6 Things Your Third Culture Kid Does Not Want To Hear

Maybe it’s when you announced it:
“Sweetheart, we have great news, we’re going to move to another country”
or when you arrived in this new place,
or even later on – weeks, months, years (yes!) after.

But one day, for sure, you’ll get to hear from your third culture kid:
Angry Third Culture Kid
“Why did we have to leave?
I want to go back.
I don’t like it here.
I miss our former home. It was so cozy.
I miss grandma and grandpa. I miss my friends.
Do you think it’s easy to make new friends? I’m not even sure what it means to have a “best friend”. I don’t have any. Some of the children in my class have been together since kinder.
Having a best friend from kinder is something I’ll never experience. I’m tired of feeling awkward and getting weird looks. There’s always something wrong with me. I just can’t fit in.
Why did we have to leave? Maybe I missed a lot of opportunities back home, maybe my life would be much better by now. I’ll never know.”

This feels like a punch in the heart.

As a parent, of course, you want the best for your children. You want to give them the stability of a warm nest, the sense of belonging to a tight-knit community. But you also want to open their mind and prepare them to be part of a global world.

Your heart is torn apart.

Those words keep haunting you.

Confronted with this outburst of reproaches, you’re tempted to answer.

  • Justifying the move

“But honey, you know it was for your father’s job. He did it for us, so that we can have a better life.”

  • Justifying the timing

“It was once in a lifetime opportunity. We had to decide quickly. We couldn’t stay 3 more months. You know that. We told you. We already postponed our departure to accommodate your sports competition. We tried hard for the drama show but it was impossible. Don’t be too hard on me!”

  •  Blaming the victim

“How dare you? You’re too spoilt. Look at what you’ve got. Half of the children your age have never taken the plane. They’ve never visited all those places. Who can speak three languages before turning 10? Can’t you be grateful for once?”

  • Comparing with your own childhood

“Look at all the sacrifices we’re making for you to have so many opportunities. When I was your age, I had never crossed a border. I never ate Asian food. I hadn’t heard about sushis. We didn’t even think of taking the plane. If only I’d have gotten half of what you have!”

  • Doubting yourself out loud

“I gave up my job. I’m staying at home all day long to support you, cooking healthy meals, giving a hand for your homework. I enrolled you in all your favorite activities. I’ve been organizing play dates and a somptuous birthday party to help you make friends. You never have to go to child care. And you’re still not happy. What did I do wrong?”

  • Denial

“Sweetheart, don’t you think that you’re a bit too emotional here. You have wonderful friends. Remember Chelsea who insisted you came to the Athletics Carnival or she wouldn’t run. Emma organized a sleep-over at her house for your birthday. She brought you a gift back when she was on holidays in Japan. James was ready to offer you his place to join the music band. If that’s not a solid friendship… “

I’ve done – or witnessed – all of the above.

And I can tell you: it does not work.

It only makes things worse.

Because it’s BESIDE the point.

“Mum, I don’t want you to always justify yourself or to argue with me. I know that I should be grateful and that there are children who have much less than me. I know it too well.

When you say that, it just makes me feel worse. I don’t want to talk to you any more. You don’t understand.

What I’m trying to say is that I just need to tell you what’s on my mind. I need somebody to listen because I’m going to explode or I’m going crazy! And I have feelings that I cannot always explain. Why can’t you just listen?”

This was my wake-up call.

I didn’t need to come up with thousands of reasons why my third culture kids should enjoy their current life.

I didn’t need to question the move.

I didn’t need to blame myself, my husband, the company, the planet for being in such a situation.

I just needed to be there. Fully present. Nearly silent.

“I feel for you.”

Not “I understand you” because this may backfire. “How can you know what I feel ? You’re not in my shoes. We’re all unique. You say it enough, right?”

So I learned my lesson.

What our third culture kids need – what we all need by the way – is acceptance of their feelings, acknowledgement of their pain, validation of their sadness.

Bottled feelings grow in the dark. They suck our energy. They infiltrate our soul. The more they are kept inside, the stronger they become until they must burst out.

It’s much better to vent them as often as needed through attentive listening and compassionate conversation.


So next time you’re facing this kind of situation, take a deep breath and … just listen.


Credit music Piano Society Credit picture @Wikimedia Commons



  1. Tina Quick says:

    Excellent article, Anne. And so, so true! As Ruth Van Reken would say, we need to comfort our children and not just encourage them. Allow them to voice their anxieties and concerns without diminishing them or trying to fix them! We all need to be reminded of this from time to time. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thank you very much, Tina. I couldn’t agree more: it’s so easy to fall in the trap of “fixing” problems. Especially for parents and mothers. We’re wired to find solutions when our children are babies. The more they grow up, the more we have to make us redundant. I find that it takes a real, conscious and constant effort to “just” listen 🙂 but in the end it’s a gift to offer to our children!

      2014-03-07 23:28 GMT+11:00 Disqus :

  2. Tim Sanford, MA, L.P.C. says:

    For the missionary kid population within the TCK world … I also do NOT want to hear (when parents are “justifying the move”) that it’s GOD’S will -Read into this “God’s fault not mine as youre parent so don’t get mad at me or blame me for this move!” God may lead … parent, you still choose.

  3. It works with kids, it works with spouses, it works nicely with just about anyone really. Most people don’t need advice or a solution, they can figure it out themselves, they just need some friendly support. Nice article, I’m passing it on to our members.


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