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Wouldn’t you love to know exactly what’s happening behind the scenes with your kids? What they are really feeling? How they are really coping with transition? How would you like to get the inside scoop from somebody who watches your kids when they are at their best and supports them at their worst?
Our special guest, Eliza Pomiecinska, is an international school counsellor, psychologist, play therapist and she’s privy to what you need to support your international kids.
What You’ll Discover in this Episode:
- The mistakes we often make when we think of transition
- Solid advice for both the stayers and the leavers
- What we often get wrong with grief
- The unexpected posture we should take when we meet new families
- And more
This episode invites you to give yourself permission to be real with yourself and your kids. Listen in to find out how to support their transitions and make the most of their international lives.
Listen to the Full Episode:
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Featured on the Show:
- Episode 125 – Grief and Guilt Raising TCKs with Ruth van Reken
- The Discomfort Zone: How to Get What You Want by Living Fearlessly by Farrah Storr.
- Facebook Group – Expats on Purpose
Don’t miss this opportunity to get coached by Sundae – for FREE.
Full Episode Transcript:
Welcome to the Expat Happy Hour, this is Sundae Bean from www.sundaebean.com. I am a solution-oriented coach and intercultural strategist for individuals and organizations and I am on a mission to help you adapt and succeed when living abroad and get you through any life transition.
So there’s someone that you might know that has a behind-the-scenes view of kids living abroad that we often ignore and the person I’m thinking of is the international school counsellor. Can you imagine what they are privy to. The international school counsellor knows all of the kids in the school, has dealt with so many cultures and watches kids when they’re at their best and supports them when they feel the worst.
Don’t you kind of want to know what they know, don’t you wish that you had their wisdom so that you can support your kids in the best way possible that is exactly why I’ve invited an international school counsellor to Expat Happy Hour.
It is my pleasure to welcome Eliza Pomieinska to Expat Happy Hour today. Eliza is a trained school counsellor, psychologist, play therapist, and she’s worked in both primary and secondary schools on three different continents, North America, Africa and Asia. She specializes in attachment, childhood trauma, transitions, parenting, depression and anxiety.
Wow, it is such a pleasure to have Eliza here today and I want to say something before she joins us. I met Eliza at an event in South Africa and the moment I met her I was impressed. She gets it, this woman is so savvy on international transitions and what we know about third culture and cross-cultural kids. I knew immediately I needed to invite her on Expat Happy Hour.
Sundae: So Eliza, welcome to Expat Happy Hour we are so excited to learn from you today. If you could scream into the void, what are one or two things that you wish every parent at the international school knew?
Eliza: Okay, thank you Sundae. So I think the number one thing that I wish that every parent of an international kid knew, is that your kids are always in transition. So it doesn’t really matter whether they’re moving or whether they’re being left behind, they’re in transition one way or another. And a lot of times as expats we assume or parents we assume “Oh we’re not moving this year, we’re not moving until two years from now or three years from now so that T word, transition word is not really pertinent to our family this year.” But the thing that I would like you to consider as a parent of a third culture kid, is that a lot of their friends are moving.
So for example this week, it was the second before last week of school. I went into our classes, kids classes and we talked about what does it mean to be a Third Culture Kid? And what does it mean to transition? And have you ever moved? How many countries have you lived in? And so forth.
And when I asked how many of you had your friends move? Virtually half of the certain classes would raise their hands. And how many of you miss your friends? And how many of you stay in touch with your friends? And so forth. And how many of you had friends move unexpectedly and you didn’t get a chance to say goodbye? And how many of you are moving this year and how many of you are staying?
So it’s a very confusing world and even though your family might not be moving, your kids friends are moving.
Sundae: Well, here’s what I want to do, I want to jump in with a story that I think I’ve shared on social media and I’m not proud to share it to be really honest.
So I’m an intercultural transition specialist. I should know this, I should live this.
It was last year, we were moving and I was busy at the end of the year, we were going. And I knew I had to pick up one of my sons and one of his friends was moving, and I know that right? And I was doing all the right things, like we’re going to have a good night sleep over or the double sleepover and all the things, you know, so they can have their transition time.
From the outside it might have looked like I was doing the right things, but I personally did not prepare myself for the transition, because I went to the school, and I walk up and there is, I’m gonna have a lump in my throat just talking about it, there’s like 11 boys clamoring on each other, half of them are wailing and my sons in the mix, all these emotions are there and I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is massive.” And I text messaged the mother and I’m like “It is so mean of you to send me to pick up the boys.” And you know, “Why aren’t you here with me?”
