Becoming a Third Culture Mother: how to raise a TCK ?

Lately I’ve been reminiscing a lot about my childhood memories, trying to understand which experiences and events made me who I am today. I suppose many women, pregnant with their first child, partake in this introspection. How I was raised and how I choose to raise my child are intrinsically linked – whether I go ahead with a similar upbringing to mine or a completely different one.

With perspective, I can honestly say that I am lucky to have had, for the most part, a happy, stimulating and adventurous childhood. As a TCK, I saw the world as my oyster.

The official definition of a TCK (Third Culture Kid), is a person who has lived for a significant part of their early development years in a country other than their parents’ or passport country. The unofficial definition however, is simply someone who struggles and can’t give you a straight answer when being asked “Where are you from?”. 

I was born to an Indian Punjabi mother and a French father who also happened to have a few Greek and Armenian ancestors which gave him a very non French sounding last name. I looked slightly different, my name was unlike any names I’d ever heard and so, I grew up feeling quite unique and special. At home, a mixture of French, English and Hindi were spoken and I was soon introduced to the TCK lifestyle: moving countries. Up until my early twenties, I moved back and forth between France, India and England. I felt like I was living the dream and I was accumulating so many life experiences under my belt. I admittedly became somewhat of a life experience junky. After university, I wanted to continue in my TCK ways and decided to move to Seoul, South Korea, where I happily lived for close to 3 years. Faith then introduced me to the joys of love and relationships. I met my soul mate – now husband, a wonderful Australian man of Indian origin who had lived his entire life in Sydney. Almost 4 years later, here I am living the Aussie life, with our precious little bubba on the way. 

There is no doubt that my TCK background and subsequent experiences contributed greatly to how I see the world and myself today. A part of me wants my little one to share this TCK label and upbringing with me. However, I know that life doesn’t work in such a straightforward manner and that I will most likely have very little control over the course of his or her life. I have so many hopes and dreams but also doubts for this future earthling. I am certain that some of my fellow TCK who are about to or have already become parents would share a similar line of questioning and hence thought I would lay some of it out below. 

Which languages will my child speak? 

My husband and I have always conversed exclusively in English. Besides English, I’m fluent in French (my first language), I get by in Korean and I understand Hindi although I have no practice speaking it. My husband does pretty well in his mother tongue, Marathi. It would be a bit of shame in our opinion not to raise our children bilingual. I’m also afraid they might be bitter later on in life if we stick to English, denying them exciting linguistic opportunities. However, as much as I would love to converse in French with my bubba, the idea of my husband being left out of our chit chats really bothers me. I want our family to be able to communicate in harmony with one another, without any secret languages. I’m not quite sure what to do yet but we will hopefully figure it out as we go along and raise bilingual children. 

How will my child find his/her identity?

As a TCK, it took me a while to form my own. What I have learnt is that my identity doesn’t rely on any specific culture, religion or race. I’ve embraced the cultures I’ve been a part of as useful tools to grow and further understand humanity in general, hence myself. Ideally, I would want our child to be free of too many belief systems and pre-conceptions of the world based on a particular culture or country. Many TCKs refer to themselves as Global Citizens and I’d like to think that our child will be one of them. 

What if my child doesn’t want to travel and move around?

It might well be that our little one feels very comfortable in one place and never wants to leave it. A few years ago, the thought of such a situation would have made me quite nervous. What if I can’t relate to my children if they don’t have a similar upbringing to mine? What if they end up lacking open mindedness? However today, I can honestly say that it wouldn’t bother me at all. I have married a non TCK, and he turned out to be extremely open minded and the person whom I relate to the most in this world. Being a TCK doesn’t guarantee happiness or wisdom, and that’s all I want for our children. 

I obviously don’t have all the answers to my questions but I’m sure I will figure it out as I go along, like most parents do. Just like my parents’ experiences influenced me in a positive way, my own thoughts and actions will hopefully impact our child for the best. Being a TCK should not define him or her, and is not a necessity to learn some of the lessons I have learnt whilst being one. I look forward to meeting this bundle of joy with such excitement and until then, wish me luck!