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?