Raising A 3rd Culture Family

Tatman Family 2016

Most people have never heard the term “third culture kid.” The term describes someone who is raised in a culture or country that is different from the parents’ culture/country of origin and the culture/country listed on the child’s own birth certificate. For example, a
child might have a passport or birth certificate from the United States, but he/she is not brought up in an American culture.

However, because the parents are from the U.S. the child is not fully immersed in the culture in which he/she is being brought up. Confused? Join the hundreds of TCK’s (Third Culture Kids) from around the world!

Let’s paint a picture. James and Patricia move from the United States to Slovenia as missionaries. They have a son named Mark. Mark is born inSlovenia, but because his parents are American, he is citizen of the United States.

During his formative years, Mark is learning, growing, and developing inSlovenia with American parents. At the age of twelve, James and Patricia need to leave the mission field and return home to the United States. So now Mark, who has only known Slovenia, moves back to the United States.

However, the U.S. is as foreign to Mark as Slovenia would be to anyone living in the U.S. We would make a wrong assumption to think that Mark would feel at home in the United States.

Mark is a TCK, a third culture kid, who was born and raised inSlovenia, but now lives in the United States. Deep down inside he never understood why Slovenia never felt right. Mark knew the language and even looked similar to everyone else, but always felt unsettled.

Initially, upon moving to the United States, he thought those feelings of not being settled would go away. After all, Mark was an American. He was wrong. In fact, if anything, he felt more unsettled. So if America didn’t feel like home and Slovenia didn’t feel like home, where was home?

This is where the “third culture” term comes in. In all probability, Mark will never truly feel at home anywhere. He will always feel a little bit like a visitor no matter where he lives. This is a brief, surface-level description of a negative side effect of life as a TCK.

In a positive light, a TCK can navigate through different cultures. He or she has an opportunity to explore and feel things in a way that many of us do not, which can be a great benefit and gift in life.

In our own context, “Third Culture Family” seems to be the best description we can come up with for our family dynamic. In a sense, we have created a third culture within our own household through adoption. In addition, our daughters from Costa Rica are TCK’s as well. Double bonus for them!

There are so many changes that take place when adopting a child, but especially when adopting older children. Our family culture, as it was before we adopted, underwent a massive transition by  adopting internationally.

Tatman Family 2018

We knew change would occur, but the experience of it has been much more rich
and complex than we could have imagined. In our next post, we will share some of the third culture dynamics of our family. While not every family is like ours, we hope that adoptive families, or families waiting to adopt, can learn from and prepare for creating a third culture family.

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