Every parent is afraid they are making a mistake when raising their children—abroad or domestically—and Jo Parfitt and Terry Anne Wilson are no different.
In their book, Monday Morning Emails, they often question if their decision to move their families frequently throughout their children’s childhood results in their children’s inability to cope with difficulty.
Monday Morning Emails is written by two women through the lost art of letter writing (in this case, email letters), results in heartfelt and intense revelations about their personal and family lives.
As their children head off to university and navigate the world as independent adults, both women are faced with circumstances that are compounded by long distances and frequent travel.
Jo Parfitt describes the tear she feels between needing to be supportive of her son with caring for her elderly parents.
“I have to be strong for the kids who have never lost anyone close and for my mother who hates being in charge. I’m starting to set several plates spinning. For my parents, the boys, Ian, the house-hunt, my business, and trying to re-establish a social life. Wish me luck!”
Terry Anne’s son informs her that he is joining the Canadian military and the night before he must report to basic training, she remembers how quickly the time has passed.
“When I trailed behind his golden curls as he rode round and round on his tricycle…
He takes off his ‘dog tag’ and puts it on the bedside table. I will never forget picking it up and seeing its two identical pieces—one that stays with the body, the other finds its way to the family. I caress it as if it is him, wanting to protect my son and take away any pain—now, or what the future may bring.”
Tears streamed down my face as I read this passage. Terry Anne captures so brilliantly the ache that we feel deep within our hearts when it comes to trying to protect our children, and we realize that we cannot.
A preview of the future, perhaps?
Monday Morning Emails may offer up a preview of what life may hold for many mobile families, and I couldn’t help but put myself in their shoes and weep along with them.
I found myself earmarking every other page with passages that spoke to me about the complexity of motherhood—not only motherhood on foreign soil.
A lot of my daily anxiety arises from the fear of missing out—we are missing so much extended family time in exchange for immediate family time. Is that fair? I don’t know. Will our kids someday come to resent us for the fact that they do not have close relationships with their cousins? I don’t know.
And we can’t possibly know.
Terry Anne and Jo make it clear that despite doing the best they could to provide amazing childhoods for their kids, there are still bumps in the road. There are still obstacles to overcome. It doesn’t matter how much we do as parents—there will always be something that we didn’t do because that’s the nature of life.
“Our life is composed of events and states of mind.” -Stephen Levine
One part of the book was Jo’s recount of how much she initially hated her time living in Stavanger, Norway and that she never appreciated its beauty when she lived there because she was caught up in her own head. When we are in the throes of toddlerhood tantrums, it can be difficult if not impossible, to appreciate the striking beauty of the world around you.
“To me, back then,
younger and more foolish,
my jaw was clenched against sweet sentences,
eyes narrowed into butter slits
that refused to see the light,
as a toddler’s tantrum lingers, though the ball’s now in his hands.”
Given that my own daughter’s tantrum recently lingered 30 minutes after the problem was “solved” Jo’s poem resonated with me on a visceral level.
How often do we miss the beauty in our everyday lives because of our preconceived perspectives? Are we not just overgrown toddlers who don’t realize that we are missing out on the beauty right in front of our faces?
The different phases of relocation
A few months after we moved to Stockholm, Sweden, I joined the American Women’s Club in the hopes that I would make a few like-minded friends. I was super excited to be in Sweden, and everything looked shiny and new from my newcomer’s perspective. I was on an adventure!
But the women I met at all of the social events were bitter and jaded. They had lived in Stockholm for years and had been worn down by the staunch, slightly more impersonal culture than what they were used to. I couldn’t relate to their complaints because we were in completely different head spaces.
They had no tolerance for my brazen (naive) enthusiasm, and likewise, I had no patience to listen to endless stories about how they hate grocery shopping in the metric system.
Now, having a few years tucked under my belt, I’m a much better listener, and I’m more empathetic, but at the time, I was intolerant to negative stories about my adopted home. I would tune out negative stories with my hands in my ears shouting la la, I can’t hear you in order to preserve my jubilant bubble of ignorant bliss.
I’m no longer eager to ignore the negative experiences that may happen when we choose to live this global lifestyle but instead, I enthusiastically devoured Jo and Terry Anne’s stories so that I may learn from what they experienced.
In a lot of ways, Monday Morning Emails can provide highly-mobile families a glimpse of what they may encounter in their future.
If you are relocating every few years, you will need to consider how that affects your children who will stay rooted at university or will want to build a life of their own in a country different from yours.
It is good to ask these questions now and to perform mini-thought experiments about how you will prepare your children if they want to attend university “back home” when they have never lived there themselves.
I know that our kids will have to spend a few years in the US if they want to pass on their US citizenship to their own children. We will have to have that conversation when the time is right.
Beyond the memoir
Unlike many memoirs, the book takes the personal stories a step further, and the last 81 pages contain advice and resources from psychologists, counselors, and coaches who specialize in Third Culture Kid (TCK) subject areas to provide support to families.
They have perspectives, techniques, and approaches families can implement to aid in mental health support for their TCKs and many web-based resources linked at the end for continued learning.
Without a doubt, this book provides both emotional support and practical counseling resources for the modern global family.
Be sure to read your copy of Monday Morning Emails here.