Connections – caring for TCK’s

 In Cambodia, Children and Youth, Featured Stories, Serving Asia Magazine, Singapore, Thailand

By Susan Murray – OMF New Zealand’s TCK Advisor

Recently I had the privilege to travel to Thailand, Singapore and Cambodia with OMF, as their TCK (Third Culture Kids) advisor for New Zealand. These are some of my reflections as I processed my experiences along the way.

At the heart of the trip, I encountered the realness that comes with connecting with people who have a heart to serve Christ and walk faithfully in his ways.  The journey of missionary families is unique to each individual or family as they work in countries that are not originally their own, but they adapt to and accept that this country is their home for the duration of God’s calling on their lives.  They face the challenges of not only needing to understand the culture and language, but also raising children who are Third Culture Kids, and the dimensions that go hand in hand with that when working as missionaries.

As new missionaries, parents see differences in culture and realise they need to adapt, but they may often find comfort and security in holding on to some of their old ‘normal’ ways of life. But they have to find a way to cope with their ‘new’ normal, so they can function as healthy human beings and do the work God has given them to do.

On the other hand, for young children their ‘normal’ is their parents ‘new’ normal which is a positive for integration there when they are young but challenging for them on returning to their passport country.  A child views themselves in the context of their parents as they start to journey through their identity forming years. But disconnection can happen when recognition is not given to understanding who they are, within their normal, and their parent’s new normal.  It is important that parents find, accept, and ‘live’ the majority of their lives in the country they work in, so everyone can live in the current situation, rather than reaching back to the past/old or into the future.

Parents need to find emotional and physical comforts, and connection in their new normal so they can start to form their new identity, so their children can find connection intertwined with their parent’s new life.

Many times the passport country connection is with significant people and places rather than the culture for a TCK child.  The normal that the children live in, has to be shared, so parents can understand the world view their children hold, rather than using their own story and assuming their children can understand and interact with the world in the same way they do.

Walking and communicating together pulls a family together. The family lives in the present, thriving, and making memories together which hold and keep everyone together as life happens.  As missionary parents it is important that the loss and grief of transition be identified and processed through to the place of acceptance, so positive change can occur within themselves and the child can see their parents functioning in a healthy emotional, physical, and spiritual way in the present place and situation.

Missionary families have many complex issues to deal with, but doing life together, being vulnerable together, within a trusting and honest relationship can bring healing and full acceptance when transitions occur.  Jesus was real to everyone He encountered, and loved the whole person, not just what was portrayed on the outside.

Our TCK’s need a place where they can be loved without judgement, to feel safe, to be vulnerable, and so trust can grow through patience and calmness. They need time for their brokenness to start to heal, so they feel whole again.  Parents are key in their healthy processing, but also the mission organisation can hold and empower a TCK to discover themselves in their new normal.  Support can be available for a TCK when needed through OMF on the field. This provides a face of someone that cares and wants the best for the children.  A family that connects on a global scale can be an anchor that keeps TCKs hopeful that life is going to be OK even after major transition.

The dilemma that occurs with many of our TCK is where they call ‘home’ when they graduate from high school, and as the family returns to their sending passport country, or if they are boarding away from one or both.  The culture they know, and the world they can function in, changes many times so it cannot be their permanent home.  There will be an overwhelming realisation that their ‘normal’ life where they lived is going to change for good, and that they will need to find a new normal in the country they will be calling home.

Many TCKs can adapt, care, and adjust themselves, but for some others they find the pain that occurs when a chapter of their life which was theirs, in most cases their whole life, has to be changed for good beyond their control.  The pressure they feel to easily slip into their passport culture/country becomes much bigger than expected, and they can feel guilty and embarrassed about those struggles.

How they feel about themselves, is different from the way others see them from the outside.  How they feel, see, value and outwork life is different for everyone, as their lives have been unique, not shared by many, and usually only totally understood by their immediate family, or other TCK’s they have connected with.

It is important that TCKs are given the freedom to explore their inner pain and joys with people that can understand, and love them for who they are, without conditions attached.  A TCK advisor can be a person that can journey alongside a TCK helping them to have a safe person to talk to, and also making sure the TCK’s perspective is healthy.

‘Connection’ is the key in making the transition from normal to new normal going both ways for parents and children as openly and honestly as possible.  The strengths that TCK have, are not describable in a just few words. However, they can also carry deep hurts, because it ties into their identity as a person, sense of belonging, purpose in life, and emotional wellbeing.

To be able to understand a TCK takes time, as they are complex human beings as they have lived within multiple cultures and languages, and developed themselves out of these platforms.  The faithful journey their parents have taken has added a richness to their lives, but it’s not the simplest or easiest to understand.

OMF started as CIM in 1865, so from the beginning missionaries have been faithful to God’s calling and walked a journey of unknown outcomes for their children.  Christ called them to love, and journey with all people, part of this was to love their children, and do the best they could to raise them to love Him.

Every missionary parent has to make difficult decisions around education, location of ministry, transition, timing, and parenting styles, but these do not guarantee a positive outcome, but through prayer and faith the family can walk forward.  Sometimes these decisions have caused much deep heart ache. Parents can stay overly concerned, and continue to question for many years, wondering if they made right decisions for their children and their future.

Being real in opening up conversations with their grown TCK children is an important part of putting the pieces back together again, and getting the correct reason and story behind the decisions that were made.  Sometimes the pain and hurt TCK carry are from an inaccurate perspective of a child, or adolescent, rather than a full pictured perspective as an adult.

Restoration and forgiveness from both parents, and a TCK may need to take place as only then healing can come.  There is always a richness involved in taking steps in the unknown and through God’s grace things can heal.  The challenge to parents and TCKs would be to encourage them to take the steps necessary to start talking about what life was like for both parents and TCK. This discussion can move things forward in a positive way, and so impact decisions, relationships, and personal wellbeing. It is important that a process takes place.

God’s call to follow Him to another country can carry many rewards, and can open up the world for TCK families but it also comes with a cost.  Loving without conditions, communicating from the heart without judgement, and being real, can bring freedom to be able to explore life the way God intended it to be.  God has given us a family to journey life with, so in this way it is important that both parents and TCK’s journey together through the high’s and low’s, making memories and living life to the full along the way.  OMF is a family away from ‘home’!


This article originally appeared in our February/March 2018 edition of Serving Asia magazine. If you would like to sign up for more great articles and testimonies, enter your details below:

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