When I returned to my passport culture a few years back, I was forced to face my webbed closet of pent up prejudices and questions surrounding both my identity and resettlement. Working through our move for several years, combined with being married to a monocultural American, had me thinking that I had most definitely aced that class of knowing who I am as a Third Culture Kid.
Then I found out I was pregnant.
I am quite thankful pregnancy is a long journey of nine months (technically ten!) because I spent most of those months wondering if our children would grow up to love the world or to “just” love their town. Would they inherit my gift of languages or remain monolingual? Would they ever become TCKs themselves or would they, in fact, detest air travel?
I recall at least one painful discussion with my [normally patient] spouse after having received our first American football jersey gift for our son. For me, little newborn boys dressed in sports apparel represented American values I deeply disagreed with: to be the biggest, fastest, greatest. Knowing that so much more was hidden under the iceberg of that innocent jersey, my husband told me that, by the way, he simply wasn’t prepared to withhold our child from watching American football or playing it if he wanted to (oh Lord, no!) just because his mother was a TCK. This was coming from a man who despises American football – but this wasn’t about football. He went on to explain that there was nothing wrong with giving our son exposure to each of our cultures but that our child wouldn’t simply become our clone. If, down the line, our child wanted to take part in a 4th of July parade, papa would let him do so. “What!? Don’t you prefer to promote global family values in our home??” I protested.
As I continued to toss and turn, wondering how on earth I could raise a global-minded child in the middle of America, especially with the realization that we wouldn’t withhold chintzy Americana from our child, I came to realize that I actually still didn’t fully accept certain parts about living here. Somehow, all this time, I had actually been able to live in my comfy foreigner bubble with very little contact to people who live in my town. As my pregnancy progressed, I was forced to wrestle with the tension I felt, because I could think of nothing worse than for me to pass on my own emotional baggage to my child before he even had a chance to speak. Instead of teaching him how to be a cynical, unpatriotic citizen, would it not be so much more beautiful to teach him how to become a global citizen – with the ability to thrive in each of the cultures that make up our family, without exception?
That conversation around baby sports apparel got us thinking about how we would intentionally weave and embrace both of our diverse threads into the intercultural fabric of our child’s world. I came to realize that by shutting out my passport culture altogether, I had deprived myself of real friends and any benefits of living in this country. How did I find that out? Well, as soon as I allowed myself to open up the doors of acceptance, I instantly made lifetime friends in our same life-phase. I also was forced to admit that even if we are only here for a season, it is a great place to be with young kids.
Don’t get me wrong, I still wouldn’t dress my newborn in sports apparel and don’t expect me to have any tears flowing on the 4th of July – but I no longer feel I must guard my children from experiencing these things. Instead of constantly having to fight for which culture is most welcome in our family, we are both committed to intentionally raise our children to embrace all facets of growing up in a multicultural and multilingual home.
Practically speaking, papa will speak English to our child and impart the fun things about his culture: being pulled in a little red wagon, selling lemonade on a street corner, or enjoying great customer service. I will speak my languages to our children, sing nursery rhymes in my language at bilingual mama groups, celebrate national holidays and ethnic foods, and the joys and frustrations of the Third Culture. Together, we have chosen to give our children the gift of living free from our own cultural prejudices and to value what each parent brings to our family, knowing that each facet our children receives will make them passionate lovers of this world. Wait, isn’t that what I wanted in the first place anyway? 🙂
How about you TCK parents? Did you have an identity crisis when you became a parent? How does being a Third Culture Kid change your parenting? What are some specific Third Culture values you have been able to impart to your children? What are some tips you would give new TCK parents like me?