Furlough Fever: TCK thoughts

by mendibpng

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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.
5kids1stBirthday sm
(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:
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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!

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12 Comments to “Furlough Fever: TCK thoughts”

  1. When we first left Michigan for our assignment in Texas–which is a different country, just ask the Texans–we taught our kids the promise Jesus gave that anything we give up for him will be given back many times over. Don’t know if that’s quite applicable in your case, but it helped us.

  2. Ben and Mandy, You are doing such a good job of preparing the children for the changes coming.
    We salute you! It is wonderful that you have intentionality about it. We love the idea of making a little photo book of their friends and loved ones in PNG, so that they have that comfort to refer to along the way. I can just picture the kids loving the outside adventures of camping, too. You are so right that we can plan, but there is no way that we can anticipate everything perfectly. The verses and prayers generated from James 1:5-8 will carry you all. It is God’s promise whenever we step with Him into the unknown. Sending our love and praying for you all, (The Florida) Mom & Dad. 🙂

  3. Hi Mandy,
    Don’t know if you realized that we live near Yosemite National Park and the Giant Sequoia National Monument? Both are about 1 – 1/12 hours from our house, but Fresno is the biggest city near either one. You would be welcome to stay with us anytime, if either of these places were on your list! Plus, we have two giant tents 🙂 Also, will you have a lay over in LA? It would be so great to see you in person!

  4. We moved to Japan when my twins were 7 months old and our older son was 8. Four years later we moved to Germany, with a month off in between to visit family in the United States. We did some of the things you talked about, but since we weren’t going back we didn’t worry too much about keeping memories of people there. The main thing we did was talk a LOT about what to expect, like you are doing, and in front of the kids we tried to always be upbeat and positive (especially after we arrived at our new home, hard as it was sometimes). Almost everyone we visited in the U.S. were family, but it was pretty overwhelming for them!! They did ok. We packed very carefully to ensure we had some very loved and favorite things with us in the carry-on bags and the suitcases. That helped too. 🙂 Clothing can be shipped or bought later, but those special familiar things are important, especially for the little ones. It wasn’t easy, but kids are resilient and stronger than most people give them credit for. And yes, it was a great relief for my our 12yo that we were planning to continue Homeschooling. Interestingly, another constant for him was AWANA. Even with all the moves, he attended AWANA clubss every single year from 3 years old through 12th grade!! The program was like a “home church” for him! If you have a club or something like that which your kids might be able to keep up with, that might help them feel a little less out of place too.

    • thanks Patti for your thoughts. We don’t have anything like AWANA but we have a great home church that we return to every furlough–I’ve already contacted the youth pastors to find out important dates (like retreats) for the kids to plug in. They can also be in a small group. Yes, I agree, it’s great to have familiar objects especially beloved stuffed animals. We usually let the kids bring what they want in their backpacks (within reason: we have been known to remove rocks and marbles!!) thanks again for commenting!

  5. It sounds like you are doing a great job preparing your family! If you pass through Cincinnati and need a place to stay let me know. Praying for a smooth transition!

  6. Mandy, my husband Mike and I (and our two kids) were in Ukarumpa this past September, and we got to know Josiah a bit while speaking at Encounter. As MK caregivers and adult TCKs ourselves, we are always so encouraged to see families thinking ahead to how to help their kids weather transitions. I’m glad you’re planning to attend the Wycliffe Connection; it’s a great program! We’ll be leading the program for the teens, so we’ll see you there! Blessings to you and your family.

    • Thank you Beth! I know that you were a blessing to everybody here when you came, and we look forward to connecting with you when we go to Wycliffe Connection!! Thanks for the encouragement, too. I am glad that you can appreciate M.K. issues!! thanks!!

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