And it just took me completely off guard because I felt like they’re transitioning right? Like they’re the ones transitioning, I’m doing a good job of making sure my son has, you know the right raft built for his friend to leave, but I wasn’t personally, emotionally preparing myself. And I honestly wonder if I was doing enough before to have conversations with my son about how he was processing it.
I had set up the events but not as much the conversations. And as I’m talking my throat is tight because that was such a sad scene that I walked into and I was not ready because I felt like “Yay, we’re gold, I’ve got another year or whatever.”
So I think it’s really important, that I’m just going to sort of reiterate what Eliza just said.
If you are in an international school system, even if you live in the local country. Like in Switzerland, I know Swiss who go to national school systems, your kids are still in transition because kids go and they fall in love with their friends and they have to say goodbye and it’s special if you’re the stayer versus if you’re leaver.
So I think that’s really important.
So what advice would you give for the stayers and leavers that you think is missed, you know what I mean?
Eliza: So I don’t think it’s missed on purpose, but I think it’s missed that we as parents always want to make sure that our kids are okay. So we want to solve everything for them. We want to make sure that they’re not hurting. Where in turn I think as parents we have to a, cut yourself a break, because even now you’re getting that tight throat and you did the best you could. And I think that is the thing about parenting we all do the best we can by our kids.
And you know hindsight is always 20/20 so we can always say we would have done it differently. But now you’re going to remember for next time when like this year when your son’s friends leave you’re going to have those conversations with him, and you have done already. So it’s different right?
So I think cutting yourself a break as a parent and also realizing that you are in transition as well, not only your children are in transition. That’s important because feelings come up and transition that we felt that we dealt with. And we often times forget ourselves and we want to make sure our kids are okay, so we want to make sure that we equip them the right way. So we encourage them and we jump in with those, “Oh sweetie, don’t worry, when we move to Switzerland this is going to be the first time ever that we’re going to be living in a snow country and you have no idea, and I’m going to share all the stories from my own childhood and you’re going to learn how to ski and we’re going to do all these things as a family.”
Yes and we encourage, encourage, encourage, without comforting or actually recognizing and validating that emotion of loss.
Sundae: Yeah, that’s what we talked about with Ruth Van Reken in episode 125 about the difference between when we’re grieving, that we really need to work on comforting before we encourage.
Eliza: And I think it’s especially interesting right now with parenting because it’s all about positive affirmation and attachment parenting and really trying to help your children see the bright side and all of that. And it can actually be really developmentally damaging for your kids in their grief process.
Sundae: I actually posted a topic about this in my Facebook group Expats On Purpose, and one woman who grew up as a Third Culture Kid said her parents never gave her space to grieve. So 30 years later when she has her kids, she’s processing her grief from way way way back then. So even though it’s uncomfortable, I think it’s important for us to comfort before encourage.
And I think like you were saying, for us like I’m losing a friend this year who’s moving and have I done a good enough job at throwing myself a pity party? “Like, this is hard, this is going to be sad.”
Eliza: Right I know and I have seen the pity party and that was pretty fun. and I have attended the pity party. I would like to call it, It was an extremely happy hour.
Sundae: No, but I think it’s something we need to do.
So, just to reiterate here, comfort before encourage. So what would that look like? So if I really wanted to say “Oh honey, you’ll have new friends and you’ll find other people and don’t worry that other friend is still here.” That’s what I want to do, and I know that’s not the right thing.
What should I do instead? How can I comfort?
Eliza: So recognizing the feeling, “I know you’re really sad, I know this sucks, I know this is feeling awful. You know what? I am going through my own transition as well, my friend so-and-so is leaving, and you know I can relate to how you’re feeling, It is really sad and I feel your pain.”
Basically, and then just like sit together, you can sit together in silence, you can stroke your kids, hair and just say “I know” and sit in sadness. Allow time to feel sad, because sometimes sadness is uncomfortable and a lot of times as adults we feel like we don’t want our kids to be sad. “Let’s fix it, let’s focus on the future.” Where in turn you really need to allow them and give them that permission and also give that permission to yourself, because I think as much as we want to think positively and be strong we also have to allow ourselves grief time. The grieving, the mourning, the loss, and you know it’s okay to be sad.
