When Your TCK Grieves, You Do Too
This morning I opened email as usual, but one particular message made me pause, and out of nowhere I suddenly felt a knot in my throat and then the tears started to spill. And this was before I even opened it.
There was nothing significant in the email, in fact, it wasn’t even intended for me. It was what it symbolized: the deep sense of loss inside of me lately as we sit smack dab in the middle of a million unknowns. It was an email from our boys’ old school in Delhi informing them of the adventure camp coming up. The adventure camp that my eldest loved and has such wonderful memories and stories to tell from every time he went. The camp that challenged me in hard ways to let go a little and let them explore their world as they took buses out of Delhi and around mountains.
The emotions tied to the email hit me hard. Harder than I would have expected. Because the absolute worst part of the move back to the US has been what my older boys left behind. Hands down. This has been gut-gnawing and painful in so many ways. I have grieved for our children and their losses; I have grieved for the friends they left behind who were so close to my boys because their friendship had grown over the five years we were there. I have grieved for the lack of community now and how they are trying to understand this new place and make peace with the fact that most people do not give a rip about their old lives or understand what they are going through as not only the new kids in school, but new kids to the culture.
And when I see grief in their eyes too when they come home and tell me things, I grieve all over again. And I start to wonder if there is any end to this grief for them as TCKs (Third Culture Kids), for us. And the answer is no, most likely not. A lessening, yes as time goes by and new relationships are made, but an end, I imagine not.
I’m going through some books to help me process all the things in my head, but they aren’t. So how do I help these kids of mine process and move through this time of grief and loss in a healthy way? I’ve been thinking about it since we arrived and here are a few simple things I’m keeping in mind as we work through our emotions during this transition from Delhi to the US.
- Allow space for the negative emotions to come out, but circle back around to get to the heart of the issue. This means listening first, before reacting to whatever anger, frustration, disappointment is being expressed. Remembering that change and transition is harder for some personalities than others. I’ve definitely seen this with me and my husband and as it relates to our five children. One of our children responds just like I do to change: Everything is terrible. Letting him express his feelings, but then coming around again to the truth that while change is hard/painful, the world is not falling apart and there is still plenty to be grateful for. And there is nothing quite like seeing yourself in your children to help you make changes in your own behavior as well 🙂
- Acknowledge my own struggles with this time and be honest with them. I have always tried to be transparent with our kids about many of my struggles. I grew up thinking that parents were supposed to be super-human and perfect. That, I am definitely not. And I don’t want them to think that they are alone in feeling displaced/lonely/frustrated/in culture shock… etc. I try to remind them we are all in process and none of us know exactly the perfect way to work through everything we are going through. There is grace to be given in every situation.
- Grab onto a couple of traditions, dishes, and holidays that were import to us there so the loss doesn’t feel complete. There are a few holidays and dishes we truly loved and I don’t want everything we loved about India to simply fade away because we are back in the US. This means I need to find my local Indian market and fire up the pressure cooker for some dal tadka, subzi and chapati, even if it doesn’t exactly taste like Ruma’s and the chapati look more like Australia than a circle. And over time maybe we will be able to make new Indian friends here and celebrate some of their most important days along with them.
- Point them back to the One that loves them more than we do. This part is one that I hope I handle well because missing the mark could have longterm effects on their relationships with the Lord. My hope is that they will see that their lives are in the loving hands of their Heavenly Father. That they would know he cares for them and He knows that this is hard. That it was His leading that brought us to and out of India. And that He has a plan for all their lives and can be trusted– not to give them all that they want or ask, but to give them exactly what they need. This is best communicated by the life that I live and the relationship I have with the Lord and the trust I display right now, even when I’m also struggling to understand so many things about the present.
From what I hear from others and have read about Third Culture Kids, I know for our oldest three, India will always be with them as part of their identity, one of them may even decide to move back there someday. This makes me smile. I certainly expect our family to be a global family, which means plenty of interesting places to vacation once we are empty-nesters.
TCKs are special people. They have a wider view of the world and are more likely to empathize with people who feel displaced or are on the fringes. When you live it, you get it. And there is certainly, for me, that deep sense of gratefulness that they have this view, but along with that comes grief at times because I know they want to appear normal and fit in with peers wherever they are– and that takes time and effort. But, I firmly believe they can have an impact and succeed wherever they are if they have a good support system and parents who are willing and able to be present and share their grief during the time of transition.