Libby Stephens is a third culture kid consultant who is passionate about third culture kids and works with them, their parents, teachers at international schools. She is committed to using her expertise in supporting organizations and schools, and empowering individuals worldwide. Check her website for more information. You can follow Libby on twitter too: @Libby_Stephens. I read this article on Libby's blog and I asked her if I could share it with you. Thank you Libby for such useful information in this internet age.
Third Culture Kids
Here are some reasons why it's good for your Third Culture Kid to have a close relationship with grandma and grandpa:
“Stories” are the language of TCKs so it is important they hear some of
those stories. As parents we often don’t tell stories about our own
lives growing up. That task often falls to extended family
members…especially to grandparents.
2. When grandparents make
attempts to get to know their grandchild even while living far apart,
there is a unique foundation of relationship that begins. When the child
goes “home” he now has someone who accepts him, loves him. This is
especially critical for TCKs because being with extended family can
sometimes be the most difficult. In this way, grandma and grandpa’s
house can become an oasis. It often gives them something to look forward
to when they return to your passport country.
3. It gives them
exposure to older people. When I was working at an international school
my father, a biochemist and microbiologist, came to my school after
retirement and taught AP classes in science. He was a quiet man, but the
students lined up to talk to “Doc”. I asked a group of students one day
why they liked Doc. “He’s old. He’s wise. He is history. I think he
must be like my granddad.” They would say. Because many TCKs are in the
international community for much of their growing up years they do not
have the opportunity to get to know older adults.
grandparents provides a relational root that is connected to time and
history. It helps them develop a sense of relational history. Since a
TCK’s sense of rootedness is in relationships rather than in geography,
it becomes all the more important that relationships with extended
family and most especially grandparents be strong. Parents, aunts and
uncles, grandparents, great grandparents give the TCK a family line he
belongs to. Not just by blood, but in relationship.
Here are just a few ideas for grandparents to help them develop emotional closeness while they are far apart from their TCK grandchildren.
1. Skype…Grandchildren need to see grandparents
because keeping the children current on what grandparents look like is
very important. Though some children may actually get to be with
grandparents in the summer months, I don’t think that is enough. It’s
important that children see their grandparents age. There can be a lot
of physical change in children and grandparents in one year. Remember,
young children keep the last image they saw of the person as what he/she
is supposed to look like.
2. Create a CD…As
parents we often make videos of our children and send them to
grandparents, but I would like to suggest that it happen the other way
around. Oh yes, continue to send those videos to grandma, but encourage
her to make one for your child. I know of one grandmother who set the
camera on record and made a CD of herself reading bedtime stories to her
grand children. She would read a little, then turn the book around to
show the pictures as if her grand children were right in front of her.
Just think how magical that was to those kids.
the computer to be printed by you or sent via mail…it doesn’t matter.
Just ask your parents to do this - and often! This is a tangible thing
that can be put by a bed, in the living room, or at the dinner table
when there is a special occasion and you want your child to remember
your parents. It keeps grandparents present.
little updates especially for your child! Kids love getting mail. And
getting mail from grandparents is especially good. If your children are
teens, ask your parents to send them text messages. Short texts at
spontaneous times does wonders for a relationship. The teen doesn’t
forget grandpa is there, and he sees grandpa as cool because he knows
how to text!
5. Hand written letters...Sadly
this doesn’t happen much anymore. I know a TCK who was in boarding
school who said he got a hand written letter every week from his dad! I
asked how much that meant to him and he said, “Well let me put it this
way, to this day I have never thrown even one away”. Do grandparents
need to send a hand written letter every week? No. Actually I would vote
against it. Emails or Skype every week, I love it, but not the hand
written letter. Save this medium for special occasions…first day of
school, her first date, a proud moment, or a treasure of truth that a
grandparent may want to tell his grandchild.
is a tricky one. Everyone loves gifts and grandchildren know the best
gift givers are grandparents. Here is the tricky part. Mom and Dad, it
is your responsibility to keep this under control. It is so important
for your children not to view grandparents as gift machines…putting
money in every envelope, giving them everything they want when they
visit. Balance is the key. Otherwise there is no real opportunity for
real depth to grow in their relationship. It becomes all about the
7. Play games together online…Yes, I
really do mean this! There are so many games online that require
multiple players and it doesn’t matter where you are. Time zones might
be an issue, but I say it’s worth it. Think about how they would get to
know each other and what memories are being made! Trust me, when they
see each other face to face, there will be plenty to talk about and a
great way to start conversation.
8. Tell stories …You
as parents need to tell stories about your parents to your children: “I
remember when your grandfather…” Family, history, roots are important!
But it cannot stop there. Grandma and grandpa must tell stories too,
about you, about their own childhood, about the child himself, from
9. Watch a video or cartoon together…why
not do this via SKYPE! The share screen option means the grandkids and
grandparents can watch the same move at the same time, while both are
eating popcorn! These make wonderful MEMORIES and a great story to tell.
10. Visit the child’s world…I
cannot close this blog without mentioning this tip for forming close
relationships between TCKs and grandparents. I know often we live in
places where when on holiday, we just want to get away. But please do
consider once in a while flipping the trip. Bring the grandparents over
to you. They will see that though you may be living in a difficult
place, your family is fine. More importantly, your parents have entered
your child’s world. When that happens something unexplainable happens.
There are new conversations. There are shared memories in your child’s
land. And your parents will begin to understand the vocabulary of your
What about you? How have you ensured that your
parents stay emotionally close to your children when they are
geographically so far apart?
Looking forward to your thoughts and ideas,
PS: Of course, it’s up to you as parents to make these things happen.
Explain to your own parents why it is so important for you, the kids
and for them.
Photo by JDurham, Morgue File