What I Want To Give My TCKs

I didn’t know how hard it would be to parent Third Culture Kids. I assumed that my own TCK upbringing would make it easier; I was only partially correct. While it’s true that we share common feelings and experiences, and that my kids enjoy hearing stories from my own TCKhood, I didn’t foresee the way living overseas would duplicate the pain of my youth. The grief of constant goodbyes, the temporariness of our community, the missing of friends and family back “home” – all these things deplete me.

I didn’t know I’d need to juggle my own complicated emotions at the same time as my children’s. It’s hard for me not to outlaw my own emotions, so it takes conscious effort to give my kids the time and space they need to grieve and mourn their own losses. I want to find the silver lining too soon, to rush too fast to a happy ending. It’s hard not to swoop in prematurely in an attempt to ease their pain.

So in times of emotional distress, I actually tell myself to shut up. Then I open my arms and give them space to cry. I open my ears and give them time to speak. I want to give them a safe place to express themselves and to process their own emotions. I don’t do this perfectly by any means, but it is my heart’s desire nonetheless.

There’s something else I want to give my TCKs, and that’s privacy. I’ve chosen a very public profession; my children, however, have not. They may go wherever I go and live wherever I live, but they didn’t choose to live a public life the way I did. Perhaps when they’re grown, they will. I don’t know. I only know I want to give them the luxury of choosing it for themselves.

Not too long after moving to Cambodia, I decided to keep my children’s lives and struggles offline. I pulled back from sharing things about them on social media, and I focused on telling my own stories, and not theirs, on my blog. I’m guided by my own mother’s example in this. Some of you know I struggled with an eating disorder as a teenager. I’m open about it now, but I would have been mortified if my mom had shared it publicly then, and I’m thankful for the way she protected my privacy.

I’m absolutely in love with my TCKs. They’re amazing — so amazing, in fact, that they deserve to grow up out of the public eye. They’re public enough as it is. That doesn’t mean I’ll never tell a story about homeschooling or family life, or share photos from a vacation or outing. But it does mean that, especially as they grow older and barrel towards upper elementary and middle school, I try not to post private details about their lives. It means I think carefully before sharing about them, and that in any public discourse, you’ll find me honoring them by accentuating the positive rather than the negative.

None of this means I don’t have trusted real-life people to whom I turn for prayer and parenting advice, because I do. And it doesn’t mean we don’t have a sending organization and a sending church that are checking up on us and making sure that our whole family is thriving, because we’re blessed to have both. And it most certainly doesn’t mean we don’t celebrate our children and their hilarious antics with our family and friends. Because we do! That’s one of my favorite parts of family life, in fact, and we have a private Facebook messaging group for our closest family and friends just so we can share their sweet words and funny stories across the continents.

I love these words from fellow blogger and overseas worker Lindsey Lautsbaugh: “If people want to share their good news on Facebook and bad news in person, what’s it to you? That actually sounds pretty healthy to me. ’Keeping it real’ does not need to be an occasional #hashtag. If I see only people’s success and not their struggle, failure, and fights with their kids, then I assume someone else gets the privilege of seeing those glorious moments. Someone else gets to gently say, ‘Let your children live to see another day, walls can be re-painted.’ Someone else gets to say, ‘Call the counselor, and I’ll babysit for you and your husband tonight.’ Another friend gets to challenge our tendency to hide our weaknesses and struggles.”

In saying all this, I recognize that different families do things differently. Some families may be more comfortable sharing their kids’ stories publicly – and I don’t judge that. All I want to do today is share my own personal parenting philosophy: I respect your right to feel your feelings, and I respect your right to keep those feelings private. Those are the things I want to give my TCKs.

 

What do you want to give your TCKs?

How have you balanced your private life with your public life?

How does your family deal with difficult emotions?

13 Comments

  1. M'Lynn August 17, 2015

    What do I want to give my TCKs? In the beginning, I thought this whole deal would prove to be “worth it” for my kids if they came away fluent in a second language. After I saw that was not going to work for my family, I struggled to be okay with way less than “fluent.” Now, I’m at the point where I want to give my TCKs a happy and well-balanced life…and be able to “shut up” when I need to just let them be!