Allow them and allow ourselves, and when you allow yourself to be sad and when you talk about it with your with your kid, it allows them to be sad and it gives them time and encouragement comes later.
Sundae: I want to ask the audience, think about how many times have you cried in front of your kids during transition? Like how many times have you missed a friend and hid your sadness right? And what if you were able to create more space for that and say “I’m struggling right now.” And what would that do for your kids? What would that teach your kids?
Eliza: And I think that would be a great thing to do because a lot of us don’t want to appear weak because then we feel like our kids will not feel supported. And it’s actually counterintuitive because through you or me feeling and showing my kid. “Yes. I’m going through this as well, I am upset, I’m having a difficult time.” And of course then not just using our children as our therapist, but just saying I understand.
Sundae: So just modeling it.
Now I’m jumping in here with an aside, because after the interview Eliza grabbed a book from my table. The book is called The Discomfort Zone and she looks me square in the eyes and she says “Sundae this is it, what if we taught our kids to do a better job at sitting in the discomfort? What if we as parents taught ourselves to sit in the discomfort?”
And she’s right.
This is everything that I do in coaching as well when we’re coming up against a feeling that’s uncomfortable like fear or grief, what we want to do is move away from it. Dr. Martha Beck calls it the ring of fire, that we get up to the heat and it burns and we want to move away but the only way through our emotions, the only way to go to the other side is to walk through the discomfort, to sit in it till it burns off and we can transform it to understanding.
So sitting in that discomfort of grief and loss and transition, all of those things are a big part of about understanding that our kids are always in transition.
Eliza went on to talk about the second thing she wishes that every international school parent knew, and that is, don’t assume anything.
She starts off talking about when we as parents meet others that seem like us, we can’t assume that we know how they parent. And she brings up this topic when it comes to child protection.
Eliza: But I would have those conversations, and I think that creates openness in an open dialogue.
We did child protection lessons with our kids, all of our school actually in January and it was just interesting in terms of how different our cultural values are. And we as parents often times assume that our kids friends parents, maybe because they’re also American or maybe because they’re also French or Canadian or whoever they are. We assume often times they have very similar values two ours, and we don’t have those conversations about you know, like for example when you come to my house there’s certain rules. Right, and when I would ask kids “So, you know, are you guys allowed sleepovers?” And a lot of the kids, and you know that is also a very cultural thing whether you’re allowed to sweep over and whose house are you allowed to sleep over. some parents are only culturally similar people. So meaning Americans with Americans, but it’s an international community, you know, like it doesn’t really mean that we have the same values. Some people say only family members, but we don’t have any family members in this country.
So it’s all different, but I think it’s important to have these types of conversations, When you have a playdate in your house, is there an adult present? So I asked that very question in our child protection lessons.
Sundae: So inside my head it’s like of course there’s going to be an adult present, right? And the answer is?
Eliza: And the answer is over half of the students in class and not every class but in many different classrooms from grade 1, actually from grade Pre-K or KG to grade 5 would say “No.” I would say, “Sometimes or not during the whole time?” Because sometimes the parents go out, dinner and they’re just a phone call away. But you know what happens if ….
Sundae: My arm hair is standing up, I am protecting my kids already. I’m not even, this is like a fantasy scenario and I am already ready to jump on something like your rabid tiger. For me, and this is again, it’s a cultural thing, it’s not even in my brain to think I would leave my young kids alone. Even if they can dial a telephone, right? That’s just for me. I just had that physical response, for other people it’s like “Relax, they’re fine., my kids are independent and capable and it’s a safe environment.” And also how safe it is compared to where they have lived? It’s so relative.
So I’m going to just recap here, what we started talking about the understanding of, as an international school counsellor you want to tell people;
“Keep in mind your kids are in transition and also honor that you’re in transition.”
We talked about when we have that grief, comfort before encourage.
And now what I’m hearing you say is that because we’re in an international environment we can’t assume similarity. And what I think is the most interesting is when we can assume, you know, when you’re in this international environment people might look different and sound different from you. So when you find people who look and sound like you, you assume similarity.
And actually what we’ve talked about privately is, don’t assume you understand their background, because you might share a national passport but your cultural values might be totally different and influenced by your religion, your life experience, where you lived abroad, etc. etc.
And what I’m hearing from you is that it could be something as important as child safety.
