Repatriate With Resolve

FamilyRepatriation. Not a neutral word. It illicits a response. Eyebrows raised in curiosity. Bristled hairs on the back of the neck in panic. Hands over ears in avoidance.

Quotes from expatriates who have been there and done that:
“Coming home was more difficult than going abroad because you expect that you know what it’s like. I felt like an alien in my own country. I had changed. Friends weren’t interested in our experiences. Emotionally I was fragile. I felt like I had Alzheimer’s because I couldn’t remember things. I kept thinking ‘this can’t be me’.” Accompanying spouse from 3 year assignment in Malaysia to USA

“I felt a sense of loss when we returned to the UK. I miss the mixing with different nationalities. I was no longer a part of a small community where everyone looks out for each other. The kids went through a messy time and I wondered if I’d ever get my life back!” Expatriate wife and mom

“I stayed with the same company, but lost benefits. They gave me less responsibility at a lower management level and didn’t recognize or seem to appreciate the tremendous experience I had as a senior manager or the skills and expertise I had gained. I felt demoralized.” Employed partner transferring back to Canada from China

When we returned from Cambodia to Canada, I’d stare blankly at the aisles of choice in the grocery store and go home empty handed and overwhelmed. Decision making was hard. Worry consumed me – Would the kids be safe? Would they do well in school and make friends? Would I find a job? We longed to share our experiences with others, but found within minutes their eyes would glaze over. As a family we called it ‘lizard eyes’ and at the dinner table would ask, ‘how many lizard eye looks did you get today?’! Deeper than that was the tendency to judge, the emotional rollercoaster ride, and the sense of ‘misfit’ that seemed would never end. [Read more…]

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…]

4 “R’s” For September Settling (aka Getting a Grip)

The carefree days of summer are gone – sipping iced tea on the deck, putzing around the garden, riding bikes to the farmers market and savouring late night conversations around the mesmerizing fire. I already miss summers’ sights and sounds – children’s laughter in back yards, birds chirping while flitting amongst the tree branches, and the feeling of sun-kissed warmth on my upturned face.

On my walk this morning, I breathed in crisp air, my cooled lungs reminding me that the season is changing. A squawk overhead called me to look up and marvel at the perfect “V” shape of Canadian geese, flying in formation to warmer climates.

[Read more…]

Tribute to Mom

With Mother’s Day on the weekend for the majority of countries around the world, I pay tribute to my mother, who modeled for me living resilience with joy as an expat and ministry partner. She passed 7 years ago May 5th. There are times I sense she’ll just show up. Occasionally still, my chest constricts and tears come with her loss, especially when life’s hard. There’s nothing like mom when the going gets tough.

Mom’s Early Years

The 6th of 13 kids, mom was raised in a Mennonite farming family in Saskatchewan, Canada. She really did walk 5 km. to and from school! As a young girl she was feisty. When she started school, she only knew ‘yes’ and ‘no’ in English. She chose ‘no’ to answer all questions and wasn’t at all popular with the teacher. She loved learning and had a mischievous twinkle in her eye that always said she was up to something.

Mom lived as an expat missionary in 3 different countries over a span of more than 20 years. In 1949 she began her expat life in China, after a long boat trip across the Pacific. Not the cruise ships we enjoy today. Fleeing after only 6 months because of the communist insurgence, she moved to Hong Kong, continued with language study and served a city of people living on boats.

As if that wasn’t quite enough change in 5 years, she chose to work for another mission agency, which meant candidate school (so it was called then). There she met my father, an eligible bachelor. Both were assigned to Malaysia. The mission’s policy for outgoing staff was once engaged, wait 2 years for marriage. Determination and commitment followed and they were married in a little village church, far from their family. Four of her five babies were born in Malaysia.

Mom raised us through many relocations and 2 repatriations, between the countries of Malaysia, Hong Kong and Canada.  [Read more…]

Spring Awakening ~ Highlights From the FIGT 2014 Conference

My anticipation grew as the plane took off from Denver, headed to Washington Dulles airport. An early morning flight had brought me from Calgary, one on which I dozed off, trying desperately to keep my head from falling onto the unknown shoulder next to me.

Families in Global Transition Conference 2014 was about to begin. My 5th time attending and 4th time having the honour of presenting – excitement brewed within. Memories of FIGT’s past flashed across the billboard of my mind: unknown feelings at the 1st conference, quickly replaced with a sense of “at home” – an unusual feeling for an ATCK (Adult Third Culture Kid). As a professional, I have gained new learning and tools to add to my tool kit. Networking is always a favourite part of FIGT. Their move from Houston to Washington – an “I-fit-here” sense with each conferences I attended. A place where understanding, respect and open-mindedness were mutually shared through presentations and amongst relationships. A bond created from both the excitement as well as the pain of international living.

What would make FIGT 2014 unique? It didn’t take long to find out. I hadn’t stepped both feet into the lobby, when I heard my name, and there was a friend. Someone I had met at a previous FIGT. Others that were on-line acquaintances. Many this year were new to the FIGT community, which added vibrancy. It felt like a family reunion – the kind where you’re enveloped in hugs, accepted for who you are, and challenged through questions and thought provoking conversations. [Read more…]

Surviving Winter – 5 Dimensions of Resilience

It’s been a cold, unrelenting winter here in Calgary. As I write, the temperature is a frigid -27 ‘C, with wind chills at -39’C. For American readers, that’s -38.2 Fahrenheit! My son walked 10 minutes home from a friends’ place. He had multiple layers of thick winter clothing – for a Canadian teen, highly unusual and unnatural! Usually it’s an open winter jacket no matter the cold! He looked like an overstuffed Easter egg! Upon his return, ice crystals lined his eye lashes and brows.

The interesting thing about Calgary is its Chinooks – warm air, coming from the ocean over the Rockies, can see rises in Iciclestemperature within hours of 15-20 degrees. We enjoy a yo-yo of weather consistently through the winter (a killer for migraine sufferers). Surprisingly, my perennials return each spring, able to bear these extreme fluctuations. As a gardener, I’ve learnt the stronger they become during the summer months – with deep roots and sturdy stems, the greater their chance of winter survival.

And that makes me wonder, what is it about us as expatriates (who have regular doses of transition – often more than we anticipate or desire), that allows us to thrive the winter weather of our souls? Those times when we feel the extreme challenge of life and wonder if we’ll suffocate… or survive?

Last blog we looked at 6 Keys To Understanding Resilience and found that there’s no resilience without challenge. Neither is there a scientific formula – each of us has different ingredients for resiliency. Today we look at…

5 DIMENSIONS OF RESILIENCE [Read more…]