Navigating transitions with your children
By AfriGO Team
MKs are mobile. This is a reality for the children of missionary families. MKs leave their country of origin and with it their aunties and uncles, grandparents and cousins, friends and schoolmates, and sending church. They resettle in new countries and, over time, revisit their home country. Sometimes parents are later re-assigned to another field and ministry. Even for MKs whose parents stay in one location, other missionaries may come and go around them, creating a sense of mobility.
One of the best skills a missionary parent can learn is how to guide their children through transitions, equipping them to say good-bye with whole hearts and to say hello with hopeful hearts, ready for a new chapter. Parents who are aware and wise can help to develop in their children resilience and coping skills that will serve them well for the rest of their lives.
Imagine a wide stream with banks on each side. On one bank is the place your child lives now, and on the far bank is the place they will live next. The water between is the transition, and it can be navigated poorly, adequately or skillfully. Of course, unexpected storms can arise and complicate the crossing, but a well-thought-out transition plan will help a child fare better even when there are surprises.
The authors of the book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds suggest four steps that form the acronym RAFT. These steps help parents to intentionally plan transitions — building a sturdy RAFT to cross the stream to the far bank. The letters that make up this RAFT stand for reconciliation, affirmation, farewell, think destination.
Reconciliation is about making things right in the relationships that will be left behind. It means working to resolve any misunderstandings or conflicts with others. To seek or to give forgiveness clears out the worries in a child’s heart and prepares them to take on new relationships in the next location. The tempting alternative is to box up the problems in one location and leave them behind. This doesn’t work; because each of us takes ourselves and our habits with us into new locations. Reconciliation is the first log in a sturdy raft that helps children develop skills for life.
Affirmation means expressing appreciation for important relationships that will be left behind. What people and memories can be affirmed and treasured? Who can you and your child thank for their influence on your family? Be sure to take photos together, write thank you notes, or leave special gifts behind to remember each other. This step will help your child remember the good times and good people for a long time to come. This is the second strong log in the raft that will carry your child through a positive transition.
Farewell is the act of saying good-bye. It may sound too obvious to even mention, but in the rush of leaving, slowing down to say good-bye properly can be left for the very last minute. Good-byes that are rushed leave things unsaid and can feel unsatisfactory. Farewell is not only about special people, but also places such as their school or a favorite restaurant, events or traditions that they regularly knew, even farewell to things. Make a list of people, places and experiences for last-time visits, and create opportunities for this in the weeks before leaving. Host a good-bye party for your child’s friends. As parents who are busily planning the next steps, packing, and wrapping up ministry assignments, be sure to take time to get these farewells on the calendar. This is the third log in a solid raft to carry your child across a transition.
Think destination means to learn about and dream about the new location. Imagine with your children how it might be. Do research on the internet. Write down positives of the new location and what might be experienced and explored there. Help your child picture themselves in the new setting – in a new school, a new house; take practical steps to prepare for it. It is ok to feel excited about the new location even while feeling sad to say good-bye to a familiar and loved place. This is the fourth and final log in the complete raft that can carry your child across a transition from one location to the next.
Adapted from the book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds by Dave Pollock and Ruth Van Reken.
10 questions to ask before leaving
- What are the ages of your children? The younger they are, the easier it will be for them to adapt. For teenagers, changes can cause greater upheaval, so more preparation is needed.
- What education options will be available for your children? Are there good local schools or international schools, or are boarding, distance-learning and home-schooling the main options? What are the costs of these education options and how will the costs be paid?
- Will they need to learn new languages in the new place? What language will you speak in your home? Do you want them to be fluent in your mother tongue? If so, this will require effort and dedication on your part as a parent.
- Will you be joining a missionary team and if so, do they have children, too? Will there be local children that they can befriend?
- Where are you going to live? Will you be in an apartment or house, on a campus or in a neighborhood? Will your children have their own rooms?
- What healthcare will be available in case of illness or accidents? Do any of your children have special health needs that require access to health services? How will you pay for health costs?
- If there is a crisis—political upheaval, natural disaster, etc.—what is the emergency protocol? Will your missions organisation, church or your country’s embassy help take responsibility for your safety during a time of crisis?
- What standard of living will you likely have in the new context, and will it be greater or less than what your children know currently? (Remember: standard of living is not the same as quality of life; the latter can be accomplished no matter what standard of living God may be calling you to.) How can you prepare your children to change standards of living or to live in a context of diverse standards of living?
- What close relationships do your children have with cousins, aunts or uncles? Do you desire to maintain and nurture some of these relationships from a distance? What is your plan for doing this?
- What items should your children take and leave behind? Every child has precious objects such as toys, games or certain clothes. The more you involve them in the choices about what to bring or leave, the more secure and in control they will feel.
There was an orientation for new missionaries arriving to serve in Burkina Faso. The children in one family had been told by their parents that they could pick one or two special things from the previous country to bring to the new country. The parents promised to pack these things and take them to Burkina Faso. Do you know what one child picked? She picked stones from the ground! So, these important pebbles were packed and arrived with the luggage in Ouagadougou, as promised.