Eliza: Exactly child safety, and that is verified by the children who I serve as a counsellor. And when asked a lot of kids very openly shared things like;
“Do you know are you allowed sleepovers?”
“Yes, I’m allowed sleepover.”
“So, was there an adult present or how many of you have had a, not even sleep over a playdate afternoon where an older sibling was watching you?”
“So how many you know know that older sibling?”
“So how much older were they?”
I mean I went through, like they’re in third grade, they’re in fourth grade, they’re in fifth grade. So sometimes it would be siblings that are only two years older. So sometimes they’re 10 and the kids they’re watching are 8 or 7.
Sundae: It sounds like 1982, I grew up like that. Sometimes when I worry about my parenting I’m like “You know what we made it.” Like that’s kind of what happened in 1982 with my family. “Mom, I hope you’re not listening.”
Eliza: But did you have a swimming pool?
Sundae: No, but we did play with knives and we did start fires and we did explode blenders. We did light off fireworks with our bare hands. And I hope my son isn’t listening!
There’s something else about here and we are in a cultural transition ourselves and you might feel so different in your location, that when you do see someone from your national passport or whatever where you’re hungry for similarity and then you miss that.
Another thing I think is interesting is, that I navigated in West Africa, was the nanny culture. I didn’t grow up in a nanny culture, Switzerland doesn’t have a nanny culture. So when we got to West Africa, there was a nanny culture called nousnouss. And there were pools and I remember explicitly saying in this one situation, “No pool, under no circumstances can my kids go in the pool.” And it was in my mind I’m crystal clear, and I came over where the two nannies that were in charge of the families were there, and they had their swim trunks on and they were about to jump into the pool. And I lost it, I was like, “Are you kidding me?” Because it was seriously scary for me with my kids. And one of the nannies was on the phone with the mother to ask is it okay. Because one of the boys was basically bossing his nanny around.
Eliza: So yes, I think that’s another interesting phenomenon just living internationally. Yes the nanny culture, but also who is boss. We assume that the adult is in charge. However in many nanny cultures, it’s the child because they will tell the nanny many times what to do and the nanny is employed and they are many times worried about losing their jobs or your child would say something and the parents would believe that, and they’re just fearful so they allow children.
You thought you were crystal clear, you thought this adult in charge was going to be safe and by being safe that meant no swimming pool because that adult probably, I’m assuming they had swimming trunks or maybe they could swim. But you know, not many adults have been exposed to swimming.
Sundae: No not many of the nanny’s grew up with pools, nor is there a lot of water.
Eliza: Right, it’s just an assumption, I think it’s a fair assumption to make and those children just wanted to do it so the nanny’s went along with it and that’s terrifying as a parent thinking “Wow, had I not gotten there in time to my children, it could have been a disaster.”
Sundae: So it brings up a topic that we talked about earlier, about we need to not assume anything and be really transparent and we even went as far as talking about what if every family had house rules, and we presented them, as if we like literally printed them out and presented them to families, and that is a great idea, love that idea. But also its kind of socially awkward. How do you do that? What do you recommend for international school families? If you do want to be transparent? You don’t want to make assumptions. What can we do to keep our kids safe and to support the development of our kids?
Eliza: So what I would suggest is before any play dates and before either having play dates in your home or somebody else’s home. Getting together as families with the other family because you’re going to be able to tell, and not that you’re doing this like hidden research or secret research on this family, but I think it’s just from the kids interacting with the family and from their food choices and all things that just come out when you’re hanging out. And how they address their parents and what’s allowed and what’s not allowed, are they allowed to drink Coke? I mean your kid might go to a friends house and drink 27 cokes because they are not allowed in their own home, so they’re just like going for it.
Are they playing Fortnight?
Sundae: Are they supervised in restaurants?
Eliza: Exactly, do they go to the bathroom on their own in a restaurant? That’s another thing that came up during my child safety discussion, “How many of you go to the toilet in a restaurant on your own? Kids raised their hands. “How many of you are scared?” Like kids, you know half the class raises their hands.
Sundae: And I think from a context perspective, I live in South Africa, so I don’t feel comfortable letting my kids run around in a public restaurant not being intended in a bathroom. In Switzerland. I would let my kids do that.
So I think it depends, that example makes so much sense to me being a newcomer in South Africa. So people’s assumptions are based on their cultural context and their experience in the past and where their heightened sensitivity is. Some of our people work in security, so we hear stories or we have friends who had personal experience. So our alertness might be way higher than people who aren’t exposed to that.
