spoiler alert: There is a free ebook at the end of this post.
I’m excited about something but not because it’s profound. I’m excited because it’s simple.
Like insanely simple but I’m watching it work already.
Here’s the dilemma. I’m a parent AND an expat. If you’re not in that same boat you can imagine some of the challenges. If you are in that boat you can feel them.
You know about the internal, nagging whispers of, “am I TOTALLY screwing up my kids by doing this?” You understand the quest for solidity in a life of unending transition. You can grasp the hope for deep connections in an experience that is defined by its disconnections.
The challenges are multiple, legit and generally strike a chord with the whole boat.
But the good stuff is REALLY good.
It’s a lot to process and believe me, I do. Sometimes intentionally but I don’t have to flip an “on” switch, it’s just my reality. It’s in my face, all the time, so my opinions, my understanding, and my paradigms are always being formed and reformed whether or not I even know it is happening.
Here’s the simple thing that I’m excited about. If I am constantly processing the paradox of this life abroad — then so is the rest of my family.
There is SO MUCH GOLDEN INSIGHT about this crazy, cross-cultural life packed away just behind their eyeballs.
What energizes them?
What frustrates them?
What confuses them?
What are they most looking forward to AND most afraid of?
What excites me is that all of that is available to me just for the asking . . . if I ask.
Typically though . . . I don’t.
I say, “Hey.”
“How ya’ doin’?”
“How was your day?”
It’s kind of like digging for potatoes in a gold mine.
I like potatoes but come on . . . GOLD.
So I’m trying to figure out how to dig for that gold in my own home and I’m starting by asking questions about my global family . . . to my global family. Not profound questions — simple ones — but deeper than “how was your day?” Questions that focus on the paradox of loving at least two places. Questions that root around in the messiness of living as a family of bumbling foreigners, perpetually on the edge of significant change.
This is what I’m finding — The questions may be simple but the answers are pure and priceless.
Sometimes it’s a nugget that I never imagined was sitting right there.
Sometimes we find things we weren’t even looking for.
Sometimes there is no answer at all but the conversation itself is the rich bit.
Sometimes it’s awkward and weird and it feels like we’re trying too hard so we move on but even then, we learn something.
Regardless — It’s always better than potatoes.
I wrote down 99 questions that I want to ask my family and I’d love to share them with you so you can ask yours too.
If you’re not already on my mailing list just enter your address below to get this in ebook form (you are literally two clicks away). If you are on my email list then check your inbox.
This is the follow up to 99 Questions for Global Friends, another simple little ebook that applies the same principle to your cross-cultural relationships.
You can have that one too for zero extra clicks.
Now. Start digging.
GET 99 QUESTIONS
FOR GLOBAL FAMILIES
Quality conversation starters for families crossing cultures
If this is helpful, let me know. I love hearing global people stories.
If you know someone who might be able to use this, send this post or share it on your socials.
A little back story . . . I grew up in the largest cornfield in the world.
Illinois, (one of 50 United States), is geographically and politically broken into two distinct regions.
Chicago and corn.
You could literally travel for hours in any direction from my home and never leave the cornfield. You’ll pass through some tiny towns and an occasional “big city” (city in finger quotes) but from a bird’s eye you will always be engulfed in corn.
If you had asked younger me where I was from, I would have told you “Decatur” and likely followed that up with, “it’s the third largest city in Illinois”. I was pretty proud of that “fact” (fact in finger quotes) even though it was only true for a short bit of my formative years.
“There are 100,000 people here!”. That number blew my mind. It was also exaggerated by 5% and then 15% and then 27% as my childhood moved forward.
The stats (true or not) made me feel bigger. It was classic overcompensation especially since I didn’t technically live in Decatur.
I lived in the countryside nearby (population 212 counting cows and horses). We bought groceries in Decatur so it seemed right to say I was from there.
We played baseball in a cow pasture and used dry manure for bases. When the cows interrupted the game we would chase them away and they would leave new bases on their way out. It was a sustainable model.
Airplanes excited me. They made white lines in the sky that turned orange when the sun went down and I remember vividly standing on second base, looking up and thinking, “there are people up there . . . and they’re going somewhere.”
I wanted to go somewhere — but airplane travel would be overkill for people who never left the cornfield. I heard once that you could dig a hole to China but even with the shortcut it felt too far away.
If you had offered me a ticket to anywhere I would have chosen anywhere but Illinois.
