Raising "Third Culture Kids". Also known as TCK.
Part of me is hesitant to talk about this. For one because the more people we network with and the more people that follow this bliggity blog of ours, the more I want to retreat and hide out, keeping our family as private as I can. Of course, there's some wisdom in that, but there's also a time to get real and share real life situations to learn and grow together. The other reason is because we are still very new to raising our own children in general, let alone raising our children in another culture. But we have found that when God calls you to something, He doesn't just leave it up to you to stumble around and find your way. The God who created the heavens and earth is actually right by our side every step of the way when we follow Him and put our trust in Him. His Holy Spirit has been our teacher and comforter in this area. Not to say we don't have some messy days and crazy kids every now and then but wow, I'm so grateful to have the spirit of wisdom from God. I'm also forever grateful for some pretty incredible parents of older kids along the way that have spoken wisdom into our lives. So here's my attempt to share a little into our journey of raising TCK.
Oh and one more reason is there are a lot of books and articles on this subject. When moving to Africa (before I was married and before having children), I had no idea of the term "third culture kids". Then after our first born, I started hearing more about it and was recommended the books. I haven't read even close to half of them. Actually haven't picked up and read a whole book about it, mostly because of the responsibilities we have here and raising three small children and three teenage boys in our home. But I have wanted to! So this is just our journey and what I've learned so far.
I've learned with living here that sometimes it's better not to read too much but let God and those discipling us to teach us. Mommy blogs and articles are great but sometimes, it's too much. This might not even make sense unless you're living in a culture far removed from America. Labels and 5 step programs to a better child can limit your parenting regardless of where you live and then trying to do things the way American moms do and applying it here, doesn't always work out. Perfection in parenting can be your biggest enemy. Excellence in parenting with complete reliance on the Lord is a better mindset.
I like to stay in touch with whats going on in America to a degree. Missionaries long ago barely had communication through phones and relied on letters every few weeks or months. That's not us. We can get on the internet everyday, check facebook, skype with grandparents, call a friend and chat a bit for only a few dollars, and make a handful of recipes of foods we miss (i said handful, ha). Which makes it easy to raise our children with familiar things from our culture. At the same time, I want them to grow up loving Kenya and Africa as well and things like Kenyan food and the language to be normal.
We homeschool. I know I tend to go back to this subject but at the moment, this is a lot of my life. I don't homeschool to shelter him. Hello. We moved to another country. But at the same time, we can't lock ourselves down in our compound here, which some days is easy to want to do. We go to Mattaw often and make friends around here. We travel around Kenya and make friends where we go. My kids have made friends with Kenyans, kids from Australia, from Switzerland, America and many other places around the world. They don't look at the color of skin and think anything different. In my kids eyes, we're all equal and that's how God intended us to see one another.
There are reasons I'm glad I'm not raising our kids in the culture we grew up in and at the same time many reasons I miss not being able to raise our kids in America. Facebook will keep us up to date on some things. I came across an article of a public school in America kids can't even mention having a gun that blows bubbles at home and asking a friend if they want to play with it for fear they'll be expelled. It didn't even cross my mind about there being anything wrong with the first picture above but I'm gathering that if Elisha took it to show and tell in a public America school, he'd be in huge trouble and I'd be frowned upon as a parent. When here, our Mattaw kids make bows and arrows all the time and we found a few days ago all the little boys eager to get out of school and play with them first thing. No one thinking anything of it. Anywho, not to get off on that subject or ruffle any feathers.
I've learned that being missionaries or even just being people that are from another country and now living halfway around the world, that you can't put yourself in a box of how you do things. Some people will send their kids to boarding school, some will home school and some will send them to local day schools. We have to do what we feel God has led us to and not judge others if they do it differently. Some missionaries live in huts and others live in western type houses. Some want their children completely submerged in the culture, dressed exactly the same, making the national language their first language. While others will stay as much to their roots as possible. Then there's everything in between.
Comparison is the stealer of joy.
Bud and I started our married life here, making it easier to raise a family here. We didn't get settled in the American culture then have to transition our family here. Although we have jumped back and forth, living in the states up to 6 months every few years (to have our babies). So for us, we've stayed more in touch with family, friends and the culture. We are here in Kenya for almost a year this time before visiting the states for around 3 months. In a way, we are nomadic. But we do not consider this world our own. This is how all believers should live. Our home is heaven and we are all on a mission here. One of the greatest revelations to our generation I've noticed is the common teaching of "missions is not a destination but a lifestyle" and also "missions is a lifestyle all christians are called to, you can do missions wherever you are". That's another subject though. I could so keep going off rabbit trails here.
