6 Tips For Launching A High School Grad – For Expat Parents

Are you living internationally and have a son or daughter off to university, or taking a gap year? This is a normal life stage but has extra weight for the expatriate family.

PraiseHigh school grad is a cycle of mixed emotions – pride, fear, joy, dread, pride… You see your child going through similar emotions as the life they know ends. All that’s familiar is no longer, except the memories held in their hearts and the belongings stuffed in their suitcase.

One of the things that makes it harder for expat parents is hearing just how hard it is for our TCK’s as they adjust back in their passport culture. The experts use words like “excruciating, difficult, profound losses…”

Their journey is a double adjustment – the transition to living life as an independent adult AND adjusting to the ‘new culture’ of their passport country. There’s a season (often long and twisted) of grief, as they experience loss. There’s also excitement as they live new opportunities. A simple question “Where are you from?” can send them into a mind muddled panic! There’s a sense of not fitting in. Feeling like a foreigner. This is all a part of their journey.

The fear we feel as their parents grips our hearts and keeps us awake at night. It’s very real. How can we contribute to their success?

6 Tips for Making the High School to University Transition Successful

1. Set up support systems. As a parent, planning ahead and connecting them with resources they need is crucial. Begin this process early in grade 12. Get them involved – the more they take ownership, the more they’ll continue on their own. Some ideas:

– Read “The Global Nomad’s Guide to University” by Tina Quick. An excellent resource with much information. This will give you shared understanding and language to continue talking when apart.
– Plan for them to spend the summer in their passport country. Getting a job, driver’s license, set up a routine and meeting people will help adaptation prior to their leaving for university.
– Send them to a TCK re-entry camp. What could be better than spending time with other TCK’s learning and preparing for what’s ahead?

o In the US: Barnabas; Interaction International; Narramore Christian Foundation; Godspeed Resources Connection
o Canada: Reboot RebootI teach each summer at Reboot!
o Sweden: MBT
o The UK: Reconnect for Teens

– Other resources:

o Daraja in the US, offers bridge semesters to help the transition across cultures from high school through college.
o Sea Change Mentoring helps guide international teens and young adults in developing into happy and successful adults through mentoring.

2. Speak words from your heart. Parting words of love are best said before the good-byes at the airport.

– Trust your heart. Each of you will want to say different things. Don’t regret not saying them. Be intentional. Some important words are:

Speak The Words of Your Hearto “You don’t have to be strong for us”. As a TCK I felt I needed to be strong for my parents and thus didn’t deal with the grief I felt. I’ve seen this often with the TCK’s I coach.
o “This transition probably won’t be easy. We aren’t going to pretend and you don’t need to either.”
o “Do your best. You’ll make mistakes. That doesn’t mean you’re a mistake. That’s how you learn. We’ll be here no matter what.”
o “Your experiences are what make you different. There is nothing wrong with you and no, you aren’t a misfit.”

– Have a family celebration of affirmation and encouragement – one way to make meaningful memory.
– Be authentic at the airport and keep things light. This scene will be with etched in your mind until you see each other again.

3. Give ongoing support once they are at university.

– Encourage their search for other TCK’s – international students, foreign students, exchange students. They will have a sense of belonging with these who have a similar background. If there’s an “international student orientation” suggest they attend. Mukappa is a support group on US campuses for TCK’s.
– Connect them with a school counselor and if the counselor doesn’t have experience with TCK’s, give them the book “Belonging Everywhere and Nowhere” by Lois Bushong.
– Allow them to lead the relationship, including conversations. Be curious with a few questions rather than exhausting them with too many. Hear stories, not just lists of tasks. Instill laughter! Cut the conversation gently if fear begins to overwhelm you.
– Don’t take silence personally. They have much to adjust to and need to be fully present to their lives, rather than having to meet your expectations. It’s easy as parents to assume things aren’t going well when silence happens. It likely means they are making friends and trying to figure it all out. Connecting around time zones can be a challenge. Texts are a good way to communicate.

4. Redefine your relationship. The relationship will be different now that they don’t live under your roof and you don’t have shared experiences.