Click here to read: The Day Grandma Got Us Kicked Out of Mexico
My daughter on the other hand . . .
only sees corn next to the steamed buns and shriveled hot dogs on a stick at the shop outside of our apartment.
If you ask her where she is from she will proudly tell you “America” but don’t let the quick answer fool you. It hasn’t come without some challenging forethought. She wasn’t born there. She doesn’t live there. She hasn’t spent most of her time there but right now . . . in this season . . . she feels like she is “from” there.
I say “fair enough”.
She lives in a big city. Like a real one with no finger quotes. I tell people there are 8 million people in Qingdao and she corrects me instantly.
“9 million Dad.”
She’s right . . . and we both feel a little bigger.
Airplanes excite her. They are the best place in the world for a movie marathon. Back to back new releases for 14 hours.
She prefers the aisle seat but if we fly to Chicago and she leans over at just the right moment she gets to see the largest cornfield in the world.
Turns out it’s a bunch of tiny squares and rectangles all smashed together. Who knew?
I don’t know what she thinks when she sees that but I look down and think, “there is probably some kid down there on second base . . . who needs to clean his shoes before he goes in the house.”
When I ask my daughter where she would like to go I try to throw out options that were unthinkable when I was her age.
I get giddy just thinking about it but she says, “meh.”
Paris on the other hand . . .
If you offered her a ticket to anywhere she would say anywhere but Asia . . . because Asia is her Illinois.
Here’s what I love about raising global kids
Our vast and dramatic differences are actually points of connection. Even though she is growing up both literally and figuratively a world away from where I did — even though we are so very different, I love those moments when it is crystal clear that we are precisely the same.
Sometimes, she thinks exactly like me — she just has a much larger playing field.
That makes me excited about her future.
Feeling different, distant or disconnected from your global kid? Take some intentional time and find your common ground. You’re probably not as different as it feels.
I fear your criticism.
I thought I would be better at this.
I sometimes feel like I’m faking it to get by.
If people knew ________ they would be SO disappointed.
I start things and never finish them.
I want you to think I look good.
I need you to think I’m smart.
I hope you think I’m funny.
I’m judging you.
I’d call it an epidemic . . . but it’s a subtle one.
Expats get pounded by perfectionism (more so than the normal-pats). That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.
I’m not a psychologist but I am a bit of an expert on this topic. It’s a part of my job to help expats get real about their issues and perfectionism comes up A LOT. Sometimes it’s an annoying stressor. Sometimes It’s debilitating. Sometimes it’s toxic. I’ve spoken with more than a thousand expats over the past seven years and . . .
I AM a perfectionist and I’m just now discovering it. It’s not pretty.
It took me so long because I’ve been busy fixing the other perfectionists AND I don’t fit my own stereotype. I’m not “type A”, over-structured, anal retentive, detail crazed, unreasonably demanding or hyper critical.
Turns out perfectionism comes in a lot of different flavors.
Here are some (there are many more)
- The Self-promoter — “If I convince you I’m amazing you won’t know the truth.”
- The Self-deprecator — “I’ll put myself down so you’ll raise me back up.”
- The Workaholic — “I’ll prove my worth by never stopping.”
- The Procrastinator — “I won’t start until I can do it right.”
- The Never Finisher — “There is always one more thing that could be better.”
- The Paralytic — “The way it should be is out of reach, so . . . I can’t move.”
- The Pleaser — “If everyone loves me, they won’t see my flaws.”
- The Hater — “If everyone hates me, I don’t have to care what they think.”
- The Dominator — “If I’m in control, you won’t know that I’m not.”
- The Toxic Defender — “If I can villainize the people around me, I can be the hero.”
- The Loner — “If I stay over here, you won’t see my flaws.”
At a root level for all perfectionists is an unspoken fear. There is an irrational drive to be something (or at least be perceived as something) that is out of reach.
Perfection is never an option but it is always calling.
The internal tension is daunting and the fear of exposure is relentless. To feel constant pressure pushing towards an unattainable goal is a draining existence.
Here’s why expats are especially at risk
The Creamy Crop Syndrome
Most expats have to pass a test to get the gig. It’s (generally) a high-functioning, motivated, well funded crowd. That’s a lot to live up to.
The Invisible Baggage
International assignments come with a clean slate. No one knows all of the stupid things you did in your past. Don’t mess that up.
The Superhero Mentality
People move abroad because they want to fix something and Superheros don’t make mistakes.
