Monday, May 4, 2015


Before leaving for the mission field, I read a book called Third Culture Kids.

Actually, I read it twice . . . .

The first time the content scared me to much that I had to read it a second time to wrap my mind around the information and what the book was actually trying to say.

In a nutshell, the book describes the challenges of growing up in a country (or many countries) that isn't their parents' country.  It takes a look at how children adopt particulars from their host country which keeps them from fully fitting in to their parent's culture, yet at the same time, they don't fully fit into their host culture.  Hence, they have a "third culture"- a mixture of it all.

The scary part of this book is the hurt and confusion that can last long into adulthood.  But, the upsides are the incredible coping and people skills these Third Culture Kids have and their ability to navigate the world with a unique perspective.

After living in South Africa for 8 years, this is the first furlough where I'm beginning to see what this book is all about.  Our girls have become a mixture of our American culture and South African culture.  They have things they absolutely love about both cultures, yet struggle to be "fully" either one.

While in Michigan in March, we were traveling to a church on a Sunday morning and one of my girls burst out in tears.  She blurts out, almost in anger, "I don't even know what the trees are here or the names of the birds!  Shouldn't I know.  This is where I was born!"

My heart hurt for her.  Kyle and I come home to familiar.  We recognize a maple tree and an oak tree.  We know the names the red-winged black birds and starlings.

But, people often ask our children, "Are you happy to be home?"
Of course they answer, "yes"-  that's what they're supposed to say. But sometimes I wonder how much of what I call home feels like home to them?

After asking for a "serviette" for the 20th time and not being understood, one of my daughters throws her hands up in frustration and says, "But I don't want to call it a napkin!  I like calling it a serviette.  Can't I keep calling it that?  Why do I have to change?"

This furlough, I've watched the struggle with the things that they've adopted from South Africa that don't fit here in America.  They honestly desire to be normal here, yet in no way want to give up parts of South African culture.

"Mom, I really miss how people walk us to our car when we say goodbye at a house.  It was nice.  Will they still do that in Tanzania?  Even if they don't, can we keep doing that?"

Already they are recognizing that some of their South African selves might not fit into their new "home".  This worries them.  Honestly, it worries me.  I want my kids to happy and feel like they fit in.

But it's not all negative!  One of my great take-aways from the book was that supportive parents who keep dialog open and don't force one specific culture on a child can help them navigate these confusing waters.

So how has this looked in our family?  Well . . . we're still learning.  I'm so thankful for a third-culture husband who can speak into this from personal experience and help me understand what the girls are going through.

The promises from God's Word have given incredible strength.  We talk frequently about having our roots down deep in God, not necessarily in a country.  Hebrews 11:13b-14  "and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.  For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland" . . . . 16 "But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city."

We remind ourselves that our citizenship is in heaven. Phil 3:20-"But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ"

He truly brings comfort to our girls, not necessarily taking away the hurts, but giving a peace about who they are in Him.

As a family we try to

- validate the emotions, let the tears and frustrations be real
- encourage the girls to be exactly who they are
- let them keep the habits and cultural items from South Africa that they want to carry with them
- talk frequently of God's blessings in our life and our citizenship in Heaven
- talk about this things we enjoy in each culture
- LAUGH together as we make mistakes

Helping once a week at a rural school for orphans and vulnerable children

Lots of packing and unpacking

They can sleep anywhere!

1 comment:

Steve Stairs said...

Great Article! We kept the walking people to their car custom when we moved back from SA. Like your girls we thought it was the way things ought to be. Come visit us whenever you miss getting walked to the car.