stressed about the upcoming plane ride? Only by knowing your children can you really identify what their emotional needs are.

3. Them-Care. This is the best phrase that I can come up with for doing self-care for your children. Young children are not in tune with their emotions enough to know what they need in order to recharge, and older children may need to be coached through self-care. Figure out what your children need to recharge themselves and then help them to do that. This is particularly important during transitions. Does your introvert need some alone time? Is your other child recharged by quality time with you? Does another need some extra snuggles? Time exploring the outdoors? Do you all need a restful pajama day?

4. Listen for the needs. It can be easy when you are under stress, to hear what your children say, but not realize the underlying meaning to their words. Often, emotional needs are communicated very indirectly. So, when your child says, "Will you play with me?" Perhaps what they really mean is, "I need quality time with you." Or, when your other, introverted child has an outburst because they don't want to go to another event in the new place, maybe they are saying, "I've met so many new people and that makes me so tired! I just need some alone time to recharge!" Listen for the needs and then find ways to help them with their own self-care.

5. Don't forget yourself. In order to meet your children's emotional needs, it is important that you are also in-tune with your own emotions and needs. Your children need to see self-care modeled in order to understand the importance and process of meeting their own emotional needs. I've written more in-depth about this here. 

It takes extra time and energy to tune in and be sensitive to your children's needs, especially when you yourself are struggling to find your footing in the midst of transition. But, it is so important that you are meeting their emotional needs. Not only does it help to foster your relationship with your children, but it sets them up to be people who can identify their own needs, and eventually the needs of their own children. So, what do you need? What do they need? How can you be intentional about meeting your children's emotional needs during transition?

Read more about working through emotions with your TCKs:

http://www.tcktraining.com/blog/narrating-your-childs-feelings/

http://www.tcktraining.com/blog/the-balancing-act-of-dealing-with-anger-and-grief/

http://www.tcktraining.com/blog/using-art-and-play-to-help-your-tcks-express-themselves/

http://www.alifeoverseas.com/7-ways-to-teach-your-tcks-process-grief/