Thursday, February 14, 2013

Five Ways to Help Kids Growing Up Overseas

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.

Foster independence

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.

What has worked for you as you seek to encourage your third culture kids? 


Creatively Content said...

Olive, I feel like I could have written a good portion of this post. Intentional is the word I think of when it comes to helping my kids stay stay connected to their host culture. I would say the hardest thing is Fostering independence! Thanks for your great thoughtful posts I enjoy them. Enjoy your day!

Christie said...

Hi, Olive! Great post! I wrote a post along these same lines to show up next week on MMC... good to know we aren't the only ones dealing with this, and that we're thinking along the same lines. Must be onto SOMETHING! Kudos for putting your daughter on the bus. :)

Choate Family said...

Thanks for the great suggestions! I encourage our kids to go out and play in the village when their school work is finished, but I also encourage them to build relationships with other third culture kids who understand their feelings.

us5 said...

our kids feel very comfortable with a group of 3rd culture kids in our community, but i'm having to 'kick them out the door' to take steps of independence outside their comfort zone...i.e. encouraging our girls to take a taxi without us, or our son to walk to friend's houses in the same area of town. i pray for lots of wisdom... ;)

OliveTree said...

It's interesting how independence is a common thread in several of these comments.

I agree, Barbara, wisdom is needed! I pray for that myself. In general I feel safe here, but being a believer has some risks. On the other hand I don't want my kids growing up afraid...

And Becky, I like your word "intentional," especially with regards to developing relationships with those back home.