A Prayer For My Third Culture Kids

Earlier this week I shared my expat parenting philosophy on Velvet Ashes. Today I’m linking up with The Grove on Velvet Ashes with a prayer for my TCKs. ~Elizabeth


I remember reading The Witch of Blackbird Pond together and feeling such a kinship with the main character Kit. She’d lived a life of privilege with her wealthy English grandfather on the island of Barbados, but when he died, she discovered his large debts. In order to pay them all, she then sold all his belongings.

After that she didn’t know what else to do, so she booked a passage to New England, where some of her Puritan relatives lived. Her cousins’ conservative lifestyle and religious customs were completely alien to her. When the ship docked on the shores of Connecticut, Kit realized “There was something strange about this country of America, something that they all seemed to share and understand and she did not” — a TCK moment if ever I saw one.

Kit suffers intense culture shock. She’s already grieving the loss of her grandfather, and she now doesn’t fit into Puritan culture. In some ways she’s even rejected by the community. She doesn’t understand their religion or their worldview, and friends are hard to find. Her uncle is particularly cold towards her, and she’s never performed such difficult, backbreaking labor before. New England winters are brutally cold and long. She misses leisurely tropical island life in Barbados: the heat, the sunshine, swimming in the ocean, her grandfather’s extensive secular library.

But she grows to love her extended family. She even grows to love the beautiful fields nearby. Towards the end of the book, Kit attends a wedding. She thinks about how she doesn’t fit in in New England, even though she loves the people and the place: “An almost intolerable loneliness wrapped Kit away from the joyous crowd. She was filled with a restlessness she could not understand. What was it that plagued her with this longing to turn back?”

wbbShe had previously decided to return to Barbados and search for work there, but as she continues reflecting on both her old life and her new life, she realizes she can’t go back to the way life was with her wealthy grandfather. Her two cousins have both fallen in love, and she realizes that she has as well — only the man she loved wasn’t a Puritan permanently rooted to the Connecticut soil. He was a sailor, a migratory man, a man of good character, a free spirit like herself. And he loved her back. “Home” for her would be anywhere he was. Marrying him would mean continually traveling between Barbados and Connecticut, always on the move, but always with him. Literally, and not just figuratively, she was going to live in the In Between.

Our Sonlight curriculum chose this novel for its relation to the Salem Witch Trials in early American history, but for me it turned out to be a metaphor for the life of the TCK. Crossing cultures, never completely identifying with one culture, never fully belonging, always grieving a loss of some sort, but needing, so desperately needing, someone to love, care for, and understand her. So with that story in mind, I offer this prayer:


My child, I’m well aware that in this life, not everyone gets married.

But should you happen to marry, first and foremost I pray you will marry a fellow lover of Jesus.

And then — oh then I pray you will marry someone who feels at home in the In Between spaces, who knows how to live in the margins of life, who’s comfortable crossing over and blending in, even if never quite fully.

I pray you will marry someone with a wide view of the world, who doesn’t think you’re crazy for your wide view, either.

I pray you will marry someone who looks to God for full identity and belonging, someone who will understand your need to do so as well.

I pray you will marry someone who understands the pain of separation and of goodbyes, someone who shares your yearning for heaven.

I pray you will marry someone who understands that love is the best kind of medicine for a hurting heart and who knows how to give it.

That person doesn’t have to be a TCK, though they might be. Your Papa isn’t a TCK, but he understands loss and living in the fringe. He understands love and nuance.

So I pray for you to experience what I have experienced myself: that your heart will be fully understood and accepted, fully loved and wanted, fully celebrated and cared for.

I pray you will have many years of adventure together, tasting of a perfect heaven here on a very imperfect earth, each year growing ever closer to our God and to each other.


Home School Burnout Part 4: Resources for the New & the Weary

by Elizabeth

Here are the links for the previous posts in my Home School Burnout series, in case you missed any of them:

Part 1: Unrealistic Expectations

Part 2: “Mom Fail”

Part 3: The Mean Mommy

And now, on to my 4th and final installment! For me, recovering from home school burnout was about addressing spiritual and emotional issues, as well as practical issues. Here are some resources that helped:


This spring I listened to a lecture from Susan Wise Bauer, my absolute favorite home school writer and speaker. It was called Burning Out: Why It Happens and What to Do About It.  Bauer went through two separate home school burnouts and shares the  lessons she learned. She’s probably the reason I didn’t feel guilty about my summer “mom fails.” Well worth the $5.

Another good one from Susan Wise Bauer is Homeschooling the Real Child, which I also listened to this spring. Again, you have to pay for it, but again, really valuable information.