The Lone Ranger Complex
International assignments often involve heavy burdens shouldered by a handful of people. Failure would be tragic for the masses, and likely all your fault.
The Facebook Facade
Social media becomes even more significant for disconnected friends and families. However, people tend to post their best moments which creates the facade that everyone else is happy and successful — so you should be too.
The Underestimated Transition
You were a superstar back home. That’s why they wanted you so bad — but it takes time to adjust in a new world. You are never your best in transition which can create a fear of exposure.
The High Hopes of Home
Whether you feel the weight of “we believe in you, (don’t let us down)” or fear the thought of “we told you this was a bad idea (just come back)” pressures from your homeland can intensify the need to succeed.
The Revolving Door
Vulnerability takes time and trust. The constant incoming and outgoing of an expat community can put a strain on both of those.
Risks are compounded by the other risks of living abroad. Isolation. Anonymity. Distance from your traditional support structures. Grief and loss. The stress and shock of ongoing, never ending adjustment.
Cross-cultural transition is a breeding ground for insecurity. Perfectionism is a natural response.
Here’s what we can do about it.
There is something rich about the three simple words, “I’ll go first.” Step out. Take a risk. Be vulnerable. Finish the sentence, “I’m afraid that if I . . . ” Open the door for other perfectionists to own it.
Write it down
Just start writing. Don’t think. Don’t craft it. Don’t use spell check. Don’t give it to anyone. Writing is a powerful tool to make sense of senseless things.
Drag it into the light
Once people have seen your challenges, your issues and your insecurities, fear of exposure loses it’s grip.
Ask stupid questions
It’s hard to ask questions when you should already know the answers (even if you don’t). Intentionally asking questions that feel stupid breaks down the brick wall between you and learning something new.
Own it when you mess up. Creating a culture of learning when we trip not only pads the fall, it makes it enjoyable to get back up.
Know where your drive for perfection comes from. Who did you have to please as a child? What kind of perfectionist are you? What is it doing to you? What about the people around you?
Call it out
Practice the discipline of saying, “yep, there it is” when your perfectionist tendencies pop up. Then move on.
Find safe places
If you fear the consequences of vulnerability, who are the people that would never break your trust? Start there. Talk to someone.
Relationship, Relationship, Relationship
Perfectionism thrives in the shallows. You can hide, judge, please, dominate and appear perfect much more easily in a world full of surface relationships. All of that crumbles when people really know you and you really know them. Invite people into your space.
You’re not so perfect there.
Is this post about you? Do you live abroad and struggle with perfectionism?
If so, share your story. You are SO not alone.
I’ll go first.
I am paralyzed by the thought of criticism. When I write I delete 70% because it’s not perfect. I have started writing multiple books that are floating around on my hard drive,unfinished because they need to be just right. I start and stop ALL THE TIME. I love an accolade but lose sleep when I’ve offended someone. I tell jokes, which protect me, and keep me in the shallows where I’m safe.
I would prefer it if you thought I was perfect.
Spoiler alert for the young and in love . . . marriage is hard.
One more for anyone considering a life abroad. That’s hard too.
You read it here first.
My wife and I have been living both of those realities for a good, long time and to be honest we thought we were pretty solid on both. Oh we knew they were hard (we crossed those bridges ages ago) but we’ve pushed through that part. We’ve survived BOTH honeymoon phases and the crashes that followed. We’ve learned (through repeated trial and even more repeated error) how to be on different pages and stay in the same book. We’ve set up systems for everything from fighting better fights to dealing with my crazy travel schedule.
We’re good at this. That’s what we thought.
Until we found out that we’re not.
Here’s the thing — we recently discovered that our brilliant systems have been skillfully (if not consciously) crafted for the sole purpose of protecting us from the hard stuff.
We call a “time out” when things get heated to protect ourselves from saying stupid things that we don’t really mean (man, I wish we had known how to do that in our first year). We “switch modes” when Daddy travels so she can focus on home and I can focus on work (because both of those are really important).
They’re not BAD plans . . . but they’re not enough either.
Our systems protect us. They have us playing good, solid defense but the best case scenario in any ALL defensive endeavors is that you break even . . . and breaking even only happens when your defense is perfect. Ours is not.
We want more than a break even marriage AND we want more than a so-so life abroad.
So here is my Expat Husband’s Manifesto
My wife will be my first choice.
