Spring Awakening ~ Highlights From the FIGT 2014 Conference

My anticipation grew as the plane took off from Denver, headed to Washington Dulles airport. An early morning flight had brought me from Calgary, one on which I dozed off, trying desperately to keep my head from falling onto the unknown shoulder next to me.

Families in Global Transition Conference 2014 was about to begin. My 5th time attending and 4th time having the honour of presenting – excitement brewed within. Memories of FIGT’s past flashed across the billboard of my mind: unknown feelings at the 1st conference, quickly replaced with a sense of “at home” – an unusual feeling for an ATCK (Adult Third Culture Kid). As a professional, I have gained new learning and tools to add to my tool kit. Networking is always a favourite part of FIGT. Their move from Houston to Washington – an “I-fit-here” sense with each conferences I attended. A place where understanding, respect and open-mindedness were mutually shared through presentations and amongst relationships. A bond created from both the excitement as well as the pain of international living.

What would make FIGT 2014 unique? It didn’t take long to find out. I hadn’t stepped both feet into the lobby, when I heard my name, and there was a friend. Someone I had met at a previous FIGT. Others that were on-line acquaintances. Many this year were new to the FIGT community, which added vibrancy. It felt like a family reunion – the kind where you’re enveloped in hugs, accepted for who you are, and challenged through questions and thought provoking conversations. [Read more…]

Family – Connected In Crisis

I gaze outward, around the table
Six of us leaning in
Faces furrowed in concern
The most precious people in the world to me,
Minus one.

We’ve dropped all, ceased living ‘our’ lives
Come together
Shoulders sagged, hearts bleeding
In crisis with one missing from the circle
Knowing the sum of us will be stronger than any one of us.

Family In PrayerPanic presses in, dark
Fear’s tentacles attempt to squeeze hope dry
Eye contact made – volumes said… understood
For we have lived life deep together
Then words – prayers and plans

I look upward, light surrounds us
Protecting and providing
Hope anticipated, peace settled
Perfect Love mingled with family connection
Bonded and fast, sure as the air we breathe

A precious hour, in the depths of this crisis
Strength from above
Ignites and fuels strength from within
Embracing, we stand shoulder to shoulder
Choosing Grace to see this battle won!

The past 10 days has been crisis for my family. We took it an hour at a time (sometimes minutes), and were reminded that life as abundant means living the good and bad days, crisis and victory, sorrow and joy, failure and triumph. Victory isn’t known without crisis; or joy known without sorrow; triumph without failure. As a family, we limped and leaned on each other for what was needed.

Expat families, whether in transition or tragedy, possess great strength to forge forward and push past survival mode.

[Read more…]

COMPLETING 2013 and CREATING 2014 as a FAMILY, Guaranteeing Better Expat Family Life

New Year is a great time to build family rituals because there’s not a lot of ingrained family traditions associated with it. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Make it fun. Have your kids and teens WANT to participate by setting the mood with lighting and music, action – a dance party or banging pots and pans, and certainly add their favourite foods! When you’re done, curl up and relax with a great movie.

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Living Gratitude: An Ingredient of Resilience for Every Expatriate Family (Part 4)

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I got discouraged, teaching my kids gratitude. Why weren’t they more grateful? Did I miss something along the way? Maybe they got given too much? Had too much? Maybe not enough of this or that? Was I not modeling appreciation and gratitude like I could have?

Looking back, I saw lots of hope:

• Doin’ It Right (1st born son) was the kid who gave his shirt to a homeless Cambodian boy at age 10.
Missionary Picture• Princess (oldest daughter) wrapped her most treasured Etch a Sketch as a present for her Indonesian friend (even though I asked “are you sure?” until she finally screamed “yes and I’m not going to say it again!”). She always had the most polite “thank you”.
• La Di Da Girl (2nd daughter) was so creative, sending drawings and notes of appreciation frequently. She never saved allowance because she was forever buying gifts for others.
• And Munchie Crunchy Bar had the most endearing “please” and “thanks” – around his little finger, he had us wrapped! He loved helping, and would often say “I like it when you…” and could finish the sentence with more ideas than I could imagine.

Then came the teen years and I wondered what alien had overtaken their persona and character! Years of little behavioural or voiced gratitude. Now that 3 of 4 are grown, we’re reaping the benefits of trying to teach well. Don’t get me wrong – we failed many times. We forgot at others. We weren’t consistent and didn’t model like we could have. Yet children grow up… most often, in spite of us! Thank God! How grateful we are to have raised kids who are now adults, who live gratitude. You can too… [Read more…]

Is Your Third Culture Teen In Crisis? Help for Expat Parents Living with Teen Trauma

This is for all expatriates who are struggling as they parent a teen in trauma. It doesn’t matter that statistics quote 25% of teenagers self-harm. When it’s your teen, it becomes personal. It adds to the crisis when you live far from home culture and support systems. Professional help isn’t readily available. You feel so alone. I know, because I’ve been there. After recently reading an article in ExpatChild: http://expatchild.com/tck-problems, I reflected on my experience. What follows is compiled from journal entries – 2009-2012:

Dear son,
When you were young, I’d put a bandaid on the owie and kiss it better.
When did life become so complicated?
Now I hear the bathroom door shut and know you’re cutting with a piece of torn metal,
trying to take the inside pain away.
You’re in an abyss of darkness – far from your loving family’s reach.
Your face is expressionless; your eyes empty.

