A Very Different Christmas This Year

StockingsChristmas is a favourite family holiday and we celebrate by creating experiences together. Anticipation has always filled my December calendar, except those years when we had just relocated to a new country. Then, losses outweighed excitement. What I missed took the forefront in my soul. This year I have a very similar feeling, yet circumstances are very different. We’ve lived in the same house for years. Most everything, in fact, is the same. We’re close to family, have great friendships, amazing work and are involved in volunteer activities. The house is decorated and presents are bought.

What has changed? We made the decision to get some serious professional help for our son. A domino effect of chaotic change has resulted: He’s not with us for our holiday experiences and he won’t be home for Christmas. I miss his comings and goings. I walk into his room each day, wondering how he’s doing, longing to know what’s happening. [Read more…]

Adoption and the Expat Family – 6 Challenges Adoptive Families Face

Part 2 of a 3 Part Series

Many challenges and opportunities arise for families who desire to adopt – during the process and parenting through the years. Today we look at some of the greatest challenges. If you want to read part one of the series, it’s looking at reasons families adopt and why it’s important to understand and process the heart motivation for adopting.

A continuation of our adoption story… Our son was adopted 17 years ago next month. My worry was not knowing who to choose and I purposely stayed away from the orphanages because at that time there was much child trafficking. Friends living in Cambodia helped connect us to children who didn’t have parents. We didn’t go through an adoption agency because it was far less costly and we had connections. After meeting several children I felt I could love, I went to meet ‘Munchy Crunchy Bar’. The first time I saw him, my heart leapt. This is him. It was so clear. A deep knowing.

Becky and AaronWhen he and I arrived in Canada on December 20th, after 5 weeks away, I think he was terrified and curious, and I was exhausted and joyful! He met his 3 older siblings and dad for the first time.

The process getting to that day was challenging – one step forward, three steps back. Just when we thought we were close, Cambodia shut their borders for adoption. Discouragement had us wonder if it would ever happen. We read what we could on adoption – most on the process only. Where were others we could glean wisdom from for parenting? We were naive. Unrealistic. I wish we had been so much more prepared. Yet that week of Christmas 1997, I thought with delight “it’s over. We’re together.”

Little did we realize the journey had really just begun. [Read more…]

Adoption and the Expat Family – Motivations and Reasons for Adoption

Part 1 of a 3 Part Series

I had the honour of presenting a Kitchen Table Conversation at Families in Global Transition Conference March 2014 entitled: Adoption and the Expatriate Family and have waited until now to share some of it with you because November is National Adoption Awareness Month in many countries, including Britain, Canada, the US, Germany and Switzerland. I honour and celebrate all families who have sacrificially adopted.

A tender place is held in my heart for families that adopt. As a family resilience coach, I’ve had the privilege of working with parents as challenges arise with their adoptive child or teen. I’ve also coached families who are proactively putting into place a parenting plan, which I so admire. However, it hits closer to home even than that because we chose to adopt years ago…

The seed of awareness began to grow in my spirit when we lived in Cambodia. We saw many children on the streets, scrounging. Treated poorly they seemed without hope. Worse yet, driving through the ‘red light district’ and noticing the lifeless, hollow eyes of young girls and boys ripped a hole right through me. How could anyone treat a child or teen this way? These seeds of awareness were watered by the tears I cried for these children and the prayers I began to pray against injustice. They grew with the questions I asked and the times we helped out at orphanages. Our three children lovingly cared for those less fortunate than they. ThCambodiaey had an eye that noticed and a heart that cared. Our eldest took off his shirt and gave it to a homeless boy one day. Our daughters, after handing out oranges to families living at a hospital, saw the many children not in school, and later brought their toys to give away. We had always wanted four children. Though thankful and settled with three, might there be room in our family and hearts for another? [Read more…]

4 Strategies for Resilient Parenting in Transition

It is one thing to personally navigate the chaos in transition when living abroad, but adding parenting to the mix takes resilience to a whole different level! Sometimes downhill and backwards I’ve found! That’s where resilience resides –the DOWNHILL and BACKWARDS reverses to UPHILL and FORWARDS. There’s never resilience without first hardship and pain.