I am blessed. Super blessed. Hyper blessed. Hashtag blessed with good friends. I genuinely feel guilty sometimes when I think about the number of BFF’s that I have all over the world and I absolutely love spending time with them. They are worth every long trip and every late night.
But my wife will ALWAYS be the one that I pursue the hardest, invest the most in and sacrifice more for.
I will connect when we are disconnected.
I won’t turn our relationship off when we are apart. I won’t “check in” periodically but I will work so she knows that I have never checked out. I’ll tell her when something funny happens. I’ll let her in when I’m stressed out. I’ll text her pictures of things that remind me of her and I’ll do my dead level best with those emoji things.
If she is out of sight I will be intentional about keeping her in my mind.
I will make it real.
There are so many things in my head that rarely make it through my mouth. I will work to change that. She is so incredible. So beautiful. So smart. So creative. So fun. So many things that go unsaid and consequently never become real. I will choke the assumption that she already knows what my brain is thinking.
I will turn my best thoughts and my heartfelt intentions into tangible, touchable realities.
I will close the gap.
I travel for work. She stays home. I’m the extrovert. She’s the inny. I go places and I meet people and they become a part of my world. She has never seen those places or met those people. There is a whole part of my life that is a blurry fog to her.
We’re going to close that gap together. Not all at once and not in huge overwhelming doses but over time and as we are able I am going to take her to the far off places and connect the faces to the names.
I will get the order right.
Our marriage does not exist inside of our life abroad — or my job — or even our family. On the contrary, our lives together are the setting for all of the rest of it. The traveling, the adventures, the bumbling foreigner stories, the good things and the hard things are all side plots in a bigger story. Our story.
We could lose our visas tomorrow. “THIS THING” that we are doing could change a hundred times but we will still be doing this thing together.
I will stay on course.
We have set our trajectory towards “old and gray.” We have unanimously decided that, as we grow old, we want to do MORE of our lives together instead of less. We want to be THAT old couple who always go together.
We’re not there yet. We’re still in the crazy pace, divide and conquer, you pick up the kids and I’ll stop at the veggie shop phase of life . . . but we’re pointed in that direction. As we are able and on a consistently growing scale we are going to move towards doing more and more life together.
I will fall forward.
This would be so much better if I was already good at it. I would love it if I could just write words in a blog post and make it all true, unshakable and resolute — but we’ve been doing this long enough to know that’s not how it works.
I WILL ABSOLUTELY and UNAPOLOGETICALLY DO ALL OF THESE THINGS.
Until I don’t.
And then I’ll do them better the next day.
I love my wife and I love our life abroad.
Let’s start with a quick summary of this whole post.
This is a longer one (at least for a blog post) so let’s break it up. I’ll give you all ten questions up front and then you can work through the rest as you please.
There are lots of resources and extras below but first things first:
Here are 10 QUESTIONS THAT EVERY EXPAT (OR REPAT) PARENT SHOULD ASK ABOUT THEIR KIDS
#1. What are our ROCKS? (What stays the same when everything else changes?)
#2. What is a Third Culture Kid (TCK)?
#3. If my kid were in Star Wars who would they be? (what is their personality profile?)
#4. What is my kid’s Love Language?
#5. When my child grows up how would I like them to finish this sentence: “When I was a kid, we always . . .”
#6. Same question, only flip it around: “When I was a kid we never . . .”
#7. What pictures (that I haven’t taken yet) do I want to someday show my grandchildren?
#8. What do my kids love about their international lives? (and do they know it?)
#9. What do my kids hate about their international lives?
#10. What is our family culture?
There you go. Feel free to chew on that or move ahead. This is a great conversation to have with your family, your friends and your community.
And Here is the long form version:
Raising kids with an international twist is hard.
Scratch that. Raising kids is hard – doing it internationally just adds an extra, very specific layer with specific challenges and specific benefits. I’m actually a big fan of the whole concept.
Read When I was your age: An Expat Father’s note to his kids
I love what my kids are getting out of this experience. I love what is being built into them. I love who they are becoming . . . but I’m not an idiot. This is hard.
It’s hard for us and it’s hard for them. So as a parent I want to be in touch with the realities — the specific realities, good and bad — of who my kids are and what they are going through.
Here are ten questions that every expat (or repat) parent should ask about their kids.
NUMBER ONE: What are our rocks?
It’s a simple concept. The lives of global families are marked by change (did I hear an amen?). Packing, moving, airports, new people, new places, new languages, new foods, new friends and old friends constantly running through the revolving door of expat community.