The personally-convicting webinar I discussed in Part 3 isn’t available online anymore, but the author put her presentation slides up as a Google document. Might be useful to some, and feel free to ask me questions about specific slides. I can probably remember what the speaker was referring to.

If you related to the tension I felt in Part 2 between work/ministry inside the home and outside the home, you might appreciate this conversation between Rebekah Lyons and Jennie Allen. (I’m now obsessed with Jennie Allen, after discovering IF:Gathering and IF:Equip this year). We can trust God to call us back home, even when He’s called us outside the home, too.

For anyone new to homeschooling, I always recommend reading Susan Wise Bauer’s chaotic days with littles. Guaranteed to make you feel normal and non-failure-y. As Bauer’s children grew older, she stopped sharing details of daily life, a decision I really respect. I’m glad she shared the early years though:

A Day of First Grade and K-4 (with three boys under seven)

A Day with a First and Third grader and a Three-Year-Old

A Day with a Fourth and Second Grader, a Four-Year-Old and a Newborn

For anyone brand new to homeschooling, I always recommend Cathy Duffy’s 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum (an update of the original 100 Top Picks and subsequent 101 Top Picks). Don’t buy it just for the curriculum reviews; buy it because she walks you through the various homeschooling approaches and differing learning styles. She helps you identify your home education goals and then find an approach that matches your family’s learning styles. Really valuable resource.

For anyone who needs help with making schedules, the following posts helped me get started several years ago. I still have to make a new one each year as the workloads and number of students increase, and I have to make adjustments in the first couple weeks of school.

Routines, Schedules, and Hooks: Getting It All Done

The Schedule

Build a Better Schedule

Lastly, I’ve found that the main key to making the home school schedule work is monitoring my schedule. I have to keep tabs on my own time. I have to go to bed on time and get up early enough. I have to discipline myself to go straight from one kid’s lesson to another to another, etc., no breaks or wasting time. I have to stay off the computer till my scheduled writing time and close it when that time ends.

My schedule is working really well right now, but I have to be pretty strict about keeping it, or I don’t end up getting everything done that needs to get done. I still have to be careful about over-socializing, which uses me up until there’s nothing left for husband and children. In short, I can’t just make a schedule. I have to stay alert and stick to it.

Home School Burnout Part 3: The Mean Mommy

by Elizabeth

hsb part 3b

There’s more to the story than Part 1: Unrealistic Expectations and Part 2: “Mom Fail.” Much more went on in my heart the last couple weeks of summer break, and I really wrestled with whether to share what I’m about to share. I’m fiercely protective of my children’s privacy, and I don’t share much about them online (more on why I’ve chosen to do that in a couple weeks at Velvet Ashes).

I was afraid that talking about my homeschooling struggles might reveal that gasp! I’ve ever had parenting issues at all (as though both my children and I are perfect). While I never want to share my children’s stories or betray their confidences, this story wasn’t actually about them. It was about me and my own sin, and that’s something I do feel (timidly) comfortable sharing. I also felt it would be disingenuous to leave the story at “God turned my heart towards my children that week and POOF! Everything was fixed.” It wasn’t that simple or straightforward.

God softened my heart that third week of summer, it’s true. But something else happened after that: I listened to a free, one-time webinar called “Teaching Ramona Quimby: Homeschooling Your Intense Child.” I signed up for this webinar because, um, FREE. (I also listened to a free one about teaching math conceptually, but that doesn’t have much to do with this part of the story.)

The speaker listed some of the characteristics of what she calls the “intense child.” As I listened I recognized myself in her description. I was an intense child, all grown up. I have big internal reactions to stuff, I’m sensitive to external stimuli, I don’t like my routine altered, I want to blame other people for my upsets, and I don’t always know what to do with my emotions.

I began to see that I was aggravating the homeschool stress through my reactions and attitudes. Busted! God was convicting me big time. You mean this all came back to me? You mean I’m the problem here? I didn’t want to admit that. I would rather blame my issues on something outside me. I really couldn’t though.

I started having some conversations with my husband about this stuff, and we talked more in-depth about “boundaries.” He’d been telling me for a while that I didn’t have good boundaries, though at the time I’d been so overwhelmed I didn’t really know what he meant or how to implement his advice. As I became convicted that my own behavior was causing my frustrations, I could now look inside and see he was right.

Here is what I found inside myself: a deep fear of being a Mean Mommy. There’s a voice in my head that tells me I have to be available to my children at all hours. I can never tell them no. So I would let little people climb on me all the time. I couldn’t give myself permission to take a break or to tell them no. In my mind that would be withholding love, and I wasn’t supposed to do that.

I didn’t want to be mean. I didn’t want to reject anybody. But when my patience had worn thin and I was tired of being climbed on, I did reject. I snapped and spoke unkindly, or I went away and hid. Or both. Result: I was becoming the Mean Mommy I was trying so hard to avoid. Ouch! That realization hurt.

So I started seeing myself as culpable. I needed to take responsibility for my behavior and my reactions. I needed to institute some better boundaries, and I needed to do it calmly. I found that when I did, peace returned to my home. I fell in love with my children again. I was able to see and care for their little hearts again. I even delighted in them again.

The Mommy I was meant to be was coming back from the grave.

Part 1: Unrealistic Expectations

Part 2: “Mom Fail”

Part 4: Resources for the New & the Weary

Home School Burnout Part 2: “Mom Fail”

by Elizabeth

hsb part 2a

Our January discussion helped a lot, but then I just charged ahead into spring and overcommitted myself to the blogging world. It feels awkward to admit that, but it’s true. I severely underestimated my time and energy commitments — though in my defense, I didn’t realize I was overcommitting myself at the time.

I had wanted to write about the Parsonage Heresies for about a year, and in January I finally decided to do it on A Life Overseas. I didn’t realize that series was going to be such an emotional, intellectual, and time drain. Committing myself to a specific subject and needing to write an in-depth post about it every month really wore me out. Don’t get me wrong, I am so glad I wrote this series! It was just draining.

I also committed to write two Velvet Ashes posts for the spring. These weren’t ordinary posts though. They were related to the heavy themes in the book Expectations and Burnout and were also an emotional and time drain. Again, I’m so glad I wrote these! Especially Jesus Loves Me This I Sometimes Know — that story simply burned in my heart to be told.

By the time I got to early May, however, I was exhausted. I had spent myself in writing. In order to meet all the deadlines, I had directed attention away from my children. Somewhere in the process of writing and reaching out to the women who connected with my stories, I had inadvertently turned my heart away from my children, and now I didn’t particularly feel like turning back. Noise was still a stressor during school days, and I had a hard time fitting everyone’s lessons around my grueling blogging schedule, so I felt really behind again. I know six articles in four months doesn’t seem like it warrants the description “grueling,” but these posts took a lot from me.

I was poured out and empty. I took time off from blogging at other sites and condensed a couple weeks of school into one week in order to finish the school year a bit earlier. I thought I was going to lose my mind, and I needed a break. I was so tired. I told my husband I wanted to go away for a year; he told me that was an unreasonable solution. I knew he was right. I also knew I needed some way to refresh and refuel, and I didn’t know how long would be enough.

So when the first Monday of summer break came around, I took a break from parenting — almost literally. I let myself be a “bad” mom: I locked myself in my bedroom and let my children watch movies. All.day.long. I didn’t talk to them, I didn’t read to them, I didn’t play with them. It was a total “mom fail.”

I knew I only had four weeks of summer break because of our upcoming stateside service, and I wanted squeeze every last second out of it. I watched movies. I played Freecell. I read books. I wasted time on Facebook. I didn’t blog. I wasn’t productive. I was in a very fragile state and needed to be alone.

By the end of that first week I discovered, to my surprise, that perhaps I didn’t need an entire year away. Perhaps these few weeks would be enough of a break. Already I felt like coming out of my bedroom and interacting with my family again. Not all the time, mind you, just some of the time. I still hung out in my bedroom a lot.

During the third week God did something in my heart. It began with a prayer session at church where I started asking the question, “Why don’t I want to give my children my time?” That week as I started seeking answers to that question, another home school mom asked how she could pray for me. I didn’t share all the details, but I confided that I needed help balancing teaching and writing. (This was true, but rather general.)

It felt good to know someone was praying about this issue for me, because up to that point I hadn’t done much of that. Her prayers must have been working because the very next day I tuned in to a Sonlight webinar, and it reminded me why I love teaching my children and why I decided to do it in the first place. Those three events were pivotal in renewing my desire to home school.

So as summer drew to a close, I started recovering my heart for homeschooling. I started recovering my heart for my children. I started reorienting my heart toward my children, turning toward them instead of away. And by the time school started four weeks ago, I was ready to teach again. I was ready to spend time together again. I was ready to love again.

I still had to figure out the practicalities of fitting four students’ lessons into each day. (Eek! My long-time fears actually started materializing this school year!) I still had to figure out how to get all my writing and editing jobs done on time. But God had addressed my heart problem. He had given me the rest and recuperation I needed. He had supernaturally given me the ability to look at my summer “mom fails” not as a failure but as a necessity. In short, He had allowed my non-productive summer to be really productive.

Part 1: Unrealistic Expectations

Part 3: The Mean Mommy

Part 4: Resources for the New & the Weary