    1. Elizabeth August 17, 2015

      I love the humility and flexibility you show in this comment, M’Lynn. A “continual lowering of expectations” I’ve heard it called. I’d rather call it a “continual adjustment of expectations,” because a happy and well-balanced life is no small thing for a child to receive. It is a huge gift! It’s different from language fluency, but not less than.

      And I don’t want to give too much away, but you’re touching on topics that are going to come up next month on a guest post at A Life Overseas, from an experienced mom of TCKs. I love, love, love hearing from older, more experienced moms. They have so much to offer us in the form of both comfort and guidance.

  2. Julie August 17, 2015

    I grew up with parents who wrote a newsletter about our family regularly, and to this day, sometimes hear news about myself in their newsletter…. It’s never been too much of an issue, but now in this era of over-sharing and social media, I’m glad you’re thinking through how much to share and when it is appropriate to share. Your kids will know that they can trust you with the personal details of their lives, and that is super important! Thanks for these thoughts!

    1. Elizabeth August 17, 2015

      Yeah I agree, everyone’s different when it comes to privacy issues 🙂 Though as you say, things are a bit different now than when you were growing up, and it’s trickier.

      Newsletters, if you don’t post them publicly, can actually be a good place to talk about family stuff — they’re not as public as a blog. Or even having a small, private prayer list with dedicated prayer warriors.  Lots of options here 🙂

      How the family is doing is actually really, really important, so it’s not as if we shouldn’t be having any discussions at all about our family’s well-being. It’s just that in this day of social media, as you say, we have to navigate a whole lot more than before! And there’s tons to things we CAN say about our kids that don’t betray any confidences or private struggles.

  3. Kim August 17, 2015

    What I want to give my TCKs… as we plan to move back to the US soon I hope to give them space to grieve and be honest about everything they are going through. I hope I can give them the freedom to have bad days and that they feel like they don’t have to perform around those we’re going back to. I also hope that they don’t look at the life they’ve lived for the past 5 years and see it as anything less than a blessing that will enrich their lives for years to come. And I really hope we have given them an example of courage and faithfulness that will help them thrive wherever the Lord takes them on their journey.

    1. Elizabeth August 18, 2015

      This is beautiful, Kim, space to grieve and freedom to have bad days and not have to perform for people. If you give them that, let me assure you that you have given them a great gift indeed! (And I hope you give yourself that gift too.)

      My husband and I have been working with international teens for the last 3 years, so we’ve talked with lots of TCKs, and one of the things that really impressed me was a discussion in which they answered the question, “Who is the person you have seen trust God the most in your life?” For a lot of them, it was their parents. I thought this was such a huge testimony to their parents, that when they look at their parents, they see people who TRUST. And I’m guessing your kids have seen the same thing in you, a trust and a faith that inspires.

      Many many blessings in your upcoming transition and re-entry. May you have grace for the journey, space for the mess, and love that abounds.

  4. Phyllis August 18, 2015

    Balance public and private and sharing online? Well, I asked my daughter if she minded before I wrote up a funny story about her today. 🙂 I do usually only post fun, happy things about our kids online.

    1. Elizabeth August 18, 2015

      Beautiful, Phyllis. I love that you asked her. I know she will appreciate that more and more as she grows older. 🙂 And also, cute funny things are so much safer to post, because they don’t betray private inner struggles. (My husband loves to post cute, sweet things, even though I tend not to, and that’s fine, because he still respects their privacy, asks their permission, and keeps it positive.)

      So it sounds like you already have a great approach to social media. 🙂 Thanks for weighing in!

  5. Monica F September 23, 2015

    Thanks for this- I lot for my husband and I to think about.  One of the things my husband says about parenting TCKs is, “I didn’t know my kids when I was in my 20s and heading out overseas.  They didn’t exist yet, and now they do…so, that has completely changed the way I think about living overseas as a family unit.  I want to take their hearts, personalities and dreams into account with every decision we make about our work, life, and future overseas.”  I love that about him!  He’s very protective of them and considers things about them, that I often overlook.  This post was timely!  THank you!

    1. Elizabeth September 24, 2015

      I’m so glad this came at a good time for you Monica! Your husband has a wonderful approach to raising TCKs. I’m sure you’re very thankful for him 🙂

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