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.
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.
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?
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.”
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.
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).
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.
Now buckle up because this is nuts:
Or other Disney women
Have fun with that but learn something about your kid.
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.
Buy the books here:
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.
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.
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?