Even when you are not the one moving, life moves around you.
Here’s the thing . . . When everything changes, something needs to NOT CHANGE.
Those are your rocks. That’s where stability comes from.
Read Rock, Paper, Scissors: Helping Kids Thrive in Transition (part 1)
Knowing what your family rocks are frees you up celebrate them, emphasize them, debrief them and critique them. Sit down with a piece of paper (an iPad if you’re under 30) and ask yourself “what are our rocks?”
What are the things that you can do, will do and do do no matter where in the world you are? (I know . . . I said do do. Grow up.)
Think in terms of:
- RELATIONSHIPS: What people will be a ongoing presence in your children’s lives regardless of time apart or distance?
- STUFF: What physical objects (toys, pictures, blankets, collections etc.) can and will travel with you no matter where you go?
- ROUTINES: What do you do daily and weekly as a family that can be reproduced anywhere in the world?
- TRADITIONS: What do you do annually that can be reproduced?
NUMBER TWO: What is a Third Culture Kid (TCK)?
I tread lightly here for two reasons. One, some of you have heard this so much you’re bored sick with it.
Fair enough — however, for many it is a brand new, mind blowing concept worth repeating.
Here’s the textbook definition (and the starting point):
“A TCK is an individual who has spent a significant portion of his/her formative years in a culture that is different from their parents.”
“A TCK builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background.”
Buy the book here: Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds
This concept (and the narrative around it) has shed light and breathed life into global families that didn’t exist 30 years ago. It has given life-changing insight to befuddled parents and hope to kids who just thought they were weird.
It is brilliant. Genius. And good.
However (and this is my second tread lightly reason) like any culture TCK’s are fair game for stereotyping. If your kid is a TCK, learn everything you can. Read the books and the blogs. Go to the seminars.
BUT — Don’t forget that they are completely unique.
In fact . . . the books will all say exactly that. You’re kid may fit into the TCK category but don’t put them in the TCK box.
NUMBER THREE: If my kid were in Star Wars who would they be?
Don’t like Star Wars? Not a problem. You have a ridiculous number of options (hold that thought).
Let me pause and make my point before I jump down this rabbit hole. You should be a student of your child’s personality. It’s what makes them pop. It’s who they are. It’s how they process the world. If being a TCK is what connects them to a group then personality is what sets them apart.
There are a billion tools to help you define and assess a personality. Pick the one you like.
If you weren’t a Psych major and you just need a place to start then go with Myers Briggs (MBTI).
You can learn about it here.
You can take the test (for yourself or your kid) here.
It’s simple, insightful and people have gone insane expanding on it which makes it crazy fun . . . oh look, a rabbit hole.
It’s one thing to know your kid is an INTP but it’s way cooler to know that makes him like YODA.
Click here to find see the Myers Brigg Star Wars Chart
Now buckle up because this is nuts:
Click here to see the Harry Potter one.
And here to see Frozen
Or other Disney women
DC heros and villains
Marvel heros and villains
The Lord of the Rings
Phineas and Ferb
Pride and Prejudice
Parks and Rec
Big Bang Theory
Fictional book characters
Christmas show characters
And I kid you NOT — click here to find out which dinosaur personality . . . dessert personality OR SHOE PERSONALITY your kid has.
Have fun with that but learn something about your kid.
NUMBER FOUR: What is my kid’s Love language?
Love Language goes one layer deeper than personality. Knowing how your kid gives and receives love is golden insight into what motivates them. It is also likely to shine the light on your most common miscommunications.
In a nutshell the Five Love Languages are
- Words of Affirmation
- Physical Touch
- Quality Time
- Acts of Service
So if you keep telling your little girl how great she is but what she really needs is a hug, you’re missing something. And if your boy keeps bringing you a bouquet of weeds it might tell you something about how to love him back.
You can learn about Love Languages here.
Take the test (for yourself or your kid) here.
Get tips on Kids ages 5-8 here.
Ages 9-12 here.
Buy the books here:
The 5 Love Languages
The 5 Love Languages of Children
The 5 Love Languages of Teenagers
NUMBER FIVE: When your child is grown, how do you want them to finish this sentence: “When I was a kid we always . . . “
There are so many directions this could go right?
. . . we always moved around.
. . . we always fought.
. . . we always ate dinner together.
. . . we always stayed connected to Grandma and Grandpa.
