I sat quietly sipping a decaf skinny vanilla latte while my girls took turns at a hair salon during a recent furlough to the States. I listened with keen interest as the hairstylist began engaging my girls in normal American small talk. Annalise, my middle daughter, was first in the chair.
The questions came throughout her haircut. Annalise methodically answered with short, true statements.
Next, Abby, the youngest, was up. The hairstylist started chatting, asking questions about the upcoming holidays and school. Abby quietly and simply answered each question.
I held my warm cup and couldn’t help but notice that a significant piece of information was missing from answers my girls were giving. Africa did not come up once. They said not a word, not even a hint about their “missionary kid” status.
A missionary kid (or third culture kid [TCK]) is someone raised in a third culture due to parents’ missionary work.
The conversation was not new for any of us. Yet this was one of the first times that I had watched my children interact with someone who knew nothing about their situation. This hairstylist had no idea how difficult her small-talk-type questions were for my girls, or how much effort it took to answer each question simply.
It was only when Elayna, the oldest, sat in the stylist’s chair that the conversation shifted.
“So you are a freshman? Did you go to the same Christian school as your sisters for middle school?”
“No. I actually went to middle school in Africa.”
The stylist stopped, looked at Elayna in the mirror, and then glanced up at me. The questions came faster and Elayna soon settled in, answering with smiles and long sentences.
“Being a TCK impacts every interaction throughout their days at home and abroad.”
TCKs grow up with massive amounts of transitions, changes, and struggles in nearly every area of life. Being a TCK impacts every interaction throughout their days at home and abroad. They face challenges to answer even the easiest questions.
As a missionary mom, I’m not always up to the task of walking them through it. I don’t always have wise words or courageous ideas. I don’t always know how to help them or encourage them. Especially when the bigger struggles come their way. Especially when I’m struggling in the same ways.
The Great Task of Parenting Our TCKs
I recently received a copy of the book Hiding in the Hallway: Anchoring Yourself as an MK by Jeanne Harrison. In reading it, I found wise words, helpful insights and faith-based principles to encourage, challenge, and support our girls as third culture, missionary kids. Each chapter challenged me to learn and grow as a missionary parent. The book also became a resource that I wanted to read through as a family.
Here are four reasons why Hiding in the Hallway was a worthwhile investment of time for our missionary family (so much so that we read it together):
- The author is a TCK.
This book was written by someone who might have sat in a hairstylist chair as a teen and not been able to answer easy questions with simple answers. The author speaks directly to teens while giving parents insight into the thoughts and feelings of their kids. With relatable stories, my TCKs felt immediately connected and resourced in ways that other books cannot do. This book reminded my girls they are not alone.
- The pages are filled with a wide range of TCK topics.
Hiding in the Hallway takes on some big TCK situations with humor and personal experience—living in a fishbowl, watching missionary parents make mistakes, experiencing faraway places, and persevering through home assignment. My girls sat in rapt attention as they listened to another missionary kid talk about things they felt each day. Also, each topic has questions for reflection, which were a huge help to us as we worked through the book.
- The book stresses the importance of faith.
Just a few pages into chapter one, Harrison insightfully writes, “We must remind ourselves of the gospel in every circumstance of our lives” (p. 27). It may seem obvious, but TCKs live so closely to the gospel story that it can be taken for granted or feel like it is not for them personally.My girls were reminded that the gospel is for each of them and impacts their lives in a personal way. Hiding in the Hallway encouraged them to connect with God for themselves. My girls were challenged to see that God has a specific purpose for their lives and for the many struggles that they face as TCKs. The need for moment-by-moment faith in God is a reality for every Christian, TCKs included.
- The last chapter contains a powerful word to parents.
The book ends with not only an encouraging note to parents but also an emotional letter to us from our missionary kids. One phrase from the letter jumped off the page: “Teach me that Jesus is supremely important. But with your time and choices, also teach me that Jesus says I am vastly important to him and to you” (p. 156, emphasis mine).As my husband and I enter the season of parenting through our kids’ critical teen years, this invaluable advice reminds us that what we choose to do has the power to communicate that we love our children as much as we love other kids around the world.
Missionary kids live through life experiences that are unique and adventurous, even in simple things like having a chat with someone new. As their parents, we have a front-row seat to see how God will shape these experiences and make our children into the strong people of faith he created them to be.
Jenilee Goodwin is a runner, writer, lover of books, and a huge coffee fan. She is a mom to three rambunctious, super-fun girls and wife to an adventurous, always interesting, outdoorsy guy. They serve with AGWM (Assemblies of God World Missions) in West Africa.