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.

Heart Burst, Burst Heart – High School Grad and Afterwards for Expatriate Parents

For expat moms and dads, high school grad is a bitter sweet anticipation. There’s celebration for our teen who’s reached a life milestone, not to mention our surviving their teens years without killing ourselves or them! There’s dread, too, of seeing them leave the nest: no matter how many times we’ve moved it, the family unit has stuck together. Now, all that changes.

HEART BURST, BURST HEART

My heart is about to burst
fireworks of brilliant colour exploding,
watching you walk across the stage
Pride in your accomplishment
yet much more –
who you are and who you’re becoming

Heart 1

Under the pride and joy are emotions
like volcanic lava
bubbling to the surface of my awareness
Unexpected, frequent, uncontrollable
Renting way too much space in my mind
Pain and ache as they tear at my heart

Sadness
It’s the end of the life you’ve known
The life you’ve loved
The life our family has lived
In this playground called ‘global’
With these kids who get you, these kids called “TCK’s”

Fear
I see your fear as you say “goodbyes”
The hugs, pats on the shoulder, laughter to lighten the mood
Goodbyes to high school, family, friends, home itself
Your fear triggers mine
It fires non-stop as I live in these days

Panic
You’re going home, yet not your home at all.
Will you be ok?
Who will care for your vulnerable heart? Your physical needs?
Everything new – a job, college, routine, roles, people
Are you prepared?

Tears flow freely in the quiet, alone moments
Soon we will say ‘goodbye’ at the airport
How many good byes have there been over the years?
This is the hardest.

Broken Heart

My heart feels like it will burst again
Not with fireworks, but in fragments.
My heart is filled with fireworks and fragments,
Fragments and fireworks.
© Becky Matchullis

This brings back vivid memories for some. Others have had a teen graduate in the last weeks and are walking through this journey now. Or there’s anticipation for the future.

As a coach and mother I often journey this season with moms. Here’s my encouragement to help YOU be resilient as you walk through grad, goodbyes and learning long distance parenting with your teen:

5 “L’s” For Parenting Through High School Grad and Afterwards:

1. Let go…

Of control – Acknowledging the fact that you have no control in your teen’s life is important (not that you ever had). Why is it we think we have control in our kids’ lives when they’re with us? Not true. The truth is we have INFLUENCE. When you notice yourself trying to grasp control, breathe into the fact that Highest Love is in control. What phrase helps you release that drive to control? Repeat it often.

Of expectations – As expat parents, we often hold high expectations of our kids, to succeed and do it NOW! Don’t get me wrong – expectations are important. Yet they can put demands on our children that they may find hard to achieve, especially during relocation. Transition from host to passport country, without family present, is tough. There will be deep challenge. What about the expectations you have for yourself? Are they realistic? Let the process of this next year unfold as it will, knowing that you and your teen will find love, grace and inner strength to face whatever comes. Lessons will be learnt and new skills developed.

Relax, Breathe, Let Go

2. Look after yourself – body, soul and spirit. Include your:

a. Emotions – Be present to whatever emotion emerges. It takes time to integrate losses into your life experience and acceptance. How do you grieve best? Make space to incorporate these practises into your life these next months. Seek professional help to learn ‘good grief’ if needed. This is so important for the expat.

b. Physical well-being – What’s key these weeks and months to help you sleep, eat nutritionally and get the exercise you need? Our physical being is so inter-connected to our emotional state and vice versa. Often in transition we let go of this area. Is routine needed? A plan? Don’t be too hard on yourself when you ‘loose it’!

c. Relational – You’re not alone. Who else do you know going through this? Connect and share. Who do you know who’s gone before? Seek advice and love. In the loss and grief of this transition, we can so easily isolate. Please don’t! We need each other.

d. Mental – “As a man/woman thinks, so is he/she” wrote the wisest man that ever lived. What are your thoughts? Acknowledge, accept and feel the grief they hold. Know you don’t have to ruminate, though. Replace them with thoughts of gratitude and goodness. Find a perspective that empowers rather than diminishes.

3. Live in the present – Our brains have an automatic bias towards danger to help us survive. We constantly scan our world for past mistakes or future threats that we want to avoid. This is our brain operating in ‘doing mode’ where we try hard to solve problems, make plans, anticipate obstacles and choose between alternatives. It’s helpful, but not when it comes to emotions. They can’t be reasoned ‘away’ or ‘solved’. The past can bring threat and the future can fill us with fear. Rather, live in the present where you are living reality, accepting what is and aligning yourself to enjoying the moments as they happen. Don’t live in the ‘what if’s” but rather the “what is”.

Past, Present, Future

4. Lean into God. Nurture your spirit. How do you connect and sense intimacy with your Higher Power? Walk through cathedrals? Journal? Enjoy nature? A solitude retreat? Listen to uplifting music? Do your part and you can be assured He’ll more than do His. Trust. Believe His promises. Listen to truth. Talk to God and take all that’s in your soul to Him. He cares.

5. Learn to let your teen lead. There will be a redefining of your relationship. It’s normal. If you haven’t Video Chatalready, learn to let your teen lead. Continue to coach, allowing them to make their own decisions. Give your opinions and suggestions only as they request it. Encourage. Acknowledge. Let them build courage and confidence as they both succeed and fail. When you allow them to lead the relationship, you’ll find the shift into adult-to-adult friendship within the parent/child relationship. It takes time. And can be tumultuous, feeling messy and unclear. That’s ok. As you intentionally let them lead and support them along the way, you’ll see it will be so worth it.

Let,

look,

live,

lean,

learn.

My heart and prayers are with you as you do. Next blog I’ll share my best suggestions for launching your grad back to their passport country, or wherever they have chosen to continue life…

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

 

 

PS – A mom sent me this fun video and gave me permission to share it with you: Let Them Go – A Parody of “Let it Go” from FROZEN by Grace International School Senior Moms . More true than you’ll ever understand right now!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S4bujMTDJO0&feature=youtu.be 

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 – 3 Challenges and Questions

Finale of a 3 Part Series “Adoption and the Expatriate Family”

Today we conclude our series on expatriate adoption, looking at added challenges that expatriate families face because of their choice to live abroad, as well as 3 questions that will lead to more effective adoptive parenting. In part one of this blog series, we looked at reasons families adopt and why it’s important to understand and process the heart motivation for adopting.

Last week, 6 challenges faced by all adoptive families were explained – both going through the process as well as integrating the adopted child into the family.

What Challenges Can Be Unique For Expatriate Families? [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…]

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…]