A Third Culture Kid raising a One Culture Kid

I never really questioned Motherhood, I knew that it was incredibly unlikely that I would be able to carry my own child, but I always knew a child would come into my life, somehow, or that if they didn’t, I would be the dog lady. I never really thought about how I would raise a child, or that I would be conflicted,  become insecure at times and completely indecisive as a parent.

I knew the moment I became pregnant, that I wasn’t going to move around a lot, I wouldn’t live outside Canada. I wanted my child to know the mountains in the west, the smell of the ocean, to know where his great grandparents lived, the feeling of diving into the water at the family cottage every summer, having freedom at his grandparents farm, to know Ottawa, to sing the national anthem in both English and French. It was my first very conscious choice of moving away from the way I grew up, the only thing I knew, that was to be mobile. I just had no idea that moving away from all I knew, would actually make me really dig deep as a parent. that i would face so many challenges finding and growing routes. I thought taking out the moving equation would make things easier. We see so many write about raising Third Culture kids, but no one writes about an adult third culture kid attempting to stay in one place and raise a hard core single culture child. You see, I wanted to give everything that I desperately wanted to be (a born and raised Canadian), but I didn’t and I still don’t have all the tools to actually raising one. I have been fumbling, relying on my husband to explain some things to me, but also, trying to break existing WASP mentalities that we both had growing up.

I was never really sure if I ever thought about my childhood, the moves, the culture shock, the oddness of my childhood until I first heard my son’s heartbeat in an ultrasound. It was a vow that I was going to give him stability in a way I didn’t have.

I just never thought, that it would take a pandemic to undo that thought, and think, I had it all wrong. It isn’t about multicultural or one culture, it was really about listening and letting him be who he needs to be, and letting him process things the way he needs to, not the way I need to.

Early on in the spring, I heard a cry, then a full on scream. I wasn’t really sure what was going on. So I ran in the direction of the scream. My son was just screaming and pounding his fists into his bed. I walked out of his room, left him alone. I knew I had to leave him alone, this had been a long 3 weeks of breakdowns, tantrums, and screaming. He will talk to me eventually. When he finally had enough, he came into the living room, he looked at me, and burst into tears.

In that moment, I knew I had been hard on him. I wasn’t yelling, I wasn’t angry per se. No, I was simply diminishing his feelings, his process, his fears. I was doing what I grew up with. Stiff upper lip when things get rough.

You see, as a third culture kid, I have lived through coup attempts, when my father announced a posting, we always knew we were going into a line of fire. My Father never went for a stable and calm posting, he went for the countries that were either going up in smoke, or had already gone through fire, and we were arriving to ash to rebuild. It was never easy, I had often went to school that the plumbing wasn’t working after 10am. When the electricity went out, we would sit on the grass with our notebooks and conduct the class outside. When the schools were forced to close, we stayed home, read, and watched reruns of old tv shows in other languages. I wasn’t allowed to complain, it was a rule, often times I wasn’t allowed to cry, or process my feelings, so I just buried them not a healthy process. I lived in countries where my father received kidnapping and death threats, we had guards, I couldn’t ride a bike outside, I couldn’t play outside our gated house, I was never allowed to talk or look at the police officer for fear that something else would happen. So, I lived a rather conflicted life, a life that even many diplomats don’t understand because they were never posted to a hardship posting.

I hadn’t ever thought that my son, in his short life on this earth, has traveled, yes, but he has never seen anything ugly, he has had the freedom to ride his bike, or scooter, he plays with his neighbourhood friends, when the police chat to him, it is usually to give him a high five, he has never seen anything remotely traumatic. No one has died in our family that he can remember, I talk about my Father daily, but always about his life, not his death. He has grown up hearing my stories, seeing me write a book and put those stories on paper, but it is abstract, it is on a movie reel for him, not really real. Here I was, expecting him to understand that this pandemic will be over at some point, we will all be fine, so many others have it worse than us. I was working on meditation, and gratitude, but I wasn’t really allowing him to grieve.

Yet, this is traumatic, for him. He is scared, he has needed to let out his feelings and frustrations. I just wasn’t letting him do it. I wasn’t acknowledging that his life is nothing like mine was, and that is how I wanted it. I just needed to give him more compassion, more grace, more space, and show him that it is ok to feel sad, to mourn the loss of this time. He only knows this. It has been an unbelievably difficult switch in mindset as a parent, instead of walking away from the tears, I now just hold on tight, and we rock. When he tells me he is scared, I tell him that it is scary, and that no, I don’t know what is going to happen, but we are together and we are taking all the precautions, so we will be fine.

I am not sure what it is, the quiet of the streets, the quiet of our house, maybe it is the time to reflect for once because I am not running as many errands, and I am not distracted the same way.  This pandemic has made me really reflect, really listen and connect. As a Mother I had been present, yes, but, I say but, because I wasn’t always listening with my heart and my ears. I didn’t really understand what it was really like for him to grow up in one place, or seeing things shut down, unable to spend any time with his grandparents. Those are real things for him and for every child in his position.

I realize now, I am still untangling so much, that trauma, even on a small level is still big in a 10 year old’s eyes. My childhood, how I process things, are nothing like his, and I forgot, as an adult, I have to slow down, work on giving him time to heal, time to reflect, time to rise up and learn.

Over the last few months of process, we are good. We don’t cry anymore. We dance, laugh, hike, learn. Right now, I see an incredibly compassionate child, who is working really hard, raising his classmates up. Discussing his “covid is over” bucket list. It includes a road trip to see his cousins and his grandparents, nothing extravagant. It has taken some work, but not on him, but me, I had to be the one to open my eyes, to not diminish any of his feelings even if it wasn’t intentional.

This has been the biggest lesson this year, putting myself in his shoes, seeing things through his eyes, and understanding that I chose to raise a Canadian, I chose to stay to put down roots, but in that process, I still have to learn, and that is ok.


Diplomatic Kid


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