At your best, you’re sensitive and always make us laugh; 
caring and loyal; a creative thinker, with many talents – now lying dormant.
Putting Lego together comes intuitively to you.
But building the broken pieces of your identity?
No intuition comes when there’s trauma.
Only survival.

[Read more…]

The Parenting Praise Paradox: What Every Parent Needs to Know About Praise

Beaming at ‘La Di Da Girl’ (aka, our 3rd child, second daughter), I yell “Aren’t you the best soccer player!” In her second soccer season, at age 6, she has figured out how to finally disengage from twirling her hair around her finger and looking for lady bugs in the grass, to focusing on the soccer ball coming toward her! I am one proud mama! 

That was almost 20 years ago! Where does the time go? La Di Da Girl is now helping refugees adjust to life in Canada and has the goal of one day living in Africa and empowering women there. Now I encourage differently. Something like “La Di Da Girl, you are a vocal advocate for those who don’t have a voice. You’re determined and hard-working“ and “I love spending time with you.” Let me tell you why.  [Read more…]

4 Things Necessary To Raise Great TCK’s

Expat parents share one thing the globe around –as parents, our deep desire is to raise children who become responsible, self-disciplined, kind, contributing and healthy adults. Research gives us the answer for raising great kids: we know what works and what doesn’t, because it has followed families for decades. 4 ingredients for raising great third culture kids:  [Read more…]

6 Stages of Attachment – Unbreakable Connection with Your Kids

I’m nostalgic these days, reviewing the journey of parenting so far. There’s space now that 3 are launched and have landed so well. One to go! I remember when my children were tiny – I was full of love and delight, watching their every move and new discovery. As they grew a little older, they watched me, eyes full of admiration. In grade school, they came to me with their problems and we worked things out. Sometimes messy. I tried and failed and learnt along the way. Yet it seemed I could do no wrong in their eyes. Fast forward to the teen years and how things changed. They looked at me like I was an alien and I saw “you are kidding, right?” – at times disgust and disappointment darted from their eyes. They played the teen tug-of-war – wanting connection, wanting independence. And eventually it has come back full circle. Living fulfilled and contributing lives, they take initiative to contact their dad and I. They set coffee dates with us. We enjoy family togetherness whenever possible. We also reach out to them. There’s mutual respect and encouragement. My heart is full of wonder and joy! It’s what I had imagined – independent, yet interconnected with love. Full circle… full connection. [Read more…]

Communication in Crisis

We sat side by side on the couch, outwardly silent in our pain. Our inward thoughts were tumbling and turning with confused questions and chaotic fear. The shocking statement had come from one of our teens, after a recent relocation: “I don’t belong. I hate school. I want to die.” Ok. This came from The Princess, aka Drama Queen. However this wasn’t the first time she’d said it, and with grades plummeting, no friends and 8 red flags of depression waving for some time, we were more than on alert. We were moving into crisis. There were no words. One of us reached and took the other’s hand.   Communication in marriage can be challenging at the best of times. What about when you’re in crisis? When the pressure of the situation is so great, you can barely keep yourself from blowing apart (exploding?) let alone hold it together with your partner? 

Here’s some of what I’ve learnt about communication in crisis from 34 years of marriage, 4 kids, life as a global nomad and coach to many expat couples: [Read more…]

Boredom in Kids during Transition

Question from expat mom: So often when we’ve just moved… or I’m busy trying to get ready to move, my children come to me whining that they’re bored. What’s the difference between boredom and depression? What do I do with my kids’ boredom?

Answer from Becky:

Sounds like you’re hearing, “I’m bored” or “there’s nothing to do!” a lot lately! I remember these words from my children – and it didn’t matter the place – Cambodia, Indonesia, Kuwait or Canada! They came when I usually felt the most stressed!

Boredom is different than depression, though it can be one of many symptoms of depression. Children feel bored with a lack or decrease in stimulation from their environment. Or when they don’t chose to interact with their environment. It’s natural during expat transition to hear “I’m bored”. Think about it: new setting; unknowns; not a whole lot is familiar or safe; parents are busy settling in; no friends, only siblings, which is getting very “same old, same old”; they exhibit mixed feelings of excitement, then anger or sadness. As a result, there’s little inward motivation to ‘experience’, unless parents engage with them.  [Read more…]