I recently read an old post on the blog Peter’s Wife. It’s a blog for the wives of missionaries raising TCKs. Anyway, this old post was a guest post by grown-up TCK Kim Holland, looking back on her experience, and sharing some tips for the parents of TCKs on how to help their kids make the most of their international experience. You can read the original post here.
Kim compares the TCK experience to an impressionist painting:
My favorite artists are the Impressionist painters. They use millions of brush strokes, apparently without rhyme or reason. Up close, the painting looks like a mess of color without meaning. It is not until you back away that you see the completed masterpiece, full of subtle textures and forms, all expressions of the Master’s mind. TCK’s frequently feel like these random brush strokes, not appearing to have any connection to anything. Each event and each new move, beautiful in and of itself, seems unrelated to the whole of life. Frequently, the end result is a feeling of chronic disconnection.
She offers four tips for parents. I think these are great reflections for youth leaders working with TCKs to keep in mind. We can’t help with all of these, but it gives us an insight into some of the things our kids are struggling with.
1. Connect the brush stokes: As parents, we can help our children connect each place and experience to the previous ones. We do this by allowing children to grieve through each experience and move completely. Then they can begin accepting and appreciating the beauty of their experiences.
This is a great word picture. The individual brush strokes of an impressionist style painting can seem disjointed, unconnected, but they are part of a greater whole. Connecting this to grieving the conclusion of one experience and being open to the next one is interesting.
2. Teaching the value of diversity: I cannot emphasize enough the need for TCKs to develop strong personal bonds with nationals. Appreciation of the people from each culture and location will later allow your child to see each experience as part of their “life painting.” Encourage TCKs to experience the culture through these diverse relationships. Occasionally allow them to do this without you around. Some of the most rewarding brush strokes of the masterpiece of my own life are my relationships with national people.
I found this one of the most interesting points. I haven’t see much emphasis put on national relationships in the expat circles I’ve experienced. Sounds logical to me, but I don’t know what it looks like it practice. I’d be interested to hear other thoughts on this one.
3. Mark a point of reference: Every great painter knows that in order to keep perspective you have to go back to your center point of reference. For PWs and TCKs, the centerpoint is home. It is vitally important for TCks to label some physical place on the globe as home, regardless of how many times they move or how long they actually live in that place.
I think it’s easier for TCKs who can point to a specific place and call it “home” even if it isn’t as simple as that. Having a place they can use as the surface answer to “where are you from” (other than the longer explanation of the real TCK experience) helps.
4. Learning to step back from the painting: Depending on the developmental age and maturity of your child, stepping back to look at the entire picture may be difficult. Frequently, in casual conversations, remind your child that they are having a “unique” experience. God has created them and has a plan that only they can fulfill. Beware of over-verbalizing this point, however. If we spend so much time telling our children that they are special and unique they may consider themselves failures when they are not called to be the next Billy Graham. Instead, they should be realizing that they are part of a larger plan and be content in the part they have to play.
I happen to think each of my youth group kids IS special and unique. I can see how TCKs can feel a pressure to excel. Let’s face it, a lot of TCKs have high academic expectations placed on them already, especially those following the IB curriculum. They can easily take a lot of implicit expectations on board, too – beliefs about what exactly their parents expect from them, what “success” looks like.
Anyway, that’s some of my thoughts. I’d love to know what you think!