For most, parents are a crucial component to your growth and progress through life, but how does that differ when you are a third culture kid?
Let’s first look at how everything starts. When we are born, we are born into a social world that already exists. We are born into a specific place, environment and usually, culture. Joining into this social world and culture is the concept of socialisation, and parents are the main agent of this primary socialisation as they guide us onto this world.
This is important because the first few years are crucial to a person’s development and exerts a profound effect upon all later social learning.
But when you are a third culture kid and the world you had come to known changes entirely early in life or as you get into secondary socialisation (for example: school), the process isn’t as linear.
It’s tricky because your family will be the first social agent but there comes a point in life where you start discovering different perspectives, different ways of doing things and thinking. You will start comparing yourself with other people and seeing how your parents’ way of thinking may not necessarily be yours. While this happens for everyone, it happens earlier and in a more intensive way for third culture kids.
Let’s illustrate with an example. If your parents are from Country A and moved to Country B during your development years, you will naturally start speaking Country B’s language if you go to Country B school and interacting with Country B school peers. You are also fluent with Country A language and cultural codes.
Your parents on the other hand will have “completed” their development years and while they may start learning language of Country B, it will be difficult for them to be as fluent as you or as immersed into the culture. There may be situations where you are required to help them at times in Country B, speak or write on their behalf. It may even be in simpler socialisation scenarios or cultural understanding.
The outcome is that you may feel puzzled. Through primary socialisation, your parents aim to instil cultural continuity and competitive to you but in the situation listed above, you are the one doing something similar. This may lead to a gap or disconnect between you and your parents.
You see, the thing is, parents may have moved to Country B for a job or a life milestone but they don’t always necessarily consider the cultural implications which come with the move, especially for their children. While these cultural implications may show in different ways (for example, situation described above), it’s important for everyone to understand what is happening.
Explaining the concept of third culture kids to your parents is not the one-stop solution and I do think there are a lot of factors to consider but I believe it’s a great start. It’s a great start because it can led to important discussions around identity, belonging and a lot more. Regardless of how life pans out, your parents will remain a key pillar hence an understanding of the third culture kid concept can reinforce and strengthen your relationship, even if they have not experienced being a third culture kid.