. . . we always tried to guess which row of the airplane we would sit in.
. . . we always ate pizza and popcorn on family night.
Memory is a funny thing. It is selective and fuzzy and at the very same time vivid and emotional. If you ask this you are answering a question that won’t even be asked for years.
What do you want to be the FIRST THING that pops into their brain when they hear this question years from now?
Once you have the answer you can be intentional about moving towards it.
Here’s a tip — If you’re not sure how to answer for your future kids, try answering for your present self first. How would YOU finish the sentence about YOUR childhood? Do you hope the same for your kids or something completely different?
NUMBER SIX: Same question only flip it around: “When I was a kid we never . . .”
. . . we never traveled for fun.
. . . we never had family dance parties.
. . . we never ate out.
. . . we never missed a family night.
. . . we never played outside.
. . . we never listened to music.
Same basic concept but you’ll learn something new if you ask it this way.
NUMBER SEVEN: What pictures (that I haven’t taken yet) do I want to show my grandkids?
Someday your grandchildren may climb up on your lap and say, “what was my mommy like?” or “tell me about daddy when he was my age.”
Pictures are powerful story tellers but lives marked by transition tend to have missing chapters. In the chaos of consistent moves and constant changes you typically end up with the highlights (portraits, birthdays, Christmas and selfies in front of major global landmarks) but . . . the real life stuff gets missed.
None of these really answers the question — what were they like?
Build your list of pictures that tell the story. Family portraits? Sure. Eiffel tower and Pyramid selfies? Absolutely.
But don’t put the camera away when they’ve painted the baby’s face or thrown a ball through the window or fell asleep in the airport or created a superhero costume out of underwear.
Get the day to day stuff, the frustrating stuff, and even the painful stuff . . . it all tells the story.
Here’s a tip: Don’t keep everything.
At the very least have a file for “keepers” that is separate from the massive, multi terabyte wasteland of “every picture ever”. It’s the paradox of living in a digital camera age.
Think about how you want to tell their story and go get the pictures to illustrate it.
(Again, if it helps to frame the question, think of it this way — What pictures do you wish you could see of your parents now?)
NUMBER EIGHT: What do my kids LOVE about this experience (and do they know it)?
I’m pretty vocal about the fact that I love raising my kids cross-culturally. There is so much to love but a fair pushback goes something like, “well that’s nice, but do THEY love it?”
I think that question is unanswerable. It only has two possible answers and both are wrong . . . “YES” or “NO”. One way everything is perfect and the other they are falling apart. Neither is the case.
Some of this life is awesome and YES they absolutely love it.
Some of it is NOT.
As a parent I can’t answer, do they love living abroad BUT I can have a pulse on what they do love.
My kids love airports. They love going home in the summer. They love it when Dad gets to drive a car. They love their international school (even though they’re not thrilled about school in general). They love having friends from all over the world. They love eating seaweed.
They love a lot of things that are unique to an international life. Stuff that I never dreamed of at their age.
Here’s the kicker . . . they don’t think it’s international . . . it’s just life.
For me the contrast is huge but for them it’s just day to day stuff. Knowing what they love helps us as parents do more of it and do it well.
NUMBER NINE: What do they HATE about this experience?
Don’t be the Happy Stamper parent (I have to fight this tendency). Some of this is hard and it is hard specifically because you are living (or have lived) internationally.
You’re a foreigner — so are they.
Know what my kids hate?
They HATE saying goodbye over and over. They hate getting stared at. They hate not having a big house with a big back yard. They hate not having roller coasters nearby. They hate not having a car.
My daughter, who is ethnically Chinese, absolutely HATES it when people expect her to speak for our family. She hates it 6 levels deeper when they make her feel stupid because she can’t.
I hate that too.
And it’s ok.
Global life is not multiple choice. It is a sliding scale. My kids can love it and hate it at the same time but I should know where they’re at.
NOT so I can fix them — so I can know them.
NUMBER TEN: What is your Family Culture?
Hands down the greatest definition of culture that I have ever heard came from a 5th grade girl.
Ready? Here it is.
“Culture is the personality of the group.”
Simple. Brilliant. She said it one time and I will remember it for the rest of my life.
Read The Best Definition of Culture I’ve Ever Heard
Every group has a personality. They have distinct characteristics that set their herd apart from the rest of the animal kingdom.
