Thoughts on being a Third Culture Kid: Separation from Parents

by mendibpng

joe noah raclette

(above) Noah and Josiah at a family ‘raclette’ dinner–we enjoy cooking our own food at the table together. Dinnertime is one of my favorite parts of the day because all of us are together!

On ‘separation’:

this is a hard subject to talk about, and after revising a few times, I am just going to push “send” and hope that my thoughts are coherent!

I attended school with my siblings, but I left my parents for four months at a time, twice a year. I had heard my parents talk about the difficulty they experienced when they sent us away and although I knew it cognitively, I didn’t understand their pain until I began to fall apart two years ago just before sending my oldest to the hostel for his first 2 week stay. The anticipatory grief was acute, and I struggled with the fear that our son would detach emotionally from us. It helped when Ben first validated my feelings (and explained it to Josiah for me!) and then pointed out that our son’s experience is completely different from mine—he is not six years old, he goes for 2-5 weeks at a time, and lives in a home setting, rather than an institutional one. And yet, Ben points out the hard part,

It’s still really difficult and not ideal for our children to be frequently separated from us for 2-5 weeks at a time starting at age 12. We thought that sending our kids to boarding school at grade 7 was a huge improvement from grade 1. But the fact remains that even 12th graders benefit a LOT from a good reliable relationship with their parents. And how much more, 7th and 8th and 9th graders. Also, every kid is different. So it’s not a matter of picking a grade or an age and then saying that it’s going to be okay.

Yes and yes!

We talk at least weekly with Josiah, sometimes more often, by cell phone, email, Facebook or even Skype chat in our village if we want to. I think the thing I miss the most when Josiah is in the hostel is hearing about daily happenings and in particular, if he has had a hard day, I wish we could be there for him.

I remember as a six year old writing letters (at first copying them out because I couldn’t do it myself yet) home each week. Of course I knew that our hostel parents could read them, so I didn’t always tell everything about what was happening. Although I did feel free to note how many spankings I got each week!! I didn’t want to distress my parents unnecessarily so I often left out the negative things. When I wrote about the week, I would focus on the main events, rather than the nitty gritty of the daily struggles. We had to wait until school breaks to debrief properly. (Can you imagine three girls with 4 months of debriefing to cover—I am sure my parents were exhausted!)

I remember the times I missed my parents the most  was at night, when I was in bed by myself, or walking home from school in the afternoon. I can’t remember too many specific things–even when a while back I did some specific memory exercises–it was too hard to go back there. I suspect that the dorm parents (who I was very attached to) kept us fairly busy the rest of the time, which helped distract us from missing our parents. I don’t remember hearing other kids talk about it at the time, and I suspect we might have considered it ‘weakness’ if someone had said they were missing their parents or crying a lot. (I feel badly about that!) I want to say that in those early years I had loving and kind dorm parents–the kind of people I still think of with fondness…I regret that some of my TCK friends did not have this luxury. (I did experience some hardship from other dorm parents when I got older, but I am thankful that at least when I was small, I didn’t have that concern.)

It’s important to mention too that although we were separated for long periods of time, my parents wrote us letters several times a week. I remember feeling the joy of seeing a letter in my mailbox after school! And, although money was tight, my parents saved up and sold things in order to visit us once a term.  They ate very simply while we were away so that when we came home, they could take us on vacations to the beach and mountains. They did the best they could in a difficult situation and I want to honor them for that.

One of the best articles I have read on the subject of separation is “Always Saying Goodbye: Separation as Experienced by MKs in Boarding Schools,” (James B. Gould, in The Family in Mission: Understanding and Caring for those who Serve.) If you are like me and are an MK who experienced boarding school at a young age, be prepared for some painful emotions while reading it.

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2 Comments to “Thoughts on being a Third Culture Kid: Separation from Parents”

  1. brave girl. again and always!

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