Competing for my Heart: Life with a Third Culture Kid

“I don’t want to go back to China with you. I want to stay here with Mimi and my friends at school.”

When my son said this at the end of our summer vacation, I was shocked and saddened by his words. I realize that the move to China was his father’s and my decision, but I’d hoped that in time, he’d appreciate–and maybe show a bit more excitement–about our choice to live life overseas.

When we came back to China this year, we had some discipline issues. More specifically, my son had some anger and perhaps, a bit of resentment. These emotions manifested in negative interactions between our son and our Chinese hosts. On one occasion, I was at a counter speaking to one of the Chinese staff when she decided to lean over the counter and say “hello” to the cute, little foreign kid. My son responded by putting his hand in her face and saying, “This is a private conversation.”

This altercation was the last straw. My husband and I knew something had to change. We also knew that this type of reaction from our son was not one of malice or hatred—this is simply not his personality—but one of frustration. Our son wanted to be home, his favorite place in the world: America.

To combat this, my husband and I decided to increase our son’s exposure to the Chinese culture. We’d already enrolled him part-time in the Chinese primary school, but this year we decided to get him a tutor to help him through his Chinese classes as well. We also put him in a Kung Fu class. While there are other foreign kids in his class, their instructor is a Chinese national, and he speaks very little English. I expected some challenges with communication, but surprisingly, we have had few, if any, issues. Our Kung Fu instructor is a professional with the parents, and he is great with the kids, despite the language barrier.

Photo take @ Shaolin Temple, Henan Province, China.png


My husband and I also try to maintain a daily routine for our son to lesson his confusion–which can abound in a new culture. We also keep an open line of communication with our son. We talk with him as much as he’ll let us—he’s seven, so conversation isn’t his idea of fun. Yet, through talking him I’ve observed that he is very competitive, at least in this stage of his life. So, I’m beginning to think that he feels he has to choose which (in his mind) is better: America or China. It’s become a kind of competition for his heart.

This I can relate to!

I feel this way a lot myself. Growing up, you’re told to make lists of pros and cons when making decisions and then go for the one that benefits you the most. Yet, I see good and bad in China. I see good and bad in America. I’m learning to appreciate the good and to navigate the bad in both cultures, and transitioning from culture to culture (like we did this summer) is DIFFICULT!

All I can do as a mother is model this for my child. Highlight the good, and show him how to recognize it and appreciate it. I can point out the bad, and show him how to recognize it and pull through it or navigate around it. But most importantly, I can be patient with him, especially during those transitioning period, as he learns to recognize and work through these emotions on his own.

Photo take @ Shaolin Temple, Henan Province, China (1).png


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