Friday, September 9, 2016

Raising Kids With Forbidden Roots

If my roots are forbidden, then what happens to my kids?

My kids are indeed TCKs (third-culture kids), but not in the usual sense.  They are Tanzanian by birth, being raised in Tanzania by Americans.  They have two passports, are spending their childhood in their birth country but will most likely one day live in their parents' country.  If that sounds confusing, trying explaining it to your kids.

My children have never been allowed to live one life.  There is always a whole other universe lurking behind everything we do.  When they were little and were able to just go along with everywhere we yanked them, it wasn't really a big deal.  But they are older now, growing into lives of their own, and I'm finding myself trying to help them figure out their two worlds.  I don't usually feel very successful.

Have you ever thought about when would be a "good" time to just leave everything behind from your life and go visit another country for four months?  Your job, your house, your church, your car, your everything.  That's what it's like for missionaries to go on home assignment.  And now that our kids are getting older?  Even more complicated.

We need to go on a home assignment this year.  We would have loved to do it this past summer, but Johnny's adoption was not yet finalized.   So that means it will happen sometime this school year, depending on when we can get Johnny's passport.  I had to sit down with Grace recently and talk to her about this.  Of course, she loves visiting the States.  But I had to tell her that this year, that will mean she will miss out on some important events in fifth grade.  She might miss the week-long rainforest trip, or she might miss her elementary school graduation.  She might miss the end of soccer season or the entirety of track season.  I could see her face fall as we talked about this.  As much as she wants to see her grandparents, it's hard for her to accept the loss of something significant in exchange.  But this is the reality of the life we have given our children.  That other universe will be constantly interrupting her life.

"Most TCKs go through more grief experiences by the time they are twenty than monocultural individuals do in a lifetime."  (David Pollock)

I grew up that way.  I flip-flopped between a typical suburban childhood on a cul-de-sac in California with a manicured lawn and a BMX bike, to a life on a tropical beach in Liberia, West Africa, where I walked through the forest to school and rode a canoe in the lagoon.  I knew two lives, two universes with different sets of routines and rules and cultures that I learned to navigate.  Two places where I put down roots that kept being yanked up.

Maybe that's why it scares me to find myself unconsciously putting down roots again.  Maybe that's why it's even harder to know that I am deliberately doing the same thing to my own children.  Will they figure out how to live in these two worlds?  Will they know who they are?  Will the joy out-weigh the grief?

It worked for me.  Which is why I was happy to choose this two-world life for my children.  I just never realized how difficult it would be to walk with them through it.

"We know goodbyes in a way we wish we didn’t, and we struggle to articulate grief and loss.  Yet in the next breath we speak of how we wouldn’t give up the lives we’ve had for anything." (Marilyn Gardner)

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