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?