Countries do for sure. Continents too. Churches. Schools. Rock bands. Basketball teams. Chess clubs. Protesters. Gangs. All of them.
Anytime people move together in a group they take on a personality.
That is their culture and your family is no exception.
Your family has a culture.
Why not take some time to deconstruct it?
- What are your values?
- How do they show up in your actions, your clothing, your language, your relationships?
- What makes you weird?
- What makes you the greatest family on earth?
- What about your history makes you proud?
- What would you rather forget?
- How do you celebrate?
- How do you mourn?
Any question you would ask about a country — ask about yourselves. It will give you a whole new perspective.
There they are. Ten questions that we should all be asking. They are not the only ten. There are many more.
What would you add? What questions have given you a broader, better perspective? Which conversations have strengthened your family in the context of global life?
Creativity changes things. It just does.
Data stirs things up. It makes us think. Opens our eyes. Boils our blood.
But it changes nothing.
I love Statistics. Especially the cultural ones. I geek out on the numbers that peel back the layers and show me something new about myself . . . my family . . . this life abroad.
Did you know that an expat moves every 44 seconds?
I’ve met that guy . He was exhausted.
Did you know that if you raise your kids abroad you increase their likelihood of staying married, getting a college degree, speaking a foreign language and desiring to raise their own kids abroad.
You also increase their likelihood of feeling rootless, restless, homeless, and like a foreigner in their own passport country.
Google it. The data is there. Tons of it. More now than ever before.
But knowing information doesn’t change anything. It takes creativity to do that.
I get to learn a lot about TCK’s and there are two very distinct forces that drive my understanding.
One — I teach this stuff.
Two — I have some living in my home.
On the one hand it is my job to know the data, stay up on the research and communicate the concepts to parents who are living or moving abroad. What I’m discovering though, is that I can know all about TCK’s and not know my own.
Someone needs to translate the numbers into real life stuff. Practical stuff. Actionable.
Unfortunately most (not all) of the training and the seminars and the websites lean disproportionately towards reporting data and understanding theory versus practical application and creative solutions (I know mine has).
So let’s change that. Let’s soak up all the facts and figures that we can wrap our brains around and then say, “SO NOW WHAT?”
How can I balance what I KNOW with what I DO?
- If I KNOW my kids will probably feel rootless what can I DO to ground them?
- If I KNOW they’ll feel disconnected from the place I call home what can I DO to reconnect them?
- If I KNOW their lives are going to be marked by transition and change what can I DO to give them something rock solid?
- If I KNOW that they look at a world map and see real people (not just stereotypes) what can I DO to celebrate that with them? (because that’s pretty cool)
- If I KNOW that “goodbye” is always going to be a hard reality for them what can I DO to help them stay connected to their global network of great friends and great family? (because that’s pretty cool too)
- If I KNOW that they take pride in where they’ve been what can I DO when we cross the border to a brand new place that will mark that moment in their minds for the rest of their lives and remind them that borders are not boundaries?
I’ve got the answer . . . ready for it?
Here it is — start somewhere.
That’s it. Do something. One thing. Anything that goes beyond a cerebral processing of facts into a place of real connection with your kids and the things that make their lives unique. Do something that breathes life into the data.
- Have a conversation.
- Ask a question.
- Do a project.
- Write a song.
- Learn together.
- Go exploring.
- Draw a picture.
- Build a robot.
- Dance like you think you know how.
THEN — Tell someone else about it. Creativity is inspiring and frankly, those of us who get stuck in the data, could use a little inspiration.
I’ll go first (I’m actually pretty excited about this).
If you don’t know where to start but really want to connect with your kids. If you are convinced that there is something good about having a global family and want to make the most of it, sign up below and I’ll send you CREATIVE ABROAD: 10 Simple Ideas That Will Strengthen Your Global Family.
It is exactly what it sounds like. I’ve started with the data, the facts, the stats and the concepts and asked the question, “So now what?”
It’s a short little ebook and it’s FREE.
Promise me this . . . try one of them. Pick one. Doesn’t matter which — just start somewhere.
Tweak it. Customize it. Make it your own and then tell someone what you did. Inspire them.
- Comment below (I would love to hear your story).
- Share it with your friends, your team or your community.
- Post what you did on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, whatever.
- Pass this post on to someone else.
Got another idea? Great. Share that too. There is a global network of people like us who have seen the data and have good ideas.
We should talk more — because creativity changes things.
It just does.
Subscribe below and get the book for free.