So for me, I think it has raised my awareness of this experience being in so many international families and watching examples, some that are totally an alignment with my values and some that blow my mind. It raises my awareness around how transparent am I? Or what questions I ask. But I like this idea of, before we do the sleepover, before whatever, we just spend time together as families. And you can serve and learn.
One thing I want to ask you now, I know you can only speak from your experience and maybe there’s no science to back it up. But I want to hear what I think every parent wants to know.
There’s two questions:
The first one is, when is a good time to move our kids and when’s a bad time? Can you just share your thoughts on that?
Eliza: Okay, I mean I think we naturally assume that the school, sort of the completion of grade 5 and the completion of great 8 and perhaps the completion of grade 12, I mean, obviously when they’re moving to universities, are good times to move.
Sundae: Let me just do it, after 5, after 8 and after 12 because it’s after middle school, after junior high, as some people might call it going into high school and from high school to University. So there’s bridge points, there’s already a transition.
Eliza: So I would say that is not a good time to move your kids in my experience.
Sundae: But listen, I have to stop there isn’t that interesting right? Because most of us, myself included. I’ve thought “Well, they’re transitioning anyway, let’s use this opportunity, it’s a time of change anyway.” Tell us why you see it differently?
Eliza: So again, this is not really, I have not found research on the third culture kids or international kids or I have not looked for research. This is just something that came up in our conversation as we were chatting over coffee.
Sundae: And years and years of experience.
Eliza: Yeah, and just my own observations from kids who transition, I would say that in my experience I would move my child, which I’m not doing, because sometimes you can’t help it.
Sundae: If you can choose?
Eliza: If I could choose I would do it after great 4, because they still have grade 5 to kind of get used to the new environment, the new school. And as you know, grade 5 is still under elementary or primary school and they have one teacher, they have specialists teachers. However, their classmates, they don’t they don’t do much transitioning within the school day. So they transition as a group rather than as an individual.
Sundae: So I’m going to say this is like same same but different right, we’re going to move but we’re going to stay in elementary. So we’re in a new country, new context, but I’m still an elementary. Rather than?
Eliza: Rather than after elementary and before middle.
Sundae: Yeah where it’s like, “Oh my gosh now I’m not only transitioning country, I’m transitioning the way I do school.”
Which when you say it makes so much sense.
Eliza: You know, there was that sense of belonging in grade five, you belong to Mr. or Miss so and so’s class, so you still have that sense of “I’m still little, I’m belonging to this class.” You get it, you know, you can build some friendships, that hopefully those friends are not going to move at the end of that grade 5 school year. So I would recommend if at all possible, moving sooner or after grade 6. So after you have already been to middle school. I mean it’s going to be a transition anyway, but you are then used to.
Sundae: So you’re saying “Okay, I know middle school, I’ve done middle school, now it’s same same but different again. I’m gonna go from middle school to middle school but it is with new people.” I see that right, so it lessens the blow or lessons the complexity.
But what about friends? Like tell us about the developmental side, right, like the side that I don’t know about, the child development.
Eliza: So I would say actually, no it ties together. So middle school, right like every parent’s worst nightmare, you know, we all remember ourselves in middle school, awkward times.
So what I would say is, if you can avoid moving during middle school, I would avoid moving during middle school. However, I would also count 9th grade as middle school. Because 9th grade is just a very very tough year. So I would say 6th grade is tough, 9th grade is tough.
Sundae: So if you can do it all in one chunk 6, 7, 8, 9. So if you have a four-year stint.
Eliza: Yes, I would do that, 6, 7, I would do 5, 6, 7.
Sundae: Keep 5, 6 & 7. together?
Eliza: Yes, keep 5, 6 & 7. Or do like 7, 8, 9.
Sundae: Keep 7, 8, 9 together.
Sundae: And tell us why developmentally, why is this important?
Eliza: So developmentally, I mean when our kids live in one culture, kids go through, in your early years you kind of look at the culture. And I mean, this is not a conscious process, right?
So you look at the culture during your middle school years kind of, you test it out, and then you assimilate. When you move a child during middle school, they’re going through that awkward time, and then they’re also going through a transition. So it’s a double whammy and a lot of times going through that awkward time and friendships, they are looking towards their friends for validation, they’re looking to their friends, they confide in their friends rather than confiding in their parents. So it’s very different, then it gets disrupted that developmental time gets disrupted.
