Being a parent of third-culture kids—missionary kids in particular—is a challenge at any stage. Being the mom of teen MK’s comes with its own special fun.
The changes that occur during adolescence can be quite unsettling. You remember those days, right? Insecurity, trying to fit in, wondering who you are, dealing with peer pressure. Hours in front of the mirror, indecision about what you'll wear, drama in all your social circles.
These problems are exponentially increased living in a culture where your teen is obviously "not from around here," and where cultural differences can make even simple stuff seem complicated.
How can we make this time of transition a bit smoother for them?
Make home a safe haven. Of course, this is our goal as moms, no matter the ages of our children. But when your teen’s self-esteem is being assaulted outside the walls of your house, it’s crucial. Although sarcasm and complaining may seem to be your child’s new love language, take the high road. Jokes about frizzy hair and clumsiness and cracking voices are probably best left unsaid. Don’t put up with bickering that often gets ugly between siblings. Yeah, I know. Easier said than done. But kids of all ages need to be able to let their guard down around those who love them best.
Build self-esteem. Where we live, folks have no problem pointing, staring, or calling names if someone is different. Having two tall daughters with pale skin and blonde hair has led to more awkward public scenes than I care to remember. So more than ever, it’s important that they feel safe talking to us about how that makes them feel, and that they feel secure in who they are. Hopefully this is something that’s been a part of your relationship before now, but it’s time to step it up a notch. How?
Point out how much you admire her fashion sense, or how you like the new way he’s styling his hair. Accentuate the positive by focusing on your child’s God-given talents. For us, that means blocking out a chunk in our home school schedule for one child to have time for drawing and painting, as well as investing in a few supplies she needs for that. It means driving the other to music lessons each week and figuring out how to get our hands on an instrument for practicing. Those aren’t the most convenient changes to make, but the results in self-esteem and stress relief are notable.
Be a good friend. Peer interaction usually blossoms at this stage of development, and parents find themselves less involved in everyday life. But what if there aren’t many friends around, or safety is a factor? Step up and take interest in their interests. Download good music in her style, find a shared hobby, go on mini-dates for ice cream or a walk in the park. Despite the eye-rolling you might see when first suggesting this, teens in any culture appreciate one-on-one time with Mom or Dad. During this time, try to put yourself more on the level of a friend, rather than discuss the chore list or bringing grades up.
And if your teen does find a good, solid friend, facilitate time together. As a mom here, I’m much more comfortable knowing where my girls are, so we invite their friends over, making our home youth-friendly—snacks, music, movies, space to goof off.
Keep God’s plan front and center. We see pornography splashed across billboards and on magazine covers at every corner. It’s the norm for public television, which is being broadcast in practically every store we enter. The music being played at full blast in our neighborhood and around town is full of lewd lyrics. And men of all ages are whistling, motioning, and calling out to my girls. This isn’t the time to go silent about sticky topics.
Find ways to converse naturally about whatever you’re facing in your particular corner of the world. Provide examples of a life lived well—solid movies, good books, clean music, positive role models, whatever you can to combat the frequency of exposure to “the darker side”. And remind them every chance you get that they are unique creations with a Father who designed them just right.
What challenges do your kids face? How have you adapted your parenting methods to cope with this?