Distance and TCKs When it Comes to Friends and Relationships

I have a cup of coffee, do you have yours? Let’s talk about the word distance. What comes to your mind?

There’s a saying in the United States that there are only two certain things in life: death and taxes. Such an encouraging thought! If I were to translate that to TCKs (for that matter the entire TCK community), I would also say there are only two sure things: distance and goodbyes. Neither of these are easy.

You may be saying, “What an understatement!” or “That’s obvious!” You may have thought, life would be so much easier if we lived in ________ and you fill in the location. Isolation and separation are so entwined with distance as are many of the emotions that go with being a TCK or the parent of a TCKs.

For kids, distance comes in the form of friends and relationships. My heart broke when a precious eight-year-old said, “I’m not ever having another best friend. Emily left, Jennifer left and so did Beth. They always leave and it hurts so much!” For teens, it’s longing to have peers to hang out with which isn’t necessarily possible.

For moms, the issues created by distance are always lurking just below the surface. It’s the guilt at the distance from extended family. This is especially true with the holidays coming up. It’s guilt over things that children are missing out on or are perceived to be missing. Sometimes the question is, “Who is missing it—the kids or mom and dad? It’s also the pain over distance if kids are away at school, whether that’s college or boarding school. Those miles seem like such an enormous gulf.

On the personal level, distance translates into feeling of isolation for mom. They say that when you eat a decadent dessert with a friend, it cuts the calories in half. I wish that were true! However, I’m absolutely certain that problems, when shared with a friend, are cut in half or at least lessened.

It is easy to see only the negatives of distance, but there are some positive by-products. They are not always there, but can be realities. Distance can strengthen the bonds of the immediate, nuclear family and the bonds between siblings. The benefits of this deep connectedness can last a lifetime. Distance can develop independence or maturity (in some areas) in your TCKs. It’s obvious, but distance also forces you (whether parent or child) to take the initiative and reach out. Sometimes the absence of relationship on the horizontal level drives us to greater depth and intimacy on the vertical level.

There are some traps or lies I think both children and adults often believe about distance. The children of Israel looked back and said, “Life was better in Egypt!” It is easy to think that you or your children wouldn’t be facing problems if you were in your passport culture. While the problems might be different, life there would not be problem-free. For example, struggling with the loneliness of not having peers is difficult, but so are hurtful words or being excluded by peers. In this world, we will have tribu-lation! We also often overlook the fact that life and relationships in our passport culture have gone on without us. Best friends have moved on in our absence and now have other best friends. We know this in our heads, but it hurts so much at the heart level when we experience it.

We tend to think new technology solves it all. While Facebook and Skype are an enormous help in staying connected, they don’t solve everything. TCKs often think they understand their passport culture and that transition won’t be a problem because they’ve been online with friends or have tracked sports, movies, celebrities, etc. They are often blind-sided by the deeper levels of difference in thinking and values they encounter.

While distance is our daily reality in the TCK community, sometimes we feel it more intensely. It can’t be wished away or ignored, but what do we do? I think it starts with accepting where you are. Sounds sim-ple, but there’s nothing simple about it! You are not where you are by accident, but because you were called. It may be worth reminding yourself of the events that made you so certain of that call when you boarded the plane. Distance also requires intentionality! As humans, neither you nor your children were designed to be lone rangers, but were designed for relationship and community. Connectedness, for you or your children, will not happen automatically. Above all, allow distance to deepen your rootedness in the Father and to develop that rootedness in your children.

How have you seen distance influence the TCKs you know?


  1. Patty Stallings September 24, 2014

    Thank you, Janet, for all the ways you invest in TCKs and families working cross culturally!  You are a treasure!

  2. Colleen Mitchell September 24, 2014

    We recently moved and changed the focus of our ministry significantly. Our situation is more stable, our house and property are much more suitable to our large family. We thought being in the city would give the kids more opportunities for social interaction and activities but it has proved a much harder transition than we thought. My boys are intensely lonely for friends. Yesterday my 13 year old sobbed as he told me that he sees our family members and friends do lots of frivolous things with their money and then everyone says they can’t afford to come visit us. He feels betrayed. It was so hard to soak that disappointment up and not be able to fix it. And guard myself against letting it bury into me and breed bitterness. I know time will lead us to the right things to integrate our boys into our new community, but it’s the third time in three years and it’s just so hard to watch them suffer again.

    1. Danielle Wheeler September 25, 2014

      Colleen, my mama heart is hurting with you!  So sorry to hear it’s been hard transition.  And I’m sure especially hard when you had high hopes for positive change.  My own son is longing for friendship too, and yes, it is SO hard to not be able to fix it for him…  So, so hard.  Big hug to you.

    2. ErinMP September 27, 2014

      It seems he sees the long term versus short term more than other kids, so he has already matured past his peers. Good and helpful in some ways, lonely in others. Praying.

  3. T September 25, 2014

    Ah, Colleen!  I’m praying for your boys today!  I’m so thankful that your 13 year old felt like he could share his feelings with you!

  4. Laura C September 25, 2014

    “You are not where you are by accident, but because you were called.” Such a good thing to remember on the hard days!

  5. ErinMP September 27, 2014

    I think I was shocked at what friendships I lost and what friendships I kept as I moved and then as the months go by. It has been heartbreak and comfort. Ironically not having a facebook helps–I only Skype and email so it’s always personal. As selfish as that may sound, I do not want to see what others are doing without me unless they’re “including” me by telling me personally telling me. FB made me feel disconnected even in my passport country, whereas having a personal email or Skype makes me feel more connected.

    I teach a few TCKs…I see them make friendships, and I’ve seen them cry when their accent cannot be understood, when their culture is violated in a way the offending person doesn’t understand…and their pride at being able to correct their teacher in 2nd language pronunciation (instead of being the one being corrected), and their intense need to succeed to the point of embarrassment over slight mistakes. I wonder if the pressure is higher or exacerbated by TCK. But I’ve also never met kids who have traveled, experienced, or discussed as much as these kids.


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