Sundae: So Dr. Remo Largo talks about how, what is the age 11 or 12? Your needs and connection shifts from parents to peers. So that’s a really important phase for us to pay attention to.
Eliza: It’s a really important phase because some parents will tell you “I feel like we’re losing touch with our kid, I don’t know what’s going on, I’m not quite sure.”
Now it’s important to remember that’s a very normal thing for kids. They detach from their parents and they look towards their peers for validation. However moving and not knowing those peers, there’s no trust, there’s no safety. So if you have to develop, work on developing those relationships. And I mean third culture kids a lot of times they develop those relationships, we develop relationships quickly. However, the depth of those relationships, we have trouble getting close to people.
So I would say if at all you can, I mean it’s not catastrophic to move during middle school. But if you could avoid it, if you have a choice and some of us have a choice when we move like a year here or there we have that flexibility. I would recommend moving somewhere in 5th grade. Staying then perhaps going through middle school and if you can, if you want to move 8th grade, if you could stay for 9, that’s also good.
But I think building those friendships during those years of middle school is difficult.
Sundae: And so what that says to me is, it’s even more important, because a lot of times we can’t choose that. It’s even more important that we show up with our strategies to support our kids. The comfort before encourage, creating the raft all the things that we know from the books on third culture kids.
It is so much more important for us to show up. And I know this is where we agree, we have to show up for ourselves, make sure that we’re okay so we can support our kids.
One thing that came up for me when I was in the Families In Global Transition Conference. We talked about it before too, that if we are fancy-pantsy we’re savvy about what a Third Culture Kid is right. We’re raising our kids during their developmental years outside of the passport country of their parents.
What we don’t always know is that when we look in the mirror, we’re actually staring at a third culture adult.
I don’t think that it’s in the literature. It’s with us nerds who love to read about this stuff, but not you guys who are cool and listening and spend your time doing other things besides reading academic literature. But if you’re listening to this and you’re raising your kids abroad, the chances are that you’re a third culture adult.
Meaning you have spent a significant amount of your time in adulthood living outside of your passport country and your frame of reference, your worldview has been influenced by that and you see the world differently than those people who’ve never left their passport culture.
Why does that matter Eliza?
Eliza: Why does that matter? Because I think as third culture adults our values. It’s what we talked about earlier our values, just because we meet someone from our passport culture doesn’t mean that our values are the same, or our stories are the same. So I think “never assume,” you know would be a very wise kind of phrase to live by.
Just talking to people and finding out, what are you about? What different countries have you lived in? Tell me about your journey?
Because that is our identity, so I would say no Third cCulture Kids are alike, even if they are from the same family, because remember developmentally they moved during different times of their development. So they would be influenced in different ways.
Sundae: It’s really important, I think you all need to hear that again. Your kids are not alike, even though they’re in the same family. They have moved during different developmental phases. Like my kids are 3 and ¾ years apart, so their moves have impacted them differently.
Eliza: Also the cultures where they moved during the time when they moved right, you’re in South Africa, if you were to move to the Middle East or to South America in a few years and one of your children is in middle school or in high school and one of your children are still in primary school, very different impact.
Sundae: Also language and culture, like my children, one of my children speaks really good Swiss-German the other one not because of when they left Switzerland. So their cultural identity, even their mother tongue is different because of where they grew up.
So I think that’s really important for people to see.
But I feel like I interrupted you that was just so important. I wanted to make sure people were listening.
What else about us as third cultural adults you said that matters?
Eliza: About us a third culture adults. So just learning our own journey, because I mean listening to your prior podcasts I know that also our work is such an important part of our identity, and if you are a trailing spouse or if you have a home business or if you change businesses, because many of us change what we do when we move from country to country. I think just knowing that, that perhaps your identity used to be as a trailing spouse, but now you have a business or you’ve tried something new. I mean all of that is our identity, not necessarily our culture identity. But what makes me who I am.
So we’re all unique and I know it’s such an overused, like “Each person is so unique.” But it’s truly, Third Culture Kids, Third Culture Adults, even if they’re from the same family, we are truly unique. Because there isn’t another Sundae out there who has lived in these countries and moved at the particular time. And there isn’t another Eliza who moved at the particular time and to these different countries.
Sundae: Our stories are our own and our stories are unique.
So what I’m hearing from that is taking the time, I think one, to really see our own story, because I don’t think we give ourselves enough credit for our transition to what we’re going through.
