You may not notice her. At first glance, she may appear perfectly comfortable — these kids are chameleons, adept at taking on the colors of each new environment they are plunged into. She looks and sounds like the other kids in her class; she wears the same kind of clothes, has the same gadgetry, carries the same backpack.
These children are losing the worlds they love, over and over. They cycle through the stages of grief each time they move — or they don’t, and push it down, submerge it, only to have it bubble up later in life, unexplained.
The grief of children is often invisible. They are told they will adapt, they are resilient. They are told they’ll get over missing that friend, they’ll get another pet, they’ll have a nicer room in the new house. Their family is rushed; they don’t have time to mourn their losses.
And they are children, and don’t know how to express what they are feeling.
Some mental health professionals call it trauma.
Kathleen Gilbert has researched grief among TCKs, and writes, “Losses that are not successfully resolved in childhood have an increased likelihood of recurring in adulthood… For TCKs, questions about who they are, what they are, where they are from, what and who they can trust are examples of existential losses with which they must cope. And the way in which they process these losses will change, or may even wait until long after their childhood.”
So when she comes to you, don’t ask her where she’s from, or what’s troubling her. Ask her where she’s lived. Ask her what she’s left behind. Open doors. And just listen. Give her the time and space and permission she needs to remember and to mourn. She has a story — many stories. And she needs and deserves to be heard, and to be healed, and to be whole.
I wonder about this.
To some extent I agree. It doesn’t bother me all the time but once in a while I just feel terribly lost, and a desperate need to be reminded of my connections with my various pasts.
But… like I said, I spend most of my time pretty okay with things. My most difficult time adjusting to adulthood was during that transitional period between being a teenager and being an adult, being an active TCK and then being a passive TCK.
What I mean between active and passive is that the period considered most important, or at least the main area of analysis, is childhood. I don’t want to make the suggestion that what happens after you turn 18 isn’t important, but sometimes it feels like it’s said that we’re only TCKs until we move back home or until we turn 18, and that everything afterwards is just feeling the effects of that experience.
And while there’s something to be said for the fact that your developmental years are particularly important, how you deal with the rest of your life isn’t set in stone by how your world affected you growing up.
All of this is my way of saying that part of the problems of repatriation and dealing with “not being a real TCK anymore” is intricately tied with growing up as well.
Because when you repatriate, at that age you leave your family, you leave your childhood, you go to a new place and you’re increasingly saddled with more personal responsibility… it all adds up with everything else, because you’re saying goodbye to your youth, which is bundled together with saying goodbye to your more international life.
And just like how you eventually sort of become what we call adult, you do also learn to deal with the childhood you left behind.
I’m not saying that there aren’t lasting issues, but I am saying that they’re also linked to our sense of loss for a past we can no longer entirely reclaim either as a childhood in general or our international upbringings.