My cross-cultural children’s English is starting to sound more international these days. Just recently, a close friend visiting laughed after my son enunciated all the words in: The wa-ter is near the comp-u-ter instead of using the more natural flapped American wader and compuder. The friend’s giggle was spontaneous and light-hearted. But it keeps happening.
My daughter often gets a chuckle or a mimic when she speaks French or English, bless her heart. It’s starting to pinch my mother’s heart when I overhear it. That’s because our kids don’t pick up on most of the chuckles yet. But some day they will. And those moments will fill their psyche files with “don’t quite fit” and “don’t quite belong” memory orbs, Inside Out style.
In these developmental years, our kids’ accents are quickly changing. The majority language they hear all around them heavily influences their accents. Their anglophone expat friends as well as those who use English as a second, third or fourth language also permeate their speech.
As a product of where they live and how much they are adapting to fit in, the cross-cultural kids look a bit different. Their clothing may look a little different to their passport country peers’. They might eat different things and they may never do all the quintessential classic childhood things as if they grew up in their passport country. They are even reconciling where they live today by bending their morals and value systems. Our kids are doing wonder-filled new things and becoming new people of the fantastic Third Culture.
Parents of Third Culture Kids
So what is our role in all this? We, as their immediate family, should expect this metamorphosis as part and parcel of the Third Culture process. As parents, we can play an active part by exposing with them the areas of tension they already face growing up as budding cultural brokers. We should already be exploring with them the cost of hiding one part of themselves to the other world(s). Or, we can facilitate discussions about how their worlds can be beautifully reconciled. Indeed, what would it truly look like to be true to all the facets of their cross-cultural self?
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We also owe it to them to educate the Third Culture Kid’s support network back ‘home’, far from our daily life, that this transformation is occurring. Because, time and time again, it is in fact the cross-cultural kids’ family and friends back at ‘home’ who are the ones reacting and voicing their discomfort about the ‘different’ Third Culture Kid.
That’s because back ‘home,’ they wonder why the TCK isn’t wearing a tight Niqab head-covering. Or why the TCK isn’t able to use chopsticks. Or why they aren’t celebrating Thanksgiving anymore. What’s their problem?
To Extended Family and Friends of Third Culture Kids
From this side of the ocean, I promise, I don’t have a chip on my shoulder. Those little moments of laughter or mimicking or side comments are natural and usually not out of a mean, mocking spirit. Perhaps it’s more a reaction to what a normal monocultural ought to look like. Or, out of this strange place of familiar-unfamiliar, as if to say:
“I remember what those kids sounded like before but they sure sound different today, and I feel uncomfortable. I remember when they played games similar to my childhood, and now I feel judged for the life I lead, as if it wasn’t good enough for them. They were more like my life before, and I miss what we once had.”
Here is my encouragement to extended family and friends who feel this type of disconnect:
Those feelings are valid and real. It’s sometimes downright awkward and even painful to feel so different to these cross-cultural children. But are you still holding on to memories of the crawling caterpillar? Are you holding your cross-cultural kid to what they once were without embracing who they are becoming? Do you realize the caterpillar is undergoing a great transformation within the cocoon?
The cross-cultural child is growing up in another part of the world. There is no way around the fact that they are different to the kids down the street back ‘home.’ In fact, some of them haven’t ever lived in their passport country(ies) at all.
Please know that their world is not a judgment of your life. Sure, they don’t fit your paradigm, and this may bring up a host of emotions within you. Those certainly deserve to be processed with skilled professionals. But, by skilled professionals – because our children are not the right people to carry your pain and frustration.
Unfiltered, your laughter or side comments or untactful gifts reminding them of what they should be according to so-called normal standards all build that wall of rejection towards them. One day, the moments TCKs were rejected by their own family will become just another source of grief the Third Culture Kid in your life will carry around, trying so hard to make sense of his world. Trying so hard to become a thriving, soaring, multicolored butterfly.
Let’s Give Cross-Cultural Kids Permission to Be
What these kids walking the tight rope between cultures need from all of us is in fact quite simple. It is the permission to just be. Permission to have a funny accent or tighter, shorter jeans. To be quirky or not know about fidget spinners. To enjoy mussels without being called a snob. Or to claim they are from the place they are growing up in without it implying that they are evil betrayers of their passport culture.
Parents, grandparents, extended family, friends from back home:
Come visit! Ask questions! Catch a glimpse into their phenomenal world. Cross-cultural kids long for you to be interested in their world rather than the one you know or think theirs should be like.
They long for a safe harbor, a welcoming place in you.
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