Talking about mothering Third Culture Kids is a bit like talking about the water in a river: it’s always in motion and no two rivers (or even two kids in the same family) are the same.
So lets throw some of the variables on the table: where you deliver, where you live, how isolated you are, how many kids you have, how close together in age they are, their personalities, how much you click with each kid, how much you butt heads with this one or that one, how old they were when you came to the field, have they known any other life but this, their own unique challenges and giftings, schooling options and needs, trauma they have experienced or been exposed to, and how much you enjoy being a mom at this phase of life.
Need to take a break? Us too! This can be overwhelming. But Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” That’s what Jesus wants for you in your mothering, rest. In your relationship with your kids, rest. In your relationship with him regarding mothering, rest. Rest, rest, rest. Today we’re going to come as body and offer our collective cries, hopes, and wisdom to one another as an act of resting together. We don’t have to carry this one all alone. The topic of mothering TCKs is big, so lets break it down and look at questions, challenges and blessings in these stages: newborn to two, 3-6, 7-13, 13-18, college age, early adulthood.
Questions, challenges, and blessings in the newborn to two-year-old stage
- If you are becoming a first time mom on the field, it’s so hard to know what “normal” is. There are many parenting camps or philosophies out there and it’s important to realize none of them are perfect. And if these philosophies (books, parenting blogs, etc.) were written by your home culture, it’s not taking into account the cultural issues you’re facing. If you’re searching for a parenting guide, read (with a grain of salt) some of all the parenting philosophies. Then think hard about you, your spouse, and your child’s personalities, beliefs, and environment. What fits YOU? What works for who you are as a family? Go with that. Drop all comparisons. Glean from others along the way, but also learn to trust your own Holy Spirit gut when it comes to your child.
- Some of the things your local host culture does with young children may seem crazy to you (and it may be). But remember that they have been raising children in their environment for generations. You may be surprised to find there is often a very good and practical reason for what they do.
- The blessing of this stage is that home is wherever mom and dad are. Yes, plane rides and jetlag are brutal, but your child’s heart is actually highly transportable right now.
Questions, challenges, and blessings in the 3 to 6-year-old stage
- People often think this age group is easily adaptable as well. But don’t underestimate the grief that transition can cause these little ones. Give them the freedom to be sad without rushing them on to the next exciting thing. Teach them the language of paradox, and help them understand what it means to be “green” (finger painting, anyone?).
- Facilitate healthy goodbyes for them. StoryKit app is a quick, simple, and free way to make your own “Goodbye book” with pictures and words to help kids visually process what is happening in their lives.
- Even at this age, kids can be either a pre or post-griever. Identifying that in ALL ages is invaluable.
- Questions of schooling come up in this age, what’s available, what’s best for your family, what’s realistic with your assignment, what’s realistic with local schools.
- Deciphering the cause of worrisome behaviors can be a challenge. Is this a developmental stage, a reaction to transition stress, something else? Find mentor moms–and don’t hesitate to consult with a professional.
- The blessings of this stage include your kids being able to participate in your host culture in their own ways, able to talk with you more about culture and themselves, and still have a strong sense that where mom and dad are is home.
Questions, challenges, and blessings in the 7 to 13-year-old stage
- Realize that what is important to them may be different than what you think is important to them. Let them help make choices in packing.
- Having connections with peers becomes more and more important as your kids age. It is during these years that questions of social media and privacy are beginning to be raised. What has helped you navigate these decisions?
- Schooling discussions are still in play, as what worked when they were younger may need to be revisited (or what worked for one kid may not work for another).
- Challenges involve questions of how much freedom to allow based on your context and helping your child know how the difference between safe and unsafe situations and people.
- Blessings at this stage involve seeing how your child’s gifting are unfolding and being used. The potential for discussion on subjects of importance continue to deepen as your child matures.
Questions, challenges, and blessings in the 13 to 18-year-old stage
- The need to connect with peers continues to grow. Time and finances may need to be invested in facilitating connections in person. If it is available in your context, you may find yourself traveling to a fall or spring retreats in your country or region.
- All of the above (schooling, grieving, social media) are still in play, with growing theological questions of suffering, racism, environmentalism and other areas of life that tug on your TCKs heart.
- Questions of college or “what’s after high school” are common in this phase with home assignments or furloughs spending some time exploring college options. The later part of this phase involves helping your child to finish well in their host country and for the double transition from your home and host country. This article is a starting point for transitioning to college.
- Blessings include an increased ability to enjoy who your child will be as an adult. Your role evolves from being on the front line of active parenting (oh my, you’re still active, but it looks very different from the early years), to more of a cheerleader/coaching role.
Questions, challenges and blessings in the college age stage
- Know that feelings of abandonment can surface even in the healthiest of scenarios.
- As the above link states so powerfully, acknowledge with your adult child that growing up as a TCK brings beauty AND scars, and that both should be embraced.
- Questions of and a sense of home begin to be in flux in ways it hasn’t been for years.
- And oh, that first goodbye for you as you return to your country of service without your TCK, repeating over and over “this is good and this is right”, learning to trust our Father in a whole new way with your children’s well-being.
- The challenge is you might be doing this from the other side of the world. Times when your child is free to video chat might not be at the most convenient times. You might experience times of feeling helpless as you hear a little something in his or her voice and long to know how your TCK is really And times of deep longing as your TCK wins the lead in the play, receives an award, kicks the winning goal, or gets their first speeding ticket, has a fall-out with a roommate, fails a test – and you aren’t there. Set aside funds to make an extra trip back or bring your TCK “home” on a break.
- Challenges also involve watching the developmentally natural (but hard to watch) disintegration of what they thought they knew about the world and God; trusting he will reintegrate it for them. This often hits around their sophomore year.
- What a blessing when you can see your child (hopefully) at holiday times! It’s also a blessing to see the one who you’ve loved from when they were little launched.
Questions, challenges and blessings in the early adulthood stage
- Depending how long you have been on the field, your child may need help navigating parts of your home culture you haven’t navigated yourself (or when you did it looked very different).
- Your child may have values, boyfriends/girlfriends, other friends, and make choices you don’t agree with or like. These are not subjects that can be widely written about because of choosing relationship with your child over sharing what a struggle it is for you. Know that you are not alone, other mothers walk this path too.
- If your adult TCK has the opportunity to revisit the culture(s) of his or her childhood, offer support in processing the joys and sorrows that will rise to the surface and may take him or her by surprise.
- By this point, they are more settled in their home culture and deciding what they want next steps of life to be. You will most likely be attending weddings of your children and their friends during this season. And it’s wild how quickly life goes because then you find …
Questions, challenges and blessings when you’re a grandma to TCKs
- You can still have a very close and special relationship with your grandchild! Grandmothering will look very different than you probably hoped or envisioned. But it can still be rich and wonderful.
- Having a grandchild is a “game changer” for many women. Give yourself permission to rethink the frequency and length of your times back in your home country to support your children and grandchildren.
- Learn all you can about what it means to be a TCK, so you understand the heart of your third-culture grandchild.
“There is no way to be a perfect mother, and a million ways to be a good one.” -Jill Churchill
We are not aiming for perfection, for only one is Perfect. We are aiming for a safe place to bring questions, offer stories and ideas, a be remaindered there are million ways to mother.
What questions, challenges, or blessings are you experiencing?
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