Fostering the Relationships in a TCK's Life

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I used to meet with a fellow expat friend for some accountability. We'd usually find a quiet coffee shop to sit at or treat ourselves to a lunch we didn't have to prepare ourselves. The conversation would usually start off with our children -- the new things they were learning, the funny things they were saying, the struggles they were having.Once our coffee or meal was delivered, we would get more intentional with the things we shared with one another. We stuck with three topics: our relationship with our family, our relationship with others, and our relationship with God. With each topic, we'd discuss how we were doing in that area -- the highs, the lows, and the struggles. When we were finished, we would make small, next-step goals in order to strengthen each of those relationships.As I think about my children and the life they have as Third Culture Kids, I'm always searching and brainstorming and studying about ways to come alongside them and help them navigate the twists and turns that are par for the course in their life. In so many ways, their childhood is much different than my own. Because of this, I know I'll always be learning something new when it comes to raising TCKs. The task before me seems so great (and I feel so inadequate) but I try to take it one step at a time. I allow myself some time to focus in on one area and find simple tools and strategies to guide me as I parent my TCKs.For this post, I'd like to focus on the relationships TCKs have in their life. Just like I did with my friend during our accountability times, I'm going to share some ideas for the three different relationships they have (with family, with others, and with God) and next-steps you can take to help your TCKs in building those relationships.Relationship with FamilyWe want our TCKs to have a healthy relationship with their immediate family members, as well as their family members who live far away. For staying close as a family unit, we try to have one day a week where we don't work and just "play." This can naturally give way to forming family traditions, which gives our TCKs a sense of belonging and stability, no matter where they are in the world. We do something together that's enjoyable for all. And for those times when you want to connect a little more with each of your TCKs in a more one-on-one setting, these questions are some great questions to ask to get conversation going. Some of the questions include, "What are some things you enjoy about living here," "Do you ever wish we lived a different life," and "Is there anyone or anything you miss right now?" Be sure to go check out all 10 questions to routinely ask your TCKs.What about your family members who live far away? How do we help our TCKs stay close and connected with them? Thankfully, we live in a day and age where FaceTime and Skype and numerous other social media apps exist to help with face-to-face (albeit digital) conversation. However, my young TCKs don't always get to say what they want to in a conversation because they're constantly talking over one another. A couple of my TCKs don't talk much because they have a more reserved personality. I've often wondered if it would be beneficial and bring some intentionality to our family relationships if we started writing letters or sending postcards back and forth to those who live far away.I know what you're thinking, "Snail mail? In my country? We'd be lucky if our card or letter arrived to its destination two months from now." I'm tracking with you. I've been inside the belly of the post office beast before while trying to retrieve a missing package and, judging by how things were "organized," I could totally see why mail could slip (quite literally) through the cracks. But recently, I was introduced to a fun, new site called Paperless Post. You can send all sorts of different cards via email. It's not quite the same as a handwritten note (I mean, what could possibly replace that?) but it's a great way to allow our more quiet and reserved TCKs to get out all the words they want to say without any interruptions. It also gives the grandparents something to save as a keepsake.Relationship with OthersDuring one of our Taking Route Podcast episodes, we interviewed Ruth van Reken (author of Letters Never Sent and Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds). She is now an adult TCK who was kind enough to share some insight with us on how to help third culture kids find their place in this world. She touched on helping TCKs stay connected with people who've played a critical part in their lives. As soon as Ruth mentioned this, I made a point to contact my friend -- the same one I mentioned doing accountability with at the beginning of this post. Her son and my son have formed a very close friendship over the years and I knew our recent move to a new city has been difficult for both of them. I asked her if we could set up a weekly FaceTime chat so our boys could keep having conversations with one another. We're only a few weeks in with this new routine but it has already proven itself to be well worth the time and planning involved. Sometimes I catch myself imagining them all grown and still keeping up with one another as adult TCKs. (I'm not crying, you're crying). Relationship with GodUltimately, this is the most important relationship I want my children to invest in. This relationship is not something that can be forced, but it can be modeled and encouraged. For the real little ones, regularly reading storybook bibles and singing songs of praise can help to instill the importance of a relationship with God in their hearts. I also enjoy using these memory verse cards.As the children get older and have attention spans longer than two minutes, a devotional time is very beneficial. Long Story Short is a fantastic ten-minute devotional to draw your family closer to God. For the children who are able to read and write (maybe 3rd graders and older), teach them the S.O.A.P. method for studying the Bible. 

S -- Scripture. Write it out.

O -- Observation. What are you seeing? Make note of what stands out to you or any words that are repeated.

A -- Application. Make it personal. How can this passage be applied to your life? What changes do you need to make in your life? What actions need to be taken?

P -- Prayer. Pray God's Word back to Him. Confess sins. Give thanks.

It might take some modeling and working together through the steps in the beginning, but this method is a great way to help our TCKs start having a quiet time with the Lord on their own -- something we hope they'll carry with them into their adulthood! Also, the older sibling can then model it to the younger sibling, which builds relationships within the family. Full circle!I don't consider myself an expert on TCKs (even though I have four of my own), but I am a learner of them. I simply wanted to pass along a few things I've learned in hopes of helping out other parents who might feel like they're in over their heads and slowly ruining their children. But if you're reading this article, chances are you're a great parent and exactly who your TCK needs in his/her life.What are some ways you help your TCKs strengthen the relationships in their life? Do you have any other tips or ideas that have worked well for you and your family? Please share in the comments!


Paperless Post offered us some online coins so we could try out their services. We are careful to only partner with people we feel have something valuable to offer our expat community. Their services provide a different, simpler way to send personalized, heartfelt mail without the added stress of wondering when (or if) it makes it to the recipient. If that sounds like something you'd enjoy, we're glad we were able to share that resource with you.