In June, we’ll be flying on a Kodiak airplane like this one on the first of six flights which will take us from: Ukarumpa–Port Moresby–Brisbane–Melbourne–Fiji–Los Angeles–Chicago, IL. It took us (well, Ben, actually) over four weeks to figure out each leg and which flights would be the most economical for the family.
We’ve been in PNG now for 3 1/2 years, having left the country only a few times for medical reasons to the closest neighboring first world country, Australia. As I’m going about my daily tasks and ministry, I’m constantly thinking about our return to the U.S., planned for July of this year. I started writing what I thought would be a short blog post but it turned out that I needed to make it into a series because I had so much to say. So this one is dedicated to my thoughts about our TCKs (Third Culture Kids) and the transitions they will face in a few months.
(above: This is what our kids looked like a few months after we arrived in PNG in 2010). When we left the U.S., our twins were nine months old, Ellie was five, Noah was eight and Josiah was ten. Now Josiah is in high school, Noah and Ellie are in primary school, and the twins are four! Here are all of them together at Christmas this year:
I talked to my older boys about friends and relatives we want to catch up with when we reach the U.S., and one of the first things they started joking about was how people would say how much they had grown. It’s just a fact of life that if you are gone four years, your kids will look different and they will be that much less connected to All Things Related to their home country. So a great deal of my thoughts circle around how to make the transition back the U.S. a happy one for the kids, and how to help them with grieving the loss of their home and close friends for an extended period of time.
I’ve spent many hours researching homeschooling materials for the kids and thinking through logistics related to schooling on the road. Our oldest needs a program that is accredited, while we have more flexibility with the younger ones. I am not quite sure how we will keep a routine while traveling and get work done. That might be something we’ll have to scale and adjust to as we get started. We have dreams and expectations of visiting some historical sites in the U.S. and spending time in national parks as part of our homeschooling experience.
Even though we live in the bush a lot of the time here, we don’t have the opportunity to do tent camping as a family. Our plan to travel on furlough involves quite a bit of camping as this is the most economical way to visit a lot of places with our family of seven. Some of the questions we have may become clear after we’ve seen what camping looks like with five children like, “how will we make significant amounts of food while camping?” It could be a blast….or…it could be difficult. I’m just going to add that to the list of unknowns, but I’m comforted by the fact that this is our first furlough without a baby in diapers. Plus, we can always find info and ideas on the internet once we get there!
I know that we can’t physically prepare our kids for everything they experience they arrive, but we want them to have the freedom to talk to us about anything. It’s fairly common for Third Culture Kids to grieve the lack of belonging anywhere and to feel like strangers in their home country. (I know this because I am a TCK). It’s also common for them to feel antagonistic about things that they don’t understand, whether it’s cultural differences or simpler things like the lack of autonomy and freedom to be outside as much as they are used to. Incidentally, the loss and grief side feels significant this time around because Josiah has hostel brothers and sisters who will be graduating while he is gone, and he doesn’t know when he will see them again.
So what are we doing to prepare our kids?
- We’re talking with them and consulting them about our plans, so they don’t feel like everything is completely out of their control or that they are blind sided by decisions. The decision to home school, for instance, came easily for Ben and I, but we had to make sure that the kids were on board. My impression is that they are excited, even the ones who were reluctant in the beginning.
- We’re showing them pictures of friends and family they will see so that it’s not a complete shock to meet unfamiliar people (to them, not to Ben and I.)
- We’re planning to visit some of their former PNG friends/colleagues along the way so that not every single visit is a new encounter and those friends will know where we have come from.
- We’re planning on significant ‘down’ time here and there, where it’s just us so that we can relax and not worry about being on our best behavior.
- I’m planning on creating photo books for the younger kids of all of their favorite places and people here in PNG so that they have these to look at whenever they are sad and missing their home here.
- We’ll create a scrapbook of our travels for the kids to remember all the fun places we’ll visit and wonderful people we will see.
- We’re also talking about the fun food we will get to eat (grapes! cheese! Doritos! Portillos hot dogs!).
- All of us are working on a ‘bucket list’ of things we want to do while in the U.S. (we might not get to everything but it’s a good way to find out what each of us values.)
- We’re taking advantage of Wycliffe Connection, a program for our whole family, focused specifically on reentry. Some of our friends will be attending as well, which I think will make it very fun and relaxing!
- We’re planning to have significant time with both sets of grandparents to strengthen those connections.
I hope that we will be able to be an example to our kids of trusting God and ask Him for wisdom for every small and large decision. We often use our family time to pray about the decisions we need to make, and we will continue ask God to show Himself to us in supernatural ways, rejoicing when He answers, as He did last week by providing all the money at one time that we needed for our return travel to the U.S.
As with most things in life, there are no set of rules or one good checklist that works for every family. There are just too many variables and too many different personalities to navigate. It all just boils down to the fact that we can’t plan enough ourselves or rely on our own wisdom for all of it. The only solution I can clearly see is just simply laid out in verses like this:
James 1:5-8 (NLT)
If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.
What about you? If you are planning a big transition for your kids, what kinds of things are helpful/useful to do? I’d love to hear comments if you have any to share!