I was watching a movie the other day. I don’t watch movies often, but sometimes people con me into holding still for two entire hours of my life (which is why I avoid Bollywood as most Indian films last longer). And in this film there was a family picnic. You know, a weekend picnic with the grandparents, aunts, uncles, and all the cousins running around and having a good time. It may as well be a science fiction film, because for me and my children this is rarer than Arsenal winning the Premier League or Cleveland winning the World Series (see what I did there? I gave two separate sporting metaphors for people who don’t relate to one continental sport! Yup, confirmed TCK!).
So how does family dynamic function when you are a TCK? Psychologists and Sociologists who have studies Third Culture Kids will tell you that this is a serious issue. TCKs are not just disconnected to home cultures, they are also lacking a strong sense of extended family. Of course, we all go home from time to time and cram as much time as possible into our kids spending time with family, but the frank reality is that it is contrived, somewhat artificial, and (most importantly) strong relationships are built over time and in a consistent environment.
The reality is that we Global Nomads have to provide a strong familial support in our nuclear family group. This means that we spend a lot of time with our kids. For me, this may mean spending (GASP!) time in front of the television watching kid TV, playing card games, taking walks and/or hikes with the kids, or spending a lot of money at restaurants eating meals together. Anything to let them know that we really do care, and that we are there for them.
Which brings me to this very website. Part of why it exists is because it is something that Zenia and I can do together. We walk to the coffeeshop by our school campus and sit there with our laptops. We brainstorm ideas for blog posts. We decide what pictures go well with what articles. We laugh. We share. We spend quality time together producing something that has value. Above all, we spend time together. Over a Double Chocolate Chip Frappuccino (Zenia) and a regular Cappuccino (Daniel) we talk about so much more. I can ask her about how her friends are doing. If she likes her classes. If she has a crush. I can let my daughter tell me about her struggles. I can offer sympathy when needed, and suggest solutions when she lets me. I can be a dad.
I have always wondered how two kids born of the same parents can be so extremely different. When you consider that they are the same gender, it becomes even more of a Sherlock Holmes-esque mystery to me. My younger daughter would not enjoy holding still at a coffeeshop while we converse. No, she needs action. She needs me to take her outside and play catch. She needs to run and pass a football (soccer ball) back and forth. And then she needs me to give her a hug and reassure her with words. Words of Affirmation, as the Five Love Languages book suggests (I’m not sold on it, but hey, it was worth mentioning). Zenia, on the other hand, doesn’t crave words as much as actions. She needs me to spend time time with her.
Time is our most precious commodity after all. When I was a kid attending international school, my fourth grade teacher called my parents in for a conference. She suggested that I was somewhat lonely, and that what I needed was a strong presence from an adult male in my life. She was obviously hinting at my father. He completely missed the point. Immediately after leaving the classroom, he proceeded to hire a senior in high school to hang out with me. Needless to say, I never had a very strong relationship with my father. Of course, my father did not understand what a TCK is, and what the needs of a TCK can be. He just assumed that I would grow up like him, but he failed to connect the fact that while I had no extended family around me, he had grown up with aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins who could fill the void when parents did not directly meet his emotional needs.
It is not easy to be a Global Nomad. Work can eat at our time. As a matter of fact, we often travel for our work. Even as an international school teacher, I will be gone this weekend as I fly to accompany my school’s history fair team to another city. My girls will be without their dad on their only days off this week. It is therefore pivotal for me to make time whenever I can to be there for them. Perhaps when I get back on Sunday afternoon I can take each one of them out individually for a burger or some ice cream. Maybe my younger one and I can go to our school and kick a football around for a little while. Or maybe we can just go outside and walk the dog together. What matters is time. Because time is worth all the gold in the world; but our kids are far more precious than gold.