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…]

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…]

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…]

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.

[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…]

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…]

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 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…]