TCK – Totally Clued-in Kids or Totally Clueless Kids

To quote Elise, “I wonder sometimes if this really is my life now?”   This transition has not been an easy one for my teen and pre-teen children.  They were 4 years old, 2 years old, and 1 month old when we left the country of their birth and so now identify strongly with South Africa.  You hear a lot about “biltong” and “lekker braais” in my house.  The kids miss their country of familiarity.  They knew what to expect in South Africa.  They were confident and secure.

All things familiar have been pulled out from underneath them.  With one plane ride, their whole world changed.  “Every important place they have been, every tree they climbed, pet owned, and virtually every close friend they have made are gone with the closing of an airplane door.” (from the book Third Culture Kids)  Thankfully we have been talking about this transition and preparing them for it for a long time, so it is not a surprise to them (or us) the way they are feeling.  But somehow it still doesn’t seem to make it easier.

This is what we looked like in June 2007 when we moved to South Africa.  (Elise is in the stroller in the left of the photo.)

This is what we looked like in June 2007 when we moved to South Africa. (Elise is in the stroller in the left of the photo.)

And this is what we looked like in May 2017, on our flight back to Canada.

And this is what we looked like in May 2017, on our flight back to Canada.


A label is assigned to children such as mine.  It is a “TCK.”  You hear about PKs.  I was one of those.  A preacher’s kid.  Or MKs.  My mom was one of those.  Missionary kid.  But the term commonly used for kids who transition between cultures is TCK or third culture kid.

“A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture.  The TCK builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any.”  –  David Pollock, American sociologist

I am reading the book by David Pollock called Third Culture Kids: Growing up Among Worlds.  So much wisdom within the pages of that book.  It has been helping me understand their feelings and mood swings.  The last part of that quote stands out to me because I see it in my kids.  They easily build relationships to a culture – when we have visited places, they adapt quickly…  but yet stand out.  Different.  They do not feel fully Canadian, yet they also do not feel fully South African. They are “third culture.”

I first remember my daughter Elise asking me if she was Canadian or South African at a church social event.  It was a country hoe-down.  And we had gone into the bathroom.  She looked calmly at her cute little face in the mirror, patted her plaid shirt, innocently turned to me and asked, “Mom, am I South African?”  She must have been around 3 years old.  No, Elise.  You are not South African.  But even then, a part of her was.  She felt connected to the country that she was “formed” in.  A child’s formative years are their pre-school years.  And it is during this time that a child’s development and personality are shaped more than any other time in their life…  South Africa is deep in my kids.

Our little cowgirl...

Our little cowgirl…

So now to take them away from all that feels like home.  That feels “normal” and secure.  It is not easy.  Thankfully we are going to be taking a missionary re-entry course at the end of July.  I believe it will help all of us, but especially for our dear children.  Being a third culture kid can be a huge benefit – often children raised outside of their passport countries have a deeper understanding of the world and issues such as cultural differences, languages, poverty, illness, and political unrest.


The instability that TCKs feel when moved from the country they grew up in is real – that instability can sometimes cause insecurity and emotional stress.  My kids say they feel “clueless” about Canada and the way of Canadians.  A funny example, Nate was appalled to hear that his rugby at school was “touch” rugby!  He had never even heard of such a thing.  Proper (tackling) rugby doesn’t start until age 14, and he is only 12.  In South Africa, they are tackling in rugby from Grade 1!!  Perhaps even earlier!

Nate's rugby team in SA

Nate’s rugby team in SA

His favorite part is the scrum...  He is in there somewhere...

His favorite part is the scrum… He is in there somewhere…

But the differences go deeper than rugby! 😉

Just to protect their privacy, I won’t share anymore about how my kids are feeling, but it isn’t easy.  Thanks for giving grace to them.  And if you see them, don’t say “welcome home.” Canada doesn’t feel like home to them.  They are really missing their South African “homeland.”  I do believe that they will come to identify with Canada, but it will take time.  So for now, say a prayer for them.  And if you see them, let them tell you stories of their childhood home.  Slowly they will grieve what they have lost and learn to rejoice over what they have gained.

So they may seem a little clueless for now, but they really do have a depth that I am grateful for.  A depth that comes from seeing the world beyond our borders.

As a side note, if any of you would like to help financially to get us to our missionary re-entry course,  please send your gift to Hopeshares and mark it for Waldron’s Re-entry.  Thank you so much!

Our 3 TCKs

Our 3 TCKs



12 Responses to TCK – Totally Clued-in Kids or Totally Clueless Kids
  1. Gerry Reply

    THANK YOU SO MUCH Michelle – so eloquently stated. The depth of our emotions run so deep and as individuals we experience the world in such different ways. I can only begin to lightly understand the confusion your brood is going to experience. Thanks for the reminder to not say “welcome home” until the time comes when they truly decide on their own that that Canada (or wherever God leads you and your family) is where they adopt as their home. Please know that you and each of your children are prayed for daily.

    • Michelle Reply

      Thank you for your generous and kind words. You guys are great and we are so thankful to have a support structure in place through Hopeshares!! See you soon!!!

  2. Jolene Phelps Reply

    So many things we don’t process or think about when it is not our own story. Prayers for the kids and you all as you find a new normal.

    • Michelle Reply

      Thanks dear Jolene. Too true. We all have such different stories and we can’t quite understand sometimes. Thanks for trying to “get us” and for loving us all the same! You are such amazing friends! Hope we get to see you soon!

  3. Melody Reply

    Praying for you guys. xoxoxo

    • Michelle Reply

      Thanks Melody! Means a lot to us! Hope we cross paths soon!

  4. Rachel V Reply

    Thanks for sharing Mish. Tough times but I’m glad to read some of your journey and will be praying for you all.
    Much love xxx

    • Michelle Reply

      Thanks Rachel! Your prayers mean a lot! You are a superstar! Lotsa love from all of us!

  5. Mom Reply

    Love and prayers to all of you!! Friends were close, many things learned- such as how to make spaghetti sauce are now not there. No more big avos and mangoes – it’s hard!! But you’ll get there by the grace of God.

    • Michelle Reply

      Thanks momma… You understand so well since you experienced so much of our lives in SA. Love you loads!

  6. Lance and Tanya Reply

    Our prayer for years has been for our loving Father would bless your ministry and your family, and so we will continue to pray. Welcome to Canada! You will soon find that an authentic family on mission is needed here too.

    • Michelle Reply

      Thank you so much Lance and Tanya! Your loving support over the years has been amazing! Hope we can catch up soon!

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