One of the greatest questions we face when God calls us into some type of cross-cultural work and/or international lifestyle is, “What about my kids?”
Since I am a second-generation third culture kid* (TCK) who raised three TCKs myself, I would like to share my basic assumptions on this matter.
It is not a mistake for your child to be a third culture kid. If God has called you to this life, then being a TCK is part of the way He is working out the story of your child’s life. As I reflect on my life, I am amazed at how precisely God has shaped me for every single thing He purposed for me to do through the experiences of my TCK childhood.
TCKs are normal people. It is their circumstances that are different, not their basic humanity. Like all children, they need to feel secure and cared for. They also need to have strong family roots and a sense of being significant. The same good parenting skills you would use to meet these needs in any other setting are the same ones you will need for raising TCKs.
There are no perfect formulas for raising TCKs. Since every child is unique and every situation is different, outside of God’s eternal principles, there are no rules or methods that, in themselves, can promise absolute success. Each family must seek God’s help to choose from the many options often available for such things as how and where to educate the children, when to repatriate, and so on. We must also give grace to others who make different choices than we do, realizing God Himself does not always lead people to identical conclusions.
The ultimate goal of caring for our TCKs is not to eliminate all pain but to see our children become whole persons. Obviously, we should do all we can as parents to protect our children from unnecessary pain. Learning how to do transitions well, helping them discover how to find a sense of identity despite fluctuating cultures, and so on, can help enormously in preventing needless trauma. Unfortunately, however, no matter how hard we try, in this broken world, we can never fully protect our children from all wounding.
But there is a greater gift we can give them. Once when speaking about TCKs, I encouraged the listeners that the most important thing they could do for their children was to walk closely with God themselves. In the end, I believe children will pattern what they see.
Afterwards, a woman approached me and said, “Well, your parents did that for you and you still had pain.” Taken somewhat aback, I paused before replying, “You’re right. It didn’t stop the pain, but what they showed me was how to walk through the pain rather than to be destroyed by it.”
That is the kind of wholeness we want to see for our children – a personal walk with God that is deep enough to carry them through any of life’s circumstances. For me, for my father, for my children, the TCK experience is the place where these things formed in us. I am forever grateful for the life I have known and I believe your children will be, too.
*A third culture kid is a person who accompanies his or her parents into another culture and lives outside the parental culture for a significant part of the developmental years.