|My kids with their Turkish abla, 2010|
I still remember the circumcision party of my neighbor’s boy. My son followed all his buddies into the boy’s bedroom, and suddenly the door shut. I realized the circumcision was about to happen behind that closed door, and without making a scene in front of our whole neighborhood, there was no way to get my son out! I thought that was a pretty big step of independence for a 5 year old. Just the other day my 13 year old daughter rode the bus downtown by herself for the first time. Growing up always involves bigger and bigger steps to independence, but somehow that journey seems a bit more perilous when you’re overseas.
Third Culture Kids are foreigners in the host country where they grow up, but sometimes they don’t feel quite at home in their parent’s country either. My daughter says, “Turkish kids don’t exactly understand me, but the kids back home don’t understand me either.”
Here are some principles I'm learning to help my kids thrive:
Pray for them
This is the most important thing you can do. Only God’s grace will keep them. God can turn a challenging situation into a positive one!
Cultivate a relationship with them.
Many TCK’s feel a bit isolated, so it’s doubly important to foster strong family ties. Talk with them about what interests them. Spend time with them. My daughter is home a lot, and her Turkish friends are busy studying after school, so I take her along to many places I go: to the store, on errands, to visit people. It gets her out of the house, and in the process, our relationship is deepening.
Invest effort into opportunities for them
Since my kids are home schooled, my husband and I place a high priority in making sure they’re involved in extra-curricular activities outside the home. This means time and money! We’ve also spent many an hour chauffeuring our kids across town and inviting their friends to our home so they can get together with peers.
Resist the urge to overprotect them. Kick them out the door if you need to so that they can develop relationships with national friends. In our city it is reasonably safe for teenagers to ride the bus, so last week, I gulped hard and pushed my 13 year old girl out the door to ride the bus downtown and find a restaurant where she was meeting friends. She came back ecstatic that she’d found it by herself. (If I still lived in El Salvador, I would not do this because the security issues are different.)
Take advantage of unique opportunities
Rather than bemoaning what my kids are missing out on at they grow up here, I want to maximize the opportunities they have. Both of my kids are fluent Turkish speakers. I want to encourage my 15 year old to start a tutoring business to help kids learning English. He helps run the sound system and participates in worship at our fellowship. My daughter has a heart to share the message with locals. These are opportunities they might not having growing up back in America.