We have found that you gain some things and lose other things. Our children lose a lot of the roots where Bud and I were raised, but they gain perspectives, understand more nations and have the ability to communicate with more people. We are from TEXAS. And we are very thankful for that. So you can bet my husband wears a cowboy hat and boots and we have a bit of Texas decor in our house and make a lot of southern meals. When playing pretend games, Elisha has a hard time deciding if he will be a cowboy with a gun or a tribal warrior with a spear and bow and arrow. Last year we spent 7 months in the states having our third baby and ended up staying longer than planned for our baby to have heart surgery. During that time, our kids were able to attend a christian pre-school. It was great. And I thought I was really messing them up by letting them get used to life in Texas and they would miss it in Kenya. Although we do bring it up from time to time, they still call Kenya home and love it here. When in Texas, they would talk way more about missing our home in Kenya than they do here in Kenya talk about missing Texas.
(western day at preschool in Texas)
For our children, the life we live is the norm. I sometimes will process with our children where we live and differences from where we came from. But I find that it's just all the same to them. Going or coming, it is normal to them. Sure, transition back and forth isn't always easy, but it's normal. They learn so much from watching how we handle it. When I get to missing their grandparents and our friends, I notice they bring it up more often. So as that is a healthy thing to miss, I try and not let negative thoughts influence them. Like complaining about situations here that are hard. To them, often power outages and ridiculous bumpy roads are normal. A trip to the grocery store where people want to touch their hair and laugh at how they talk might not always be easy for them, but it's normal to them.
Home school is a new learning adventure for this mom. I found getting Elisha to learn his letters and start reading is HARD. But we are overcoming. But in a moment of discouragement at how much he is learning in certain areas, I found a few nights ago our Kenyan sons drilling him on how much swahili he knows. Although he can talk more than translate, he was able to translate so many words and sentences from swahili to english. It was just what I needed to be reminded that although he might not be getting the best academic schooling at the moment, socially he is learning far more than I could ever give him in America. He will grow up knowing many cultures and having a world view that is not intimidating but adventurous.
We teach our children to embrace every people group, live life through positive lenses, have adventure, ask many questions, travel to the unknown and do not be afraid.
One of the reasons why I ultimately decided to homeschool our kids in their early years (notice I don't have a time frame of how long until they possibly go to a private school, although they might always stay home for school) is because in some way I felt they need a sense of stability and consistency. Whether we are in Kitale, on safari, in London or America, I can always bring school on the road... or plane. Family and home should always be a safe haven for children. And with all the travel we do, school and our family can be certain to them. A friend gave me a cooking spatula that says "home is where your mom is". As simple as that phrase is, it rings true for us. Wherever Bud and I are, is where home is for our children.
Another thing important for us for our kids is staying in touch with family and friends in America. Grandparents are talked to weekly by skype or phone and we have a few best friends in America.
(cousins and grandparents in Texas)
(Ezra with his Nene in Texas)
(Besties in Texas)
(playdate with friends in Texas)
Although we do not have all the answers to how to do this lifestyle with our kids, we are learning. This was in no way to say our kids are better because of where we live or what we do. We all have our calling and have to be faithful to God to keep saying yes. I'm so thankful to be on this adventure with Jesus and wouldn't have it any other way!
(Ezra in the middle of Turkana, enjoying the sand and playing with the girls necklace)
(Claire making a new friend in Turkana. She still talks about her friend Epeyo that lives in the desert)
(Claire with some of her besties at Mattaw: Blessing, Rosie and Hope)
(Claire with Lucy at Mattaw)
(Elisha playing on a soccer team in Texas)
(Elisha playing soccer in Kenya.. barefoot)
Last thoughts on this, for today, is that my kids are not the center of the universe and are not my entire world. However, they are a priority and there's a difference in raising and training a child. There's a difference in maintaining a child and being intentional to train up God-fearing children that will be leaders. I was talking with missionary friends a few nights ago and found a way to put words to it. We want to categorize our life... first God, then husband, then kids, then ministry.... or some might change the order. But when really, God is the center of it all and we allow Holy Spirit to lead us where and when to make each one a priority. Our marriage, our children, our ministry... its all highly important and Jesus needs to be the Lord of our life and to be the center of each relationship.
And that's a wrap!