Mother and Daughter– Shift skills of parenting to “coach mentorship” (this is already done during the teen years). DON’T MANAGE. Wait for them to ask for your opinion. Be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to frustration or fear.
– Love well, especially during the times you feel disappointed in the choices your child makes. Use words and actions to send the message “There is nothing you can do to make me love you more, and nothing you can do to make me love you less.”
– If you sense they’re struggling, respond in love, don’t react with trying to fix things. Hear their heart. Share your own university stories to relate. Pray with them. Ask them what one thing they can do to help themselves and one resource person they can reach out to. Allow them to feel the natural consequences of their choices, however hard it is.
– Affirm and encourage. The Greek word for encourage means “instill courage”. That’s what your kid needs from you now more than ever!

5. Don’t forget the siblings. This transition is a family affair and each goes through a stage of loss and grief as the relationship becomes long distance.

Siblings– Allow siblings to connect. Prep them as to what can be asked and shared from their lives ahead of time, especially if they are younger. At times they won’t feel like connecting – best to leave it be and try again another time.
– Be attentive to feelings, listening, validating and giving space for whatever comes.
– Think of ways to keep ‘alive’ the child who has left by speaking of them, imagining what they are doing and remembering fond times together.

6. Take care of yourself

– Don’t let your junk spill into their junk! If you’re a TCK, your issues will likely come to the surface. Deeper healing for you as you attend to you.
– Choose perspectives that empower.
– Don’t build monuments to your grief or fear. Have a plan for these emotions.
– Give yourself, your kid and God credit. You’ve spent years building into your child’s life – and have taught them through your example. So much of what you taught will now be given the chance to be applied and lived out. Your young adult is capable – look for surprises along the way. Trust. Touché to all!

Keep your eye on the long term, knowing that time will produce a harvest for what you’ve sowed in the life of your global nomad! Supporting you to live from strength as a family as you make this challenging transition,

Becky Signature 2 (Matchullis-PC's conflicted copy 2014-11-13)

 

 

P.S – What do you have to add to this? Leave a comment below.

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…]

Spring Clean Your Family Relationships

This year my last-to-launch 17 yr. old son is taking charge of spring cleaning his own room. Being rather OCD on the whole spring clean thing, over the years I’ve had a list breaking down every aspect of room cleaning for my kids. We’ve made it fun and spread it out. They enjoyed it (or gave me that impression!) Not this year. My son doesn’t know where to start. He’s overwhelmed. It’s been a killer on me! How many times have I reached for the duct tape so as not to say what I’m thinking? After some coaching as to where to start and 3 weeks later, only the closet is done. Everything in me wants to march in there and just do it. It would take a 5th the emotional anguish and a 10th the physical time. But that’s not my goal.

I realized one day as I walked by his door, trying hard not to look in, yet catching a glimpse of already-messed-up closet and nothing done on the rest of the room: This is how it can be in family relationships – we want to “do it” (fix, get rid of, try to change) for the others. In reality, we’re responsible for ourselves and need to look at how we can parent from a place of calm rather than clutter.
What can be done in family relationships to add renewal and get rid of the dust bunnies? [Read more…]

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…]

6 Steps to Exchange Panic with Peace in Your Expatriate Experiences

I woke refreshed and energized, having had a night of uninterrupted sleep – a rarity at this stage in my womanhood!  Life was good! Walking downstairs, I saw my husband sitting in the overstuffed leather chair, face in hands, leaning forward.

“Good morning” I said cheerfully. He looked up, brow and forehead furrowed in concern. “Munchy Crunchy Bar (endearing name of child #4, teen-age son) didn’t come home last night”. We aren’t talking ”sleep over”. Our attempts to text him home from 9 p.m. on, as it was a school night, went unnoticed. I went to bed at 11. He cut off contact with his dad around midnight. He was out with less than desirable people (our judgement). This is our child with a history of trauma.

My heart went from 72 beats a minute to 140 pounding beats in less than a minute. Mind racing, I pictured all the worse of places he could be and all the things that could be happening to him. My head felt like it would explode. My stomach was a twisted tangle of knotted anxiety. My throat tight. I was in the grip of fear! You’ve been in this place too.  To deal with panic: [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…]