10 Things to Expect When You Take TCKs "Home"
When the time comes for your family to move back to your passport country, you can bet it’s going to be a big transition for everyone. Aside from all the packing and logistics of leaving your host country home, you’ll also need to be prepared for the emotional side of things for your kids. What are some of the things you can expect from your kids as your family repatriates?
Expect that your kids may go back a few spaces on the board of life. Your previously potty-trained toddler may have accidents. Your verbally gifted seven-year-old may suddenly slip back into baby talk. Older kids may seem clingier or less confident. (And moms who had sworn to cut down on coffee intake – ahem - go back to drinking ungodly amounts of it.) Cover everybody with grace, hugs, and reassurance. Even yourself.
2. Mixed Emotions
Major transitions come with major emotions. Like, all of them. This is not your garden variety of mixed emotions such as, “Well, the new couch is really beautiful, but I’m sad to say good-bye to the old one.” This is heart-bursting joy that you’ll finally get to be with grandparents every holiday, mixed with the desperate heartache of grieving that you’ll probably never see your host country BFF again, mixed with a boatload of other deep emotions. And the whole family is going through the same thing. Again: grace, hugs, and reassurance. Let kids know that it’s perfectly fine to be elated AND sad about moving. Let them know you’re facing the same types of feelings.
3. Pop-up Processing
Expect random, out-of-the-blue thoughts to pop up about their experiences. You might be buying apples in the produce section and suddenly, they’re confessing to you how much they hated using the bathroom at the local preschool (true story). You have no clue what triggered that thought, and you might never have even known that before. (Also true story.) They were probably too young to form it into words when it was happening, or it was so much a part of their everyday life that they never stopped to think if they liked it or not. Once you’re out of the culture a bit, those thoughts and emotions have a chance to bubble up and get processed, and might pop out when you’re least expecting them.
As kids grow up, they need to revisit past experiences in different stages of development. That means you can expect your kids to revisit what living overseas meant for them at different points in the future as they grow and gain a better grasp of themselves and the world. So, even if they’ve talked about something at an earlier age and stage, they may need to talk about it again. These issues may come up randomly (see #3) or they may surface as you do intentional processing, like in a re-entry seminar.
Expect your kids to feel a little lonely as they navigate through making friends in this new-to-them culture. Keeping up some connections to friends back in the host country can help get through the worst period. Reading stories of other TCKs is also a good way to help your kids feel like they’re not totally alone. Remember that they’ll eventually make good friends in the new place, but it may take longer than when they’ve been in expat areas with their own tribe.
While you might be elated to be back home, remember that your passport country may seem more like a foreign country to your kids. Even if they’re super comfortable in both places, expect that there will be waves of homesickness for the other country. I’ve found the homesickness is strongest for our family members during big holidays. We miss the U.S. the most during Thanksgiving and Christmas; we miss China the most during Mid-Autumn Festival and Chinese New Year. Be prepared to reminisce, look at pictures, and perhaps plan to eat special food during times that homesickness is likely to hit.
7. Itchy Feet
Just when you thought everything was going smoothly and that your kids were finally feeling settled in your new home, they start asking when you’ll be traveling (or moving!) again. Wanderlust seems to be part and parcel of being a TCK. Expect that your kids will feel a tug to go somewhere. Some TCKs will be able to scratch the itch with a weekend trip to a nearby city. Others will feel a stronger tug and end up going to university in Iceland.
8. Delay in Figuring Out Who They Are
Speaking of university, that is a very common time for TCKs to face a big lump of processing their experiences, and sorting out who they are as a person. Many of their monocultural peers will have already wrestled with questions of identity in high school, so TCKs may feel behind the curve. Remind them and yourself that it's normal.
9. It Starts Well Before the Move
Expect that kids will need to do some processing in the months leading up to your move. Make sure to say good good-byes to the people, places, and things that have become dear to them in your overseas home. Building a "RAFT" is an excellent way to do this.
10. It’s Going to Take Time
Above all else, transitions simply take time. And different people need different lengths of time, especially when those people are still growing up. It takes kids at least a year to get through transition. Did you read that, Mom and Dad? At least a year. Which means it often takes longer.No matter how long you planned to be overseas when you moved there, repatriation will happen someday for your kids. It’s important to have good expectations about how it can affect your kids so that, hopefully, their re-entry can be as smooth as possible.
Do you have any advice on repatriationing with TCK's? How are you helping your children naviate the emotions and stressors of coming "home?"