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…]

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…]

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…]

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 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…]

Living Gratitude: An Ingredient of Resilience for Every Expatriate Family (Part 1)

 PART ONE: WHY GRATITUDE?

Having seen the devastation and chaos from typhoon Haiyan in Central Philippines this past week, my heart aches for the people. Many dead and injured. Others lost. Families torn apart and in shock as they try to survive, get help for the necessities of life, and keep going. My prayers go out for them. And may we never take life for granted- but choose to live each day to the fullest, loving deeply and giving our best. Would you respond to help our Filipino brothers and sisters, so that one day they can look back, be grateful and say “People around the world were generous and kind”?

hands linkedTragedy connects us. It brings out a depth of love and understanding that compels us. Maybe because none are immune to life’s crisis’. We’ve been through hardship ourselves. Maybe not to this magnitude, yet we’ve all felt the pang of loss, security stripped and a sense of hopelessness. I’m all about resilience – facing hardship with a strength of spirit and rebounding stronger and more resourceful. You can’t have resilience without pain.

And that brings us to the topic of gratitude. It’s November… about that time in expat life when things are:

Girl SmilingRootless still, if you’ve just moved abroad and settled your family into a routine. There’s still a sense of aloneness, a disconnect between who you are and where and what you’re living.
Routine, after returning from home leave some 3 months ago, adjusting the kids back to school and now you find yourself pretty much at “same-old, same old.” Or,
Restless if you‘ve lived here for a while and sense you want a change. Likely not a move (!), but a sense of deeper contribution, fulfillment and aliveness in your expat life.

Gratitude can be your solution. It opens the heart and activates positive emotional centers in the brain. It soothes stress and broadens creative thinking to develop a more expansive view of our lives. It shifts our focus from what’s lacking to the abundance that’s present. It’s the awareness that whatever we have is exactly what we need – be it people, circumstances or challenge. It doesn’t mean everything in our lives is great, but rather that we CHOOSE to count blessings. Giving thanks makes us happier, more resilient and strengthens relationships. It opens us to freedom and generosity. How? [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…]

Culture Stress

hands holding a small globeCulture stress is the often painful process of adapting to a new culture. It’s also known as ‘culture fatigue’, ‘culture shock’ or ‘culture disorientation’. It ranges from mild irritation to trauma and describes the stress brought on by all of the changes moving to a different culture. There is not one way to experience culture stress. We all go through it differently. It may be acute or barely noticeable. You may find it returns after you thought you had already passed through it. You may find you breeze through at one stage of life and at another, find it more difficult.

There are 4 normal stages of culture stress: [Read more…]