And then taking the time to get to know people through their stories and that it connects with this idea of “I’m looking for similarity.”
Actually, what if we look for nuance?
Eliza: For nuance, and you know reading stories, I think what I have sort of grown to over the past, being a counsellor and working with kids in transition.
What I would like them to create is either their storybook of their lives.
And I would typically say “Hey so how many countries have you lived in? And what were some of the things that you miss about those countries? And what are some of the things that you remember?”
And we just chat, and through that they just like to draw and paint and I write, and it’s not like a perfect book with perfected illustrations, but it’s their story and they can always add about the next move, but it’s just like their story as they see it when they’re this old.
Whether it’s a movie, I think also, you know creating a book as a family, would be a great idea just a fun project and then everybody contributes the way they want. Whether it’s pictures, whether it’s drawings, whether it’s “You tell me the story and Mommy will write it for you.” Whether you add things, whether you cross things.
And then also in that story what’s really cool to do is adding emotions, because that actually teaches our kids. And a big part of transitioning is emotional regulation. So that gives our children permission, because a lot of times when I go into the classroom and I say “So how did that make you feel?” Especially when we do conflict resolution, and things that come up as angry, mad or sad, those are the three feelings. But what if we taught our children more about differentiating between, because a lot of times kids polarize their feelings, that’s also part of development, right?
So kids say “It’s all good.” or “It’s all bad” or “Living in this country was all good.” or “It was all bad.” But what if we talk about frustration and we talked about annoyance and we talked about that brute. Where does this mad and this sad and this angry come from right now? It came from being frustrated, It came from being lonely, It came from feeling like I was not included, that I was excluded.
And all of those are also our own feelings as expats, moving. And taking it a step further and just going through it, talking and that also gives our kids permission.
Sundae: And it is so ironic, because these are the things that we want to cover up, these are things we don’t want to happen, these are the things we want to prevent.
So I did a talk in one of my Facebook groups about transition and somebody said “How can I make the transition easier for my kids?” And I jumped all over that. I’m like, “That’s actually not our job to make it easier.”
This is what came up in the episode with Ruth van Reken in Episode 125. I think we need to be midwives to our children’s grief, we need to help them labor through grief, and we need to labor through our own. But what we really want to do is shut it off, like not see it, put it under the rug.
And I think when we talk about it now and we talked about it in another episode, that we really need to see that grief is a sign that something was really good, we liked the space, we liked the friends and that grief is a natural honoring of loss of something good.
Sundae: And also that having negative feelings is okay. Because a lot of times, with the whole idea of growth mindset and being positive, and those are all excellent excellent ideas and excellent ways of being, but it’s also important for our kids to feel like they have a permission to be sad sometimes.
And you know crap things happen in life, and you know what we recognize them and we don’t pretend that they’re not there or we don’t omit them or we don’t just say, “You know what? Yes, we had a bad day, but it was a day and tomorrow’s a new day and we’re going to just not talk about this.”
Sometimes we don’t even say “We’re not going to talk about this.” but we say “Tomorrow is a new day, so you’re going to get up with a great attitude.”
And we feel like we’re encouraging, and as adults we do that. Also remembering the grief doesn’t take a day to get over and just because your child is in grief doesn’t mean that they’re depressed forever and ever. But I do want to alert the international parents that grief and anxiety our children are at a higher risk for grief and anxiety.
And you know, that probably is a story for another podcast, but they are at a higher risk for grief and anxiety just because of the moves and the losses and the unresolved grief that they face.
Sundae: So what if we as parents did more to support them in their processing? My hope Is that we will help them learn how to manage that, work through it and reduce their levels of anxiety.
Eliza: Absolutely and I think the way of doing that is number one, give yourself permission to be real with your kids.
Sundae: Give yourself permission to be real with your kids. And I also feel like you have to give yourself permission allow you as an individual to matter in your transition. Because we often put our kids first and we will help our kids transition and actually we’re falling apart and we have no idea until we get there.
Eliza: Or we wait until they go to school, like staying at home and you know decide not to make friends because it’s too hard because last time it was too hard or we are still are connected with our old friends.
So give yourself permission to be real, if you’re sad be sad, if you are upset be upset and name your feelings.
Sundae: This is so important too, because I grew up in a family culture where there was a lot of harmony and I had a really nice childhood, I knew unconditional love. And if there was any sort of conflict that was going on, it was usually under the surface.
