How would you want to raise your kids? Spare them the pain of moving, or give them the gift of travel? I’ve always wondered what it would be like, to raise TCK children of my own. Would I, as a TCK, be able to impart valuable knowledge, having grown up in a world without boundaries?
I thought I would have to wait to find out. Fortunately, TCKs have been around long enough that there are families with second, even third-generation global nomads. Thanks to friends and resources, I was able to find and chat with some of the unique TCKs who grew up and had TCK children.
Sheryl Abrams, 51, remembers the day in 1992, when her husband came home with a proposition. “What would you say if I told you I had an opportunity to move to Singapore?”
“I just looked at him, shrugged my shoulders, and said, ‘let’s go!'” Abrams said. They had just started their family, but the thought of bringing abroad toddler and a baby didn’t faze Abrams a bit.
By 5th grade, Abrams had already lived in 10 different states because of her Air Force dad. After her parents divorced, her mother moved to Ponce, Puerto Rico for a Cuban surgeon, packing up Abrams and her four siblings. That was in 1969.
The relationship didn’t work out, and Abrams’ mother single-handedly raised five children while freelancing in photography and working on publicity for Hotel El Convento in San Juan. Meanwhile, Abrams’ dad married a Jehovah’s witness and moved to Guam. Against her will, Abrams moved there too, for the 9th grade, before returning to Indiana. All in all, she attended 16 different schools between kindergarten and high school.
After a high school trip to Europe, realized how different she was from her friends in Muncie, Indiana. Her horizons had been broadened by her travels. She remembers thinking: “I want this for my kids.”
So in 1992, she and her husband, with baby and toddler in tow, moved to Singapore. They stayed for six and a half years.
“Singapore made Stacy, without a doubt,” Abrams said of her oldest daughter, now a second-generation TCK attending Lewis and Clark college.
“I always loved hearing stories about my mom’s travel and going all over the place,” Stacy, 21, Sheryl’s daughter, said. “I really admired that. It’s kind of been my dream to follow in [my parents’] footsteps and see the world.”
And, she adds: “I would love to raise my kids overseas!”
Unlike Stacy and Sheryl, Charles Trueheart, 57, never thought about raising his kids abroad. But thanks to circumstance, he’s spent the last 13 years in Paris, France, raising his two children.
Trueheart grew up with a dad in the foreign service, moving between the United Kingdom, France, Turkey, Vietnam and Nigeria. He learned French and English simultaneously while constantly switching schools. As an adult, he landed in Paris as a foreign reporter for the Washington Post, but is currently the director of the American Library in Paris.
“I think all parents assume that they learn lessons from their own parents and do a better job, that’s the nature of life, I guess,” he said. “I’m not sure I have more knowledge [as a TCK parent], but I am much more relaxed about it. My kids are bilingual, they know the world, and are comfortable with running around Paris by themselves.”
Building a TCK family means that rootlessness and international travel become the norm. Trueheart’s daughter, Louise, grew up listening to stories about her dad’s nomadic lifestyle. “[It] made it seem like everything I was living was normal,” she wrote via email. “I never realized it was so strange to live in lots of countries.”
Having a TCK as a parent also means that the child is raised with a certain jet-setting independence. Catalina Schnitman, 20, a second-generation TCK, said that her TCK mother raised her without strict boundaries.
“[My mom] guided us along the way, more than telling us where to go,” Schnitman said. “She respected us for being individuals who were able to learn and adapt to the environment.” She and her brother had been flying solo by the time they were 5-years-old.
Sophia von Wrangell, Catalina’s mom, is an artist and filmmaker. Now 51, she was born in Colombia and spent part of her childhood in Spain because of her diplomatic father. At 17, she won a scholarship and moved to Romania. Since then, she has lived all over Europe and the Middle East.
Her son, Victor, 26, and daughter, Catalina, have lived in Europe and the United States. Their mother made the conscious decision to raise them as TCKs, speaking to them in three languages growing up; English, Spanish and German. But von Wrangell is well aware of the ramifications of her decision.
“It’s always quid pro quo. You gain some things, you lose other things,” she said. “You lose your roots, but you gain perspectives and horizons, and the capacity to communicate with more people.”
Lisa Nazim, 45, has struggled with the problem of finding a suitable “home” for her family. As a whole, they just didn’t seem to fit in anywhere. Although Nazim lives in Malaysia, she is not culturally Malay, and neither is her Malaysian husband, who attended a British boarding school. Nazim grew up on a small island in South England, and then moved to Singapore.
“I am not totally assimilated here,” she wrote in an email interview.
Her children attended local schools, but were picked on for being mixed. Nazim and her husband finally decided to move their family over to the Kuala Lumpur International School. Because of the school’s expatriate culture, “everyone belongs,” she wrote. “We have built up our own culture.” She is now an elementary school teacher there.
Hearing about these struggles made raising a TCK family seem more realistic, instead of the wildly fun, jet-setting lifestyle I was imagining for my future family. But, Nazim’s mother, Anita Murray, inspired me with her enthusiasm.
“I am now 74, and have loved every minute of it,” she wrote in an email interview. “I have been so lucky.”
Murray was born to English parents who escaped the Great Depression by moving to Paraguay. She traveled as a diplomat kid, then as a Navy wife, and then as an “eccentric widow.” When it came to having TCK children, “I didn’t even think about it. Our four children just came along with us,” she wrote. With both TCK children and grandchildren, Murray and Nazim’s family is the ultimate nomadic pack.
“Our attitudes are the same,” Murray wrote about her family. “Embrace everything, discover, ask questions, travel to the unknown, don’t be afraid.”
Having now caught a glimpse of life in a TCK family, how would you want to raise your kids? Would you seek the diverse benefits, or avoid the relocation struggles? Ultimately, would it be a conscious decision, or would circumstances guide your way?
A good article that expresses some of the things that my wife and I have had to (and still) wrestle with when we compare our experience and that of our kids. Both of us grew up overseas in both rural developing nations, and in boarding school.
Thanks for the useful info. It’s so interesting
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I can relate to all of this being a TCK myself AND raising 2nd gen TCK’s. 🙂 I am currently writing an article about raising TCK’s but with both parents located in different continents. The family dynamics changes…but it’s still the TCK lifestyle of jet-setting! I enjoyed reading your piece. Tks.
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As a TCK raising kids of her own, I found this article particularly interesting. There’s no doubt in my mind that I will make a transcontinental move with my children someday. Being ‘settled down’ with a husband and kids is by no means reason to stay put. Power to the parents who take the plunge!
Great article. I am a TCK and had no intention of bringing my kids up that way. I wanted them to have what I didn’t have, friends they had known from birth. Well, life is never that simple and we moved to Tokyo from the States and now London. My kids thank me for their upbringing and while they hate being asked where they are from, they are loving being at home anywhere.