Coffee, Communication, & Connection : One of my favorite standing traditions with my Mom is conversing with her over a good cup of coffee at a café. We kind of fell into this tradition when we lived in Tokyo when I was in my awkward early teen years. The transition I had experienced at that time in our move from Germany to Japan was one of the most challenging I can recall in my upbringing. I think it was a combination of the terrible insecurity that accompanies teenage identity development coupled with the difficulty I experienced in making friends in a quite snobby private school. On the weekends, mom and I would choose to go to one of the 4 Starbucks that was within a 1 mi/2.5km radius of our Roppongi townhouse. I remember always ordering a Tall Mocha. We would try to get seats near a window because we both loved people watching (we still do). As we watched and drank our coffees, Mom would gently probe about what was in my heart – the good, bad, ugly – and she listened deeply to each story. I can’t say that I remember a specific piece of advice she followed up with after each story. But that’s not the point of this reflection anyway. The reason I share this is because I want to encourage parents of TCKs to establish traditions with each of their kids, to demonstrate listening deeply, and to take responsibility for the mental and emotional wellbeing of their children. Expat children and parents experience transitions differently, so maintaining communication and demonstrating care are crucial steps in the process of creating understanding, establishing stability in the family unit, sustaining trust, and learning how best to support one another. It is also a way to demonstrate and encourage vulnerability. The coffee tradition with my mom into my adulthood has helped me to not feel abandoned when I have experienced a lot of abandonment of both people and places. It has been integral in maintaining attachment to feelings of gains – not to the feelings of losses in over 30 moves we experienced (together/separately) thereafter. It has contributed to my sense of what my priorities in life should be, and that includes making time to go to cafes with my friends!
TCK parents, I encourage you to take your child/ren aside one by one to get to know their emotional estate; what’s in their heart. Coming from a ATCK, know that this very practice my mom employed (at an especially vulnerable time in my life) shaped me into a more resilient, empathetic, and culturally aware person today. Never underestimate or apologize for your probing. Always make time to listen.