So I think that as kids if things are usually kept at the, everything is alright sort of mode, you aren’t prepared to deal with conflict and when you get out there in the real world, it’s like being an adult is hard. And so if you weren’t equipped with those skills when you were young, you have to somehow try to make it up as you go along when you’re an adult when when you need it most. So I don’t think we do our kids a massive service when we teach them that.
Eliza: Yes, and also something that we were chatting about before is, sometimes we feel that one of our kids is good at making friends. “Oh so and so is good at making friends because they connect easily.” And that usually means that they have a high EQ. But that also usually goes hand in hand with them being sensitive. So those are the kids you need to watch out for, if they are staying and many of their friends are leaving watch out, help grief. And yes, set up events, but like what you said help process.
Sundae: That’s I think I’m going to be the biggest takeaway for me is, I know this obviously in my head, right? But it’s like living it is the part.
One of my two boys, their personalities are very different and one makes friends really easily. It would be so easy for me to encourage and say “Oh, it’s okay honey a new friend will come next year.” When actually what I’m hearing from you is, spend more time with the comfort and not just the playdates and sleepovers, but actually be there processing things.
I think that my husband is really good at that too. I’m like, “Who’s the specialist here?” He’s the one who’s watching. I’m like, “Okay honey I’m paying attention now.”
So I know we could talk for ages, but just if you could leave our listeners with one last word of wisdom. You have so much experience, you’ve seen so many families around the world in so many continents. What can we learn from your wisdom? What can you leave us with?
Eliza: I would say give yourself a break, you’re doing the best you can, you are a good parent, we are good parents. Everybody wants what’s best for their children, cut yourself a break and just be real.
It’s okay to have a crap day, it’s also okay to feel lonely, upset and worried and share that with your kids.
And comfort before encouraging.
Sundae: All right, so thank you so much for being here on Expat Happy Hour.
I might just recap here because there’s so many good things that we heard. What a unique opportunity to have an international school counsellor here and tell us what she wishes every parent knew. I mean, seriously we’ve got behind the scenes perspective here.
Number one, your kids are always in transition. And this is something I know I’ve been guilty of. We just did so much transition over 18 months and three countries to three continents. I wanted to sit back and relax and think I had a break and I realized “Oh, actually you don’t have a break.” So I learned that one the hard way, even though I knew better in my head. I learned that the hard way because I wasn’t living it as much as I wanted to.
So number one, your kids are always in transition. So if your kids are staying and other kids are leaving do pay attention because your kid is going through some sort of loss of their buddies who are on their way.
Second one is, comfort before encourage. We heard that on other podcasts, it’s coming up again. So pay attention to your language and how you show up for your kids, how you support and make sure that you’re comforting them in ways beyond just setting building the raft.
So beyond these conversations on the side where you’re checking in and also sharing your own grief, sharing how you feel about your friend leaving so that they are watching positive modeling as you go through transition.
I firmly believe in my whole heart that if we get it right, if we can show up for ourselves first and we can model that for our kids. It will dramatically equip our kids with the right skills and support them in their transition in ways that are way better than stuffing it under the rug and wishing it would go away.
Third thing that’s new for me that I’m taking away, that I get it but I don’t think I’ve had it so present in my mind is, don’t assume anything around when you’re meeting parents that are international even if they feel so culturally similar to you. There’s a lot we don’t know about how they parent, their parenting style, their ideas around food or safety or how to do a play date, what’s permissible not. And the one way you can learn about that is spending time with the families before you dive in on sleepovers or playdates, spend the time to get to know the families.
There was one other thing I thought that came up about moving. There’s some ideas to think about, more counter-intuitive than I would expect about moving your kids. Do you want your kids to go through a double whammy of transition? if you do no judgment, just make sure you’re doing all the things that we talked about today. So you can really support yourself and support your kids.
If you do have some choice, this is a unique perspective take it or leave it. But I thought it was an interesting perspective around considering the impact of your move. Again, this is coming from Eliza’s extensive experience working one-on-one with families around the world.
So it’s been such a pleasure to have Eliza here with us. What a gift and I know I’m personally taking away from this podcast many things and I hope that you have the same.
I will leave you with the following quote.
The quote is from Ann Landers which is a pen name created by Chicago Sun-Times, an advice columnist. Although it seems light the wisdom is deep.
“It’s not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings.”