Here are some journal excerpts from a few of my dark days as a parent in cross cultural relocation transition:

“I’m in survival mode.
Living in family, yet very alone.
Can’t seem to do much right these days.
Trying to hold the pieces of me together.
But they keep falling apart.
Like the parenting piece.
I’m impatient. Angry.
Controlling or uninvolved and distant.
I want my pain to disappear. Their pain to vanish.
Instead I add pain through guilt and shame.
How am I not loving and kind, patient and understanding when we all need it the most?
How have I gotten to the place where I see my children as
a ‘problem to solve’ rather than a precious person that’s struggling, too?
God help me.”

You may feel overwhelmed with what’s happening with your kids or how you’re reacting to them in their distresses right now. Maybe they’re ok, but you’re not. You’re finding it hard to be the parent you want to be. Consider these strategies: [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…]

Navigating Uncharted Territory

I started well, leaning into the uncharted territory of 2014. Spending a week at a get-away in Radium, British Columbia I pondered, prayed and penned my intentions. Two words came for this year and they brought hope and excitement: POSSIBILITY and SAVOUR!

Now, I gaze toward the window. My focus is blurred and unseeing. I feel shaky. What will today hold? I am hesitant and uncertain. Hope wavers. I stare at the blank page before me. Time to write this blog, yet my mind is empty – crazy when usually there’s many thoughts intersecting. Never stopping. Keeping me awake at night.

What happened between paragraph one and two? A call came from the high school principal “Please come in, Mrs. Matchullis. There has been an incident.” We’re in the midst of navigating unknown territory again … this time it felt like it came out of nowhere – like stepping on a landmine (figure of speech and somewhat dramatic, somewhat not)!

Helping HandUnknown territory. It’s rigorous, because it’s uncharted. Not yet investigated or mapped out. Investigation takes risk and focus. There’s rugged mountains to climb and valleys to survey. Forests are so dense, it may take months to find a way out. There are rivers to forge. Climate can be severe and relentless. Mapping takes experimentation and perseverance. It takes time and energy to rightly mark observations and learnings. Such a metaphor for expatriate life.

[Read more…]

Sticks and Stones and Broken Marriage Bones: The Power of Words in Expatriate Marriages

‘Sticks and stones may break my bones,
but words will never harm me’. March, 1862, British Digest

I’d taunting sing this when a kid said mean words to me at the British boarding school I attended as a TCK in Malaysia. We all did. Somehow we thought it’d build a shield of protection around us. It did no such thing. I quickly learned that words can really, really hurt.

Words possess incredible power:

Our words can wound, or heal; comfort, or grieve; inspire, or intimidate.
They can build up, or tear down; clarify, or confuse; affirm, or discourage.
Words can give courage, or condemn; develop, or destroy; calm, or cause chaos.
create connection, or control.

Any frustration, overwhelm or hurt in marriage tempts us to wage war on our spouse. Sometimes it’s intended. Other times, due to a hurt frame of mind, words escape before we realize their impact. And sometimes we’re just careless or angry. In expatriate marriages, with the added strain of negative emotions through relocations and the sense of aloneness and helplessness during stressful and challenging times, keeping our words kind and loving can be difficult. Dennis and Barbara Rainey in Building Your Mate’s Self Esteem, say that words have “the power to contaminate a positive self-image or heal the spreading malignancy of a negative one.” [Read more…]

Intentional Questions To Ask Yourself…

During Relocation and/or Challenging Times

  1. Who do I want to BECOME through this experience? What am I becoming?
  2. What are my STRENGTHS and how can I build on them during this time and beyond?
  3. What/who are my SUPPORT systems? How can I utilize them in the best possible way?
  4. What are my NEEDS right now? Where do I take responsibility for them?
  5. What do I need to LET GO of? EMBACE?… in order to manage and sustain myself [Read more…]