Almost every summer for the past nine years, we’ve gone home. As we eke out the last few days of tacos, swimming pools and grandparents in this summer’s 7-week adventure, I see that this trip home has been different than others.
I had not realized before that, for my husband and me, these trips back home all come with the same reflections and contemplations – How have I changed? How long will we keep doing this? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this lifestyle? Who do we want to see? Who is it better to let fall off the radar this year?
For our children, the summers have always been – More swimming! More American television! More tacos! More ice cream!
Not this summer. Their eyes have opened. It’s been an unexpected gift.
I’ve read a lot about raising TCKs. Forget the books – this summer is the summer they’re teaching me more than ever before. With simple words, little stories, dreams recounted on lazy mornings and tears and smiles that come from nowhere – I’m seeing our lifestyle from their eyes in new and vivid colors.
This is the summer that I’ve learned:
With each passing year, they see more.
There is a progressive, deepening understanding of their lifestyle as the children of a diplomat. Our middle son, age 9, came into our room one night, bright eyes of a wise man. He says, “You might have seen me crying a little bit earlier. It’s because I got all the answers all at once. Well, not ALL the answers, but the answers. I’ve realized we move. I mean that’s what we do. We move and we move again. We just keep moving.” I’m reminded that I can never assume they know it, get it and have incorporated every aspect of our lifestyle – their understanding of and relationship with the way we live will keep evolving. Our work is never done in supporting them through each phase.
They have traveler’s eyes, all the time.
Because my children are always outsiders no matter where they go – even in their home country – they see every place as a location to be explored. Everyday, American things like playgrounds, squirrels and never-ending plains of grass are fascinating. They are offering me opportunities to see things I’ve never noticed.
Home is home. Vacation is vacation.
For my husband and I – we are at home when we are here. When we are in Tokyo, we are also home…but not HOME. For our children – this is vacation. This is not home. It is a place they are from, no doubt, but home? No, not really. Tokyo is home. The balance between teaching them they are from here while letting go of my own desire to define home (for myself, but inadvertently for them) takes constant rethinking.
They don’t have to be “on” all the time.
One day, about 3 weeks into our stay here, my oldest came to me crying. “I know that I’m supposed to know these people. You say that I used to play with them, but I don’t remember. I want to remember. I want to be nice and have fun, but really, I just want to do something else right now.” I shared this story with another expat-mom friend and she responded, “Yep! I tell my kids they don’t have to be on all the time when we’re here.” I can connect quickly and deeply here because the relationships and memories are all seamed together through shared history and location. Those relationships, to my children, hang by single threads. I have to give them permission to tune out some and even teach them to cut ties when and if they need to.
There are millions of upsides to going home each summer. Spending concentrated sibling time is one of them. When you have no other friends to escape to, no school activities, no routines to fall back on and no room to hide in – you have to invent and play and fight and make up. I see their relationship deepening with each passing week. Mobile best friends are amazing.
Some things they will remember, some things they won’t.
I’ve started so many sentences with, “Do you remember…?” Blank stares often follow. I’m teaching myself to avoid saying, “Wow! How can you have forgotten?” and “What!? He was one of your closest friends.” I’m working more on, “That’s okay. It was a long time ago,” and “Hm. Maybe you’ll remember when we get there. I remember that you really loved it when you were young.” I want to work towards teaching them that forgetting some parts of their past lives is actually okay and perhaps even necessary for survival in a life of constant change.
My friends are not their friends.
What more can I say on this one? If we lived a life in one place they would be surrounded all the time by the same grown-ups. Instead, I see them developing deep, meaningful, trust-worthy relationships with adults in each place we live. Ultimately, I find that this promotes choice and boundary setting. They approach relationships with a self-assuredness and outgoing nature that is unique to this way of living.
They will not love the same things about going home that I love.
Okay, so some things here everyone loves. We’re fortunate to be from Austin and that’s a place people want to go. When I come home, I’m coming back to see and experience all the things I loved growing up. I’m also lucky that this is a place that always seems to be changing in really cool ways – so there is a lot more to explore and learn about each time we're here. My kids, however, are falling in love with their own experiences here. In a sense, we have to treat it like a whole new place where everyone has his or her personal must-see/must-do list.
Family is home.
At the end of the day, a mobile lifestyle means our little family of five is our safe space. The world changes around us and we move and experience new countries and cultures, but for the most part, we stay the same. The stability of our home life and family rituals is a foundation upon which to grow (even when we're moving). It takes time and effort to reinforce this perspective, but over the years having done so – we see how important it is when we’re home. When the days are long, the miles exhausting, the newness too much to bear – hugs and an empathetic ear from someone who gets it can make all the difference.
Nothing can be forced, only offered.
The friends and family we see when we go home and the opportunities to do new and interesting things while we’re here can be overwhelming to all of us. We have to be lots of different people at once. Each moment must be approached with a gentle, loving heart. The space for learning to love this place we call “home” can be offered, the opportunity presented, but deep down it must always be done with the knowledge that they may say, “No thank you.”
I’m no expert. There are lots of times when I wonder if we’re doing the right thing. And, of course, there are even more times when I am profoundly aware that my children are getting the best of all possible worlds – deep roots to a place they can, if they choose to, call home and strong connections to potential heart-homes all over the world. I’ve found the key this summer is in observing how they’re learning. I didn’t expect that this summer, as they’ve aged and grown, would be the summer when their learning was also their chance to teach me more about how to be their mom.
Check out some of my other posts on parenting TCKs at the links below.
Mindfulness for Expat Parents: FREE Chapter Download
Traditions and Rituals for Smoother Transitions
The Upside to Detours
Making Memories All Your Own