Thursday, 22 September 2016

TCKs, Identity and Love

So it happened. My first heart wrenching mom-of-a-TCK moment. TCK stands for Third Culture Kid. For those of you who are unfamiliar, TCK is a term used to refer to children raised in a culture other than their parents’ or the country on the child’s passport. My Aziza is a TCK. My Rowan is a TCK. When we first started thinking about a life overseas, I did a little research on TCKs and learned that they are pretty awesome but also face some unique challenges. To be honest, reading about their challenges freaked me out a little. Rootlessness, restlessness, lack of belonging, and identity crisis are real struggles for a lot of TCKs. And I HATE the idea that my children are going to have to wrestle with these things. But, my babies are, well, babies. Identity issues wont surface until they are much older, right? So, I just catalogued all of that useful TCK information somewhere on a dusty shelf in the back of my mind and hoped I wouldn’t have to pull it out until much, much later.

Apparently, much later means two and half years into my daughter’s life. A week ago, we were out as a family having a quick cup of chai. Some young men saw my curly-headed, spit fire of a daughter ordering ice cream in perfect Hindi. This intrigued them, so they struck up a conversation. The normal stuff. How are you? What’s your name? She shot back confident replies (again in perfect Hindi) without missing a beat. Then, they asked her where she was from. “India!” she exclaimed with joy. And the guys busted out laughing. For the first time in this little conversation, she was confused. She turned to me as if to ask if she’d given the wrong answer. Her big brown eyes, furrowed brow and little frown read, “I am from India, right?” I looked at her and nodded my head, and said, “That’s right baby. You live in India.”

As soon as I said it, I didn’t like my own answer. “You live in India,” I said, but not that she was from India. It seemed to imply that she doesn’t belong here as much as she feels she belongs here. She was born on Indian soil. And I love the India I see in her. I love her respect for elders and the way she gives everyone she knows a familial title. I love how she chows down on rice, dal and spicy subzi with her right hand. I love how she scolds her brother with the intonation of a loving Indian aunty. I love that she loves bindis and bangles and churiya. I love that her rooster says, “Ku-ku-ru-ku” instead of “cock-a-doodle-do”. I love that she says “Salam” and “Khuda hafiz” to her Muslim loved ones and “Namaste” and “Pranam” to her Hindu loved ones. Actually, I just love that she has Muslim and Hindu loved ones! She was born here and fits so well here in so many ways. Yet, she will never be Indian.

In the same way, she holds an American passport, she speaks English with a Texas accent, can put down b-b-q in epic proportions, loves Daniel Tiger like every other American toddler, and loves her American family with her whole heart. But, at this point in time, she hasn’t had the same experience as the majority of her American peers. So, while she is American in the most technical sense, she doesn’t have the roots of experience in her passport culture to make her feel truly at home there either.

I know this. But, she doesn’t quite know it yet. Those five minutes at the chai stall might have been her very first taste of not fully belonging to this world or that one. Those five minutes at the chai stall were my first taste of truly recognizing this reality. Every fear I imagined when I read my first book on TCKs years ago felt real and present to me in those slow moving minutes.

Leaving the chai stall, Aziza was unfazed, but I replayed the scene in my head for days. I found myself really praying for Aziza, and wondering if our lifestyle choices were causing her harm. And then, thanks to the inordinate amount of political postings on Facebook, I stumbled across one of the many videos about Trump and the whole birther “controversy”. I watched it with sadness for the complete irreverence of truth and the undisguised, blatant racism in a man who may or may not become our next president.

As I watched the video in utter dismay, God brought my Aziza to mind. It is times like these that world needs bridge builders. People who can see things from a wider perspective. People who have had a long experience of loving those who are not like them and know that the “other” is not to be feared but embraced. America needs people who are willing to look for ways to connect, not erect walls.

Although Dustin and I are your average, white, middle class Americans, Aziza (and Rowan) has not had your average, white, middle class life experience. She will understand the white, middle class world because it is our world, but God has called our family to serve and love people living in desperate poverty. So, she will also have an intimate knowledge of what life is like for those on the very margins of society. God has called our family to a place that is religiously diverse. So, bless her heart, Aziza has so many Indian moms, some Hindu, some Muslim, some Christian. She loves them well, and they love her. Because of this somewhat rootless life we live, my Aziza will know how to love her Muslim neighbor as much as her white, west Texan grandfather. And that is a gift. God has called us to a nation full of brown people. Aziza sees color and culture, and loves people regardless of what color or culture is theirs.

She may not ever have the same sense of physical place and belonging in the world that many of her non-TCK peers do, but this life has given her the ability to look at the many different places of the world and the many kinds of people who belong in it with LOVE. And while American politics are becoming more hateful and fear-driven, racial tensions are on the rise, and my childrens’ paths as TCKs are yet to be made clear, I can rest in that. I can rest in the fact that in this uncertain, shifty world, God is teaching my Aziza to love. And in the meanwhile, I will pray that she will find her roots, not in a place, but in the Lord who loves us all in all of our many differences.


  1. Mal!!!

    I love this and I love you....and I love your heart in these words. My how amazing a people we would all be if we could see with the eyes, hands and heart of a child! You bless my world, dear friend. ❤️

  2. Beautiful. An excellent perspective, Mama! Thanks for sharing.

  3. :) Love this & love ya'll. (Lucy-Kate still identifies with her Indian-ness. :) When we got back a little over a year ago - she got really upset when Felicity said that NC was her "homeland". She said, "No. I'm from India." And I love that. <3

  4. I feel your heart for Aziza and I feel myself in that little girl. Being a TCK can be hard but it is very beautiful and deep. Blessings as you raise them in the Kingdom.