Everyone needs to feel they belong. As we all know, moving from our home culture and living in another can make it hard for our kids to know where home is. It takes some planning and effort to give our Third Culture Kids(TCKs) a sense of belonging. If you are raising your kids on the field now, these tips will be especially helpful. If you have friends raising TCKs, you can be ready to lend a hand in helping them grow strong roots in a foreign land.
Our article this month was written by Ruth Van Reken. Ruth shares from her own experience as a second generation MK and as a mother to three MKs. Her writing on this subject was included in Global Mission Handbook by Steve Hoke and Bill Taylor.
How do you help TCKs send down deep roots wherever they are living? Here are some practical gardening tips.
Build Strong Ties with Your Nuclear Family
This is a group that will stick together, no matter how many times friends change. Some ways to do this include the following:
- Set aside at least one time each week when you close out the rest of the world and do something as your own particular family. This might be a weekly outing, table games together one evening a week or some other activity the family enjoys. Get away from your station, or work, if there will be too many interruptions. Make it a regular part of your schedule.
- Travel to key spots in your host country that you all want to visit. Whether it’s climbing Mount Fuji in Japan or Mount Kenya in Kenya, seeing Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe or Iguassu Falls in Brazil, memories built in the garden spots will last a lifetime. Families should pretend they’re tourists once or twice a year and plan trips just to see the sights.
- When you travel back and forth to your host and home countries, get off the plane in Europe, or wherever, and find a place to stay and tour together as a family. This builds family memories and history uniquely yours.
- Make family traditions that can be replicated no matter which country you are in. Be creative with how you celebrate holidays. These can be as simple as giving each family member the chance to pick the menu for his or her birthday supper every year or as complicated as making a pinata stuffed with candy for a particular holiday once a year.
Build Strong Ties with Your Community
Your kids may grow up far from blood relatives, but God will send you aunts, uncles and grandparents where you are. There are always some around that particularly fit in with your family somehow. Foster these relationships so your children have the experience of growing up in a close community, even if you’re far from relatives. This is also an important way for singles to be incorporated into the family structures of the mission and also to have their great gifts benefit your children enormously.
Build Strong Ties with Your Extended Family
Relationships with relatives back home need to be fostered also. If possible, bring grandparents, aunts, uncles or cousins to visit you in your host country. If not, maintain contact through letters, email, phone calls, social networking forums, and pictures. This closeness is especially important when TCKs repatriate while parents continue living overseas.
Give Gifts that Reflect the Country You are in or Places You have Traveled
These “sacred objects” eventually become the MK’s walking history that she or he can cart around the world in all future years. It helps to connect all the places and experiences of life. Creative adaptations will free you from the guilt of not buying your kids the latest toy-of-the week in the States. They’ll thank you for it.
Stay in the Same Area, Even House, Each Furlough
It is important for children to have a sense that there is at least one physical place that is home, even if they travel a lot. Maybe it is Grandma’s house or a house you buy and keep for furloughs. Hopefully you’ll go to the same church each furlough, too. (One hint: As your kids get older, don’t necessarily drag them with you to visit every church. At some point the churches have to understand, and your child may be much happier staying with Grandma and going to his or her own Sunday school class while you go off and do your thing.)
Basically, Have Fun
Expect God to be faithful to you and your family. Enjoy the kids he’s given and the huge world to explore together. Don’t ever let the pressure of busyness and the shortsightedness of stick-in-the-mud families steal the exuberant joy of your family.
Ruth has lots more information for Families in Global Transition at: www.crossculturalkid.org
Global Mission Handbook- a guide for cross-cultural service is published by IVP Press, 2009. It is a must-read for those considering cross-cultural service.