Preparing our kids for furlough, planning home assignment, putting details together for that long trip home… daunting.
Daunting for our girls and daunting for us as we walk them through the blank space of yet another major transition in their young lives.
I’m not sure how to do it.
Re-entry is often proclaimed as quite difficult among expat circles. Some say that re-entry will be harder yet than anything we’ve done so far.
(you can read about re-entry here)
So, how do we walk our kids through it and prepare them a year in their passport country?
They are third culture kids now.
That means they “integrate aspects of their birth culture (the first culture) and the new
culture (the second culture), creating a unique “third culture” (you can read more here – TCKidNow).
My American born girls have lived in France, learned French, know pieces of other languages, moved to Africa, experienced West African culture, tasted new foods, attended international school with 19 other nationalities and now have friends from literally ALL across the globe.
They’ve created their own culture blend of beautiful experiences from unique places and times.
They want yassa poulet for lunch and pizza with pepperoni for dinner. They snack on dried mango or curry flavored Pringles yet ask for Kraft Mac&Cheese. They love raclette and thieb and brochette de lotte. They drink fanta and frozen bissap and vimto and boxed milk. They play with monkeys sitting on our truck and eat lunch next to crocodiles. They understand the threat of mango worms, malaria and dengue fever. They drive to school with a chauffeur and have a guard who lets them in our gate.
Yet, they still love Chick-fil-A, going to the movies, eating buffalo wings and sitting in carpeted living rooms. They miss drinking water from the tap, playing in grass and going to church in English.
They say, “Je ne care pas!” to each other or “Na nga def” to the guard at the grocery store. Franglais and Wolof all in the same day.
They’ve gone to French school and British school. They know metrics, say maths or spellings and eat family style for lunch at school each day.
Because of this complexity, I don’t always know what is going on in their hearts and minds. I can’t always tell what they are feeling about a situation or learning from what is happening around them. It isn’t always clear how they process events or understand conversations.
I am no expert in this. I’m another newbie expat mom walking my newbie TCKs through another challenging transition.
We have 50 days left of this term.
Looking at 12-13 months in America before starting another 4 years in Africa.
My girls have a new school in America to face and then a new school back in Africa just a year later.
They are saying goodbye to another set of friends they might never see again. Having their gym shirts signed by classmates, getting cards from teachers and walking out the walls of their school for the last time.
They are about to say hello to old friends that they haven’t seen in a very long time.
They are feeling all the feels of both of those major moments. They are sad and excited. Nervous and afraid. Happy and totally ready to jump on that airplane with family on the other side. Extremely sad to leave a home they love.
Feeling many of the same thoughts as this family preparing for furlough.
I’m shocked sometimes by the things they say and think. I’m humbled by their experiences and tearful at their admissions. I love their honesty and complexity and zest for life.
They are courageous, strong and beautiful, these TCKs of mine.
How do I prepare them for what is ahead?
1} Conversation – open, honest, real, gut-level conversation. Hear them out. Listen to their concerns. Value their thoughts and opinions. Take what they say seriously and truly hear the heart behind their words. When they say, “Mom, stop saying “going home”. We aren’t going home, we are leaving home.” and it tears your heart open a little bit… listen. Hear them. Talk it out. When they say, “I’ve grown up and changed, Mom. Will my old friends even like me?” and you are worried about the very same thing… listen. Share. Talk. Have the hard conversations.
10 Questions Missionary Kids Would Love to be Asked and Please Ask Me the Non-Spiritual Questions – A Life Overseas
15 Things I Want to Tell My TCK – Djibouti Jones
My Children Are Not Ms – Amy Medina
2} Look Inward – the way I’m walking through this is how they are learning to walk through this next transition. I need to remember that what I say, do, think, feel, show, and express is what they are going to see. I can have a big impact on how they react and view furlough. I can be honest with them about how I’m feeling but I also carry a responsibility to lead them in healthy ways.
5 Ways to Impact your TCKs Attitude – Taking Route
3} Say Goodbye Well – Saying goodbye is a learning process. It is uncomfortable, hard, sad and a huge part of overseas life. Help your kids say goodbye well. Make opportunities for those “last” moments. Make memories. Go out in healthy ways. Even if you are coming back to the same place. Say goodbye well because life changes quickly and drastically on the field.
7 Things I Learned About Transition by Amy Young, Rocky Re-Entry
4} Prepare Family and Friends – On this side of things, this seems crazy to me. Prepare them for what? But from the advice of those who’ve gone before us, this must be on the list and it is something we are talking through with our girls and our support system.
So, family and friends – read “24 Struggles of TCKs” – Thought Catalog
5} Treasure Family Time – We do this as a family unit here in country and have time carved out of our furlough schedule for family time as well. We have our first plans in America with family. Landing in my hometown and within 12 days, being in Jeremy’s hometown. Preparing our kids and giving them safe, happy, good places to land will really help with the big furlough transition. Reminding them of the support system who loves them and values them is key.
10 Tips for Repatriating with Dignity – The Culture Blend
6} Find Balance – I’m not sure how we’ll do this yet. Finding a balance between giving them the “normal American kid experience” while we are home and having them travel with us, visiting churches and sharing their MK life. This, for us, goes back to number 1… conversation. Let them talk this out. What do they want? What do we want as their parents? What is best for them and how do we incorporate them both into our furlough?
Mothering TCKs – Velvet Ashes
Reverse Culture Shock – Rocky Re-Entry
7} Remind Them – remind them of the why. Why are we here? What are we doing? Why do we keep living this life of transition and change? What are the benefits? The joys? The wonders? The beauty of living a TCK life? Remind them of the positives. Remind them of the call. Remind them that Jesus is with them and is using them for amazing things.
“If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” Psalm 139:8-10
10 Reasons a Missionary Needs to Be Rooted in Christ by Amy Young, A Life Overseas
8} Stay Practical – Contact their schools. What do they need to close out the old school? What does the new school need? Paperwork, testing and so on. Clothing for new seasons in your home country. Doctors appointments. The practical needs of our MKs add up quickly. Make lists. Ask family to help collect clothing or make appointments or call the school for you. Don’t let this stuff overwhelm you. Slowly but surely just do the next thing. (at least that is what I’m telling myself)
Check out this list of articles about MKs by Michele Phoenix – they are fabulously informative and helpful
9} Research and Read – I’m doing this. I’m searching the web for great resources to help our family through this transition. Finding articles, talking about them with the girls, snapping pictures of cute #mklife quotes on my phone and texting it to the girls. Reading about other expat families and their experiences helps us, grows us and reminds us that we are not alone on this wild journey of life overseas.
I’m currently working through this list about transition – Rocky Re-entry.
Third Culture Kids by David Polluck
Growing Up A Missionary Kid – Pinterest Board by Susan Evans
10} Pray for Wisdom – Parenting our kids through furlough and transition and change and goodbyes requires wisdom beyond our years and above our experience level. Helping them transition well with healthy views of their lives is a great, great task. We need God to help us. I daily pray for creativity, ideas, words, thoughts, verses and lessons to help my girls through this new season of moving back to America for a year.
There are 10 things you can be doing to prepare your families, your kids, your own heart for furlough. Browse through the websites and books listed in this post. You’ll find some amazing nuggets of truth to help and guide you in this season.
It is not easy or always fun.
This tension between the great excitement of going home and the sadness of leaving home.
What are some ways you parent through transition or another move overseas? How do you prepare your family for furlough?