Sense of Identity, Genealogy, and the Mormon TCK

If you google “TCK Depression” you will find a plethora of articles exploring why the Third Culture Kids most likely will experience depression at a higher risk then their mono-cultural peers. Sometimes it feels like an inevitable byproduct of the lifestyle we have chosen for our children. I am convinced however that by educating ourselves we can give our children the tools to mediate these obstacles as they come up. That is my purpose in creating Third Culture Mormon Kids.

One of the benefits of being LDS and raising TCK’s is that many of the things we practice as members can directly correlate to creating that toolbox. Today we will look at how family history can help create a sense of identity, that many third culture kids struggle with.

A 2010 study by Emory University showed that teens who knew their family history showed  “higher levels of emotional well-being, and also higher levels of identity achievement” . If we connect that to what we know as Latter-day Saints about the benefit of genealogy, we can strengthen our children’s sense of self.

Likewise a 2010 Readers Digest article entitled “The Benefits of Thinking About our Ancestors” further supports this idea:

Normally, our ancestors managed to overcome a multitude of personal and society problems, such as severe illnesses, wars, loss of loved ones or severe economic declines,’ the researchers said. ‘So, when we think about them, we are reminded that humans who are genetically similar to us can successfully overcome a multitude of problems and adversities.

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My grandfather Glen Perry Shelton, who moved his family to Ghana in the 1960s.

Consider that your children are not the only ones to ever travel- most of us have immigrant ancestors that we can relate to. Sharing the story of their travels helps our kids feel less eccentric. Attaching those adventurous genes to someone else can give a child confidence in their own experiences.

Before my grandmother passed away, I went to visit her. She asked me where I had been and I told her my family and I had been living in Ireland. She held my hand and said, “Oh you are just like Grandpa, he had that gypsy spirit!” Feeling like I had the blessing of my ancestors to be adventurous made me proud. It made me feel connected. We can create this for our children also.

Last September, Familysearch.org published an article about the benefits of family history. The article expanded on Identity, Connection, Compassion, Resilience, Selflessness, and Self Worth. These are all qualities we should be focused on helping our third culture children to achieve.

Knowing our cultural background and where we came from can help us develop a strong sense of who we really are. The way we relate to our family stories and create our own narratives about ourselves helps establish our unique, authentic core identity.

So what does that look like in a practical way? Of course we can help our children prepare names to take to the temple, and do research in traditional ways, but there are small and simple things we can encourage also. Introducing your child to keeping their own history through journaling, scrapbooking, photography and blogging helps them tell their story, building that sense of identity. Last week for Family Home Evening we just took five minutes to share an ancestry spotlight of old photos, then had one child share his favorite memory from our family scrapbooks. Both things took minimal effort and time, but gave our children an anchor, past and present.

Lastly, we are promised strength from beyond the veil as we do family history work. Our ancestors are cheering us on in the quest to raise these special spirits.

John A Widstoe

farmto table

We have lived in Seoul South Korea for nine months. For spring break in March we went to Hawaii and it was so fun to be “in the States”. We ordered from Amazon, we went to Target, we read and talked in English everywhere, and we got a lot less stares. It was a great break, but about halfway through we were already getting sad about returning “home” to Korea.

As we got back to routines it’s been hard to find our own happy. The kids and I have had long conversations about being able to be happy no matter our circumstances. While this is a principle all humans have to learn, the third culture kid is put to this test on a regular basis. They have to learn to find that stability within themselves when they cannot control their environment. And as their parent I have to show them by example.

I was thinking about all these things when I found myself stuck in traffic. There are only two English radio stations here and I am sick of both of them, so I decided to find a podcast to listen to. I stumbled on one by Shawn Achor, a positive psychologist on the secrets of finding happiness. As a Mormon I related to his definition of happiness in that it is the pursuit of your potential. He had me hooked. Here is his Ted talk in which he presents the science behind his theories, and the best part, practical simple things we can do everyday to improve our happiness.

If you don’t want to spend the 12 minutes on the talk, here are the 5 things you can do:

  1. Write down three items of gratitude- more then just “I’m grateful for air” but more like, “I am grateful that my son hugged me today, it helped me feel unconditional love.”
  2.  Write down a moment you had that you really felt something deeply. In his talk he says this will make us feel happiness in the remembering and then also help us look for “moments” through out our day.
  3. 15 minutes of cardio
  4. 2 minutes of meditation. Simply not doing anything but breathing will help defend us from “cultural ADD”.
  5. Send one text, email, or call to thank someone.

For once it didn’t sound intimidating!

I started to do some of these daily and immediately began to experience the benefits. Especially the reaching out to thank someone. When I shared all of this with my daughter, as she was struggling to find happiness, I felt helpful for the first time in a long time. When we help our kids learn to help themselves we are setting them up for success. Maybe living overseas makes them learn it  younger then other people, but in the long run I know it will be part of the blessings of living this crazy life. Becoming resilient, confident, and not dependent on anything else to make them happy, is a lesson that a lot of people never learn.

Imagine my surprise when we got our monthly Ensign and there was a message from Elder Soares entitled: Paths to true Happiness. And furthermore, on lds.org there is also digital content in the same issue: