Saying Good-bye Stinks…

photo by flickr The Commons

Good-byes are never easy, especially when you live overseas. In many ways it is like death. You say your good-byes not knowing if you’ll ever see the person again here on earth. You depart. You cry. You see old photos. You cry some more. Then time passes and life goes on. You keep in touch with Facebook, email, and possibly even Skype, but most of the time you don’t.

It is hard, but what about our kids? Third Culture Kids grow up saying good-bye to friends every year. It is normal for them. Either they are the ones moving or a friend is leaving. It is just the way of expat life.

In a few days we will have to say good-bye to a couple of dear friends. We leave for the summer to visit family and when we return they will be gone. They are close friends of mine and their kids are close to my kids. So, how do we, as parents, help our TCKs deal with the coming and goings of people in their life? I’m not sure I have all the answers, but here is what I am trying to do this week.

1. *Talk about it. I have been talking to my kids about their friends leaving this year. We’ve talked about where they are going, how they feel about it, and to some extent what to expect next fall. For my oldest, he understands and has gone through this too many times for his ten years. As for my youngest, I don’t think she gets it. This will be the first time really for her to experience it. I’m expecting tears.

2. Listen. Stop talking and just listen to what your kids have to say about the situation. When my son was four, I cried with him when his friend returned to South Korea. Now I listen to my daughter tell me where her friend is going next. And I will sit and cry with her when reality hits.

3. Photos. Take photos of them together with their friends. Even if you have to force one from your older kids, they will be thankful later when they see it. This has been great for my whole family. We have photo albums of friends we’ve met along this expat journey. Make these photos visible if your children want that. Let them make a photo album of their own with memories of their friend(s) that are leaving.

4. Say Good-bye. Make sure they get the chance to say good-bye. Even if you need to drive a half hour to do so, just do it. Kids need that part of closure. Even better, offer to take the kids for ice-cream, swimming pool, or to the park. I’m sure the parents would appreciate the extra uninterrupted time to finish packing plus it is a great memory for both children. Another idea is to have them make cards for their friend leaving and be sure to exchange contact info with the family if you don’t already have that.

5. Listen. After the friends have long boarded the plane and are gone, listen again. It maybe a month later, but listen. Sometimes kids just need you to be there to cry with them. To know that it is painful and that you care about them. And then again, maybe they don’t want you around. Be flexible – don’t hover, but be available to listen. It’s a balance act that I can’t say I have mastered, but trying to fine tune it.

Saying Good-bye is never going to be easy, but I think we can help our kids make the transition by being there.

*I just read this article today by Julia Simens about transitions. I really like the idea of teaching my children that transitions happen ALL the time no matter if you are TCK being “left behind” or if you are in elementary school going into middle school. Transitions are a part of life, but I do believe that we need to help our kids through them. As you know,some transitions are a whole lot more fun than watching your best friend pull away in the car loaded with suitcases.

Your Turn: Got any tips on helping TCKs say “Good-bye” in a healthy way? Did you read Julia’s article? What are your thoughts? Please share in the comments below.

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25 thoughts on “Saying Good-bye Stinks…

  1. I haven’t really gone thru that yet. Evan is too young to remember his friends in BKK but I think once we leave Indonesia things will be different. Thanks for the tips! I will keep them in mind. Bon voyage!!!

    • You are welcome. Our first move was easier b/c our oldest was just 18 months old and it didn’t effect him that much. Sort of miss those days, but it’s better to go through them then to avoid them. At least that is what I keep telling myself.

  2. Good tips here. Thanks for adding the link to my blog too :-). Another tip would be to tell stories. “Remember when we…” stories. Tell funny stories about the people you knew or things that happened. Children always like stories. We nearly missed a plane recently, it was very stressful but now we laugh out loud when we tell the story about us rushing to get the plane and catching the wrong train to the airport etc. We made it in the end.

    • You are welcome for the mention…I thought it went right along with what I was writing about. It gives a real picture of the hardness of saying good-bye so many times as well as just life overseas.
      Your plane story reminded me of our train story. We almost missed the train because the taxi had a flat tire and it was during rush hour so there were no other taxis. We had a new-to-the-country teacher with us. She was holding the hand of my oldest (2yrs at the time) while I carried the other, plus bags as we raced through the train station. Great thing is that teacher didn’t get scared away, in fact she is now raising her own little TCK. It is a story that we still laugh at today as well. Thank for reminding me of story telling.

  3. Love this post – made me think of all the times I’ve had to say goodbye to friends when we moved to new countries.
    I remember spending hours writing letters and sending faxes to friends (this was before e-mail and Facebook). There was something exciting about knowing that my friend was going to hold my letter in her hands – it made me feel somewhat closer. E-mails are, of course, more convenient, but it doesn’t seem as personal as seeing someone’s handwriting.

    • I’m glad you said that a real card is so much better. I will be more intentional about having my youngest make a card for her friend that is leaving. As for my son, he’s past that age – so going swimming or hanging out is probably the better option for him.

  4. Thanks for adding to this ‘OH So Important’ part of an expat’s child (or adults) life. I love having families make emotions stories. We always add the geography, the emotion, the key players and then we make the memory. Some families have now a large book of these personal emotion stories that showcase the lives of their children.

    • Thanks for stopping by. I really liked your illustration of transferring left hand to right hand. I shared that with a fellow mom/teacher. I like this idea of emotion stories, to be able to go back and read about that time in our life. I have made special photo/scrapbooks of the specific cities we lived in for each of my kids. It is sort of like a picture book of memories specifially for that child. They love getting those out and looking back at the place they once called home.

  5. The photo/scrapbooks sound very cool. Good idea. We always had books of photos growing up. That is how we learned about our family and remembered our grandparents and cousins. As far as saying good bye to friends, I always made sure I had contact info for them and I was a letter writer so I could stay in touch. Plus my parents gave me the opportunity to visit close friends over the years in order to keep in touch. It is great that you are making it part of the conversation.

    • Thanks! I’ll probably post about this idea next week if I get time to write it up during the traveling this week. That is great that your parents were intentional to visit close friends when possible to help keep in touch. I’m doing that in a few days(swinging through old city for a few days before traveling onto the US), only my girls don’t remember these two very dear friends of mine, but now maybe they will when I talk about them. =) Thanks for stopping by and sharing.

  6. We moved when our daughter was 13. It was very very very hard on all of us. Last year, we considered her and I moving back to our beloved Saint Louis. But in her wisdom, she said it would be a mistake to leave such a good school system. This year when school started high school it was like a whole knew world, she found the drama and journalism departments and her spot in the world. As a parent the three years leading up to this one were filled with worries and grief.

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  11. MaDonna!
    I’ve been doing some research for TCKs and look, I found this website and realized I recognized a picture! heheh. It’s you! Thanks for the info! I’m gonna look through more of your stuff. 🙂 Hope you’re doing well!

    • I love when people stumble upon my writings and even more when it’s someone I know and haven’t seen in years. Glad it has been helpful.
      We are doing well, can’t complain. How are you? Are you working for ldi now?

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  17. Probably the worst thing that could happen when trying to make the transition just happened to my kids. In February, a card was received with all of the kids from church’s signatures. The card basically said “have a nice life wherever you go”…all fine and dandy right? UNLESS you are not actually scheduled to leave until July. It is so hard to protect their little hearts and keep them on task when people do stuff like this. I know they were probably well meaning, but now my children don’t feel welcome or wanted and the goodbye was not on their terms…it was on someone else’s. And that just isn’t fair to them. So…I have no real advice except if anyone sends you a goodbye card 6 months ahead of time – DON’T show your kids!! Has anyone read an article that addresses this? or similar topics? I would really appreciate a reference because I would like to forward it on so this doesn’t happen again. Thanks for your article. So much truth. After set of goodbyes in less than 10 years you start to think you have it down…and then something always surprises you.

    • Thanks Amber for sharing. I have never experienced that before – but do understand the surprises that get thrown at you from time to time. I’m so sorry that you’ve had a rough few months. I hope that you and the children are able to bounce back from it and are able to finish the process of leaving well. If you haven’t read the book THIRD CULTURE KIDS: GROWING UP AMONG WORLDS by David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken, I highly recommend it.

  18. I am a TCK!!! We are going back to the US after living 7 years in Ecuador…it is so hard. Me and my sister have only visited the States 3 times in those 7 years, and so Ecuador is really more our home…the only other good-bye we have said was in 4th grade, and I personally don’t really remember it, haha. Any advice on this?

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