I noticed a pattern with my oldest. Whenever he went outside to ride his bike, he would only be out for a few moments before he was back in again. A quick peek out the window and I always saw something curious. Another boy was riding his bike. Always. I would ask a million questions, but it would always boil down to this: My son’s friend would ask; so, my sweet boy would hand it over.
I tried explaining to him that it was okay to say, “No,” or “Later,” and he shouldn’t feel guilty for wanting to ride his bike. But he never took my advice. This was the pattern for weeks. He would go outside, ride for a few minutes, then immediately come back in. I would interrogate him on the events outside, again…round and round we went.
Finally, one day, with a teary outburst he responded. “Why are you angry with me? I am trying to be nice. What’s wrong with me letting him ride?” Ouch! I wasn’t trying to communicate displeasure, but that was exactly what I was doing.
I learned that day that my first response is always to listen. Then, observe the situation with a critical eye before giving advice.
Is there more to this equation than my child loaning out his bike? Is he being bullied? What is to blame on cultural and language miscommunications and what is just “kids being kids”? How do I guide my child through this dispute? How do I teach my child to be generous and gracious, and yet, teach them to be assertive and help them to stand-up for themselves? These are questions I had to ask myself as I processed how to help him process the situation.
First, my son’s biggest problem was that he wasn’t being heard. He was trying to communicate to me and to his friend but the message was not clear. After a heart to heart, my son was able to express that he actually wanted to ride his bike, but felt that his friend was mad when he said “no”. He felt like the kids were always asking him for stuff and that didn’t want to be his friend just to be his friend. He believed that the friendships focused around his bike, his kite making supplies, his cool yard (that actually has grass), etc. This was hurtful to him and frustrating for him. (Oh man, I can relate. These are the same exact feelings that I also have struggled with in relationships with locals.)
Secondly, my TCK was receiving pressure from both our host culture (community property) and his passport culture (stand-up for oneself). How confusing this was for my then 8-year-old son. (How confusing it often is for as this 3o-something adult.)
My children desperately need me to help them emotionally navigate the sticky situations of cross-cultural living. What looks like a simple child’s problem was actually more complicated when filtered through the eyes of a third-culture kid. Often times, I find myself stepping in more than I think I would if my children were playing with kids in their home culture. Striking the perfect balance between when to get involved and when to sit back and pray is something I’m trying to figure out.
How do you help your TCKs navigate through cross-culture play and friendships? How are you dealing with your children and their local friends? How do you actively listen to your TCKs? What are they saying?