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.

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 – 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…]

8 Tips to Spring Clean Your Marriage

Are you a spring cleaner? You may be living in an area of the world that doesn’t have ‘spring’, yet find yourself going through the physical motions of cleaning closets (or wardrobes, depending on where you live), cupboards, dressers and drawers. Spring clean is synonymous with ‘deep clean’ and many of us grew up with this tradition. Whether joy or drudgery, it’s now a practise. Now that I’m almost through spring cleaning this year (I do it a little at a time), I feel energized.
Spring cleaning isn’t just for the house. As a time of renewal, growth and possibilities, it’s the perfect season to assess your marriage relationship and bring in some fresh energy. [Read more…]

Soul Retreat: Living From Your Truth

I had a stunning view of the Rocky Mountains in front of me and the river meandering along a stony bed below, sitting in a Muskoka chair high on the ridge. The sun gave the large popcorn-shaped clouds above me a bronze ruffled-edged glow. The mountains were snow peaked, rugged and immovable.

This was my reality last weekend, out with some girlfriends away from Calgary to find soul rest. We were at Kingfold Retreat Centre. Time tends to consume me with its responsibilities and demands, pressures and challenges, moving me along the river of life at a frantic and tumbling, turbulent pace. I find I’m weary and longing for rest. Spiritual and soul renewal. I have learnt to take time; to swim, often it seems, upstream, to the river’s edge. This is where the water is less frantic, cool and calm. An ebb of peace and quiet. At first it feels foreign – lots of ‘what if’s’ and some fear that I won’t come away with what I expect. In the end, it’s what I need.

The quality of our outer life is always dependent on the quality of care we give to our soul.

[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…]

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…]

Living Gratitude: An Ingredient of Resilience for Every Expatriate Family (Part 3)

Couple relationships are richer when we express our gratitude to and for each other. Research done by Robert Emmons, Couple walking hand in hand(READ HERE), took three groups of volunteers and randomly assigned them to focus on different things each week over many months. The first group focused on everything that went wrong, like “This place is so irritating, I couldn’t get done half of my to-do list because it took 5 times longer than what I’m used to”. The second looked for situations they felt enhanced their lives, like “even though I didn’t get too far today, I’m so thankful I was able to get us hooked up with cell phones”. The third just recalled daily events, such as “I went to three different places, trying to find cell phones and it took all day.” The results: those who were grateful enjoyed a higher quality of life and a deeper connection with their partners. According to a study recently published in “The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,” by Dr. Amie Gordon, couples who express gratitude reported being more committed and saw an improvement in their sex lives. Now that’s always a wonderful bonus!

Why is it so hard for us to practice an attitude of gratitude, especially in our marriages? One reason may be that scientists have found that the brain has a negativity bias, written about in Sticks and Stones and Broken Marriage Bones. We tend to have Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones – we dismiss the positive aspects of our marriages while vividly remembering the negative ones. That means we need intentionality when it comes to gratitude.

How can you count your blessings as a couple? [Read more…]

Living Gratitude: An Ingredient of Resilience for every Expatriate Family (Part 2)

Last week we looked at the “why’s” of gratitude (READ HERE). It’s a recognizable ingredient for resilience at a personal level, in a partnership, and family. It aids in well-being spiritually, emotionally, physically, relationally and mentally. It lessens stress, opening us to joy, and freedom. Gratitude gives us an empowering perspective no matter what we’re facing and reminds us of what’s most important in life. It’s a perfect partner to grief and recalibrates our happiness set point.

Gratitude Can Transform

Today we look at the practice of gratitude on a personal level: [Read more…]