Expat Parenting: Learning to Leave it All on the Stage…and Teaching our TCKs to do the Same

I recently had the sweetest of bedtime conversations with my 12 year old. He’s starting 7th grade and he was talking about his impressions of 7th grade as a scary time. This is probably a combination of urban legend, YouTube and bits and snippets of conversations he’s overheard from adults (myself included).

I don’t particularly remember 7th grade as stressful. Actually, I don’t really remember 7th grade all that well at all. Perhaps it was simply uneventful – the middle years of middle school, stuck between the exciting newness of 6th grade and the grown-up feeling of 8th.

As the conversation continued and I attempted to reassure him that every year is different and one kid’s worst year could always be the best for the kid down the hall, I was reminded of the especially unique position that we as expat parents and our children as TCKs have when it comes to school, friendships and life in general.

We’re fortunate in the gift of being able to leave it all on the stage (or the field, the court, or the pitch). Each moment becomes about what’s most real and most important right now.

If we choose to see it this way, leaving it all on the stage means we’re free to release ourselves from the burden of “should” and “need to.” We can learn to reflect, to get deep-down and personal with what type of parent we really want to be and, distanced from the pressures of one set cultural norm, start to try new things. We get bolder, more creative and more flexible.

When we parent from this place we go from rote performance, to more fully engaged. We more frequently do things because we want to and because they feel right, not because it’s what’s expected of us.

When we leave it all on the stage, it becomes easier to return to what’s most important for our own families because we recognize (and it’s easy for our children to see) that each group of people – whether it’s a family or a culture – does things differently from the other. From this perspective, doing things differently becomes the norm, whether it’s the amount of money spent on a birthday party or the age at which children get a smart phone.

The freedom we gain here is a weight lifted from our shoulders and it can bring a heightened sense of confidence when it comes to guiding our children into flexible, thoughtful and compassionate people.

The gift of leaving it all on the stage extends to our children as well.

This was a big part of my conversation with my son at bedtime. We’ve lived in Japan for three years and he and his siblings are starting their final school year here.

I reminded him that this is the year to make the friendships, try the sports, engage in the creative projects and set the challenges that he may have put off in the past. Sure, he could have done these things before, but the unique privilege of moving every few years is that – whatever doesn’t work out – serves solely as a learning experience.

For kids, leaving it all on the stage means the freedom to turn every potential awkward moment into a full embrace of their true selves – whether they want to start a 7th grade D&D club or switch to a new sport they worry they might not be good at. Something turns out not to be what you anticipated? Who cares! Next year it’s a clean slate – new home, new friends, new school.

I also reminded my son that it’s important to remember that sometimes things will hurt. You might feel embarrassed or regret a choice you make. Leaving it all on the stage is not about creating a myth that everything will work out fine, it’s about seeing that challenges are a normal part of our existence (no matter where we go) and that our lifestyle, in it’s extreme flexibility, offers the opportunity (and maybe even the anonymity) to recover faster when things don’t go your way.

Leaving it all on the stage is the ultimate embrace of the inherent ambiguity and unpredictability of life – a reality that expats face over and over again, every day.

If you don’t know where you’ll be tomorrow, what will you jump into today with the full force of your complete and wonderful self? What will you leave on the stage?

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2 thoughts on “Expat Parenting: Learning to Leave it All on the Stage…and Teaching our TCKs to do the Same

  1. This article was a great reminder of how we, as parents of TCKs, can reframe their challenges so they have the confidence to take them on. This was just what I needed to read before the beginning of our new school year – at another new school!

    Thanks Jodi!

    • Thank you Jo! I’m glad it spoke to you. I think it can be a difficult thing to remember, and yet, if we can choose to come back to this reminder periodically, I really do believe it frees us up to live more deeply. Good luck in your new home and to your kids in starting out in a new place!!

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