When Diversity is the Only Reality You Know
The other day, the oldest one had a classmate over to the house. The friend's mum and I shared a cup of tea in the garden. We don't know each other well, so we talked about 'safe' topics, like, what are your plans for the summer holiday?
And then it turned interesting. She wanted to know about my recent attendance at the Families in Global Transitions conference in The Hague. She wanted to discuss raising kids on the move; and how different our reality often is from that of our friends and family 'back home'.
"Sometimes, going back for summer is hard," she said. "Because people back home don't understand. They worry about us raising different children. They question me, and I don't always know what to tell them."
Later, I though about what she said. It's true, of course. When I go home, I too meet a lot of questions. Very few in my Norwegian circle of family and friends have lived overseas for any length of time, never mind raised a family while moving to a new country every 4 years.
They are, understandably, concerned and curious:
- about what education my kids receive (they attend an excellent IB school)
- about language; can they still speak Norwegian? (yes, but it requires hard work and dedication to raise multilingual children. My kids are fluent in English and Norwegian, and have a decent grasp of Arabic)
- about identity; will they ever feel 'truly Norwegian' and be able to settle in Norway? (I hope so, but only if that is their choice. I do my best to make it a realistic choice for them by teaching them language skills, history and cultural awareness and I insist they spend 2 months in Norway every year. I'm not sure what 'truly Norwegian' means)
- about moving so much; won't it make them feel rootless? (yes, that's a possibility and one that I don't take lightly. I do my very best to make sure our moves are handled in a way that help my kids deal with their losses and resolve their grief. I don't wing it; I really have done my research, though I admit it's not easy)
I may not be sure I'm doing the right thing, and I have no illusions that growing up as Third Culture Kids won't affect my children's future, for better or for worse. I appreciate the concern, and I have thought all the same thoughts. But here's the good thing:
- my kids will become adults in a world where people are on the move, for various reasons. To them, that's normal. They've done it. They know it. They empathize - because they know it's hard
- my kids were born into diversity. In their classrooms and on their playgrounds, there are kids from Oman, India, Pakistan, Sweden, Syria, Australia, Nigeria, Lebanon, Canada and Norway. There are kids who can't really say where they come from, too. Some have left their passport country voluntarily, like us, while others have fled. They all look different, they sound different, they bring different kinds of food to school and they wear different clothes. That's all normal.
- the majority of their friends speak more than two languages. That's normal.
- mum and dad don't necessarily come from the same country. Or look the same. That's normal.
- people believe in different Gods. Or no God. That's normal.
I guess you see where I'm going with this by now. Yes, there are challenges to raising globally mobile children, and I try my best to protect my children from harm.
But what they gain from their mobile childhood, is priceless. The way they see their world will support them later in life, and affect their interaction patterns, their paths and their power to influence.
My kids accept differences as normal, because it is the only reality they have ever known. That is what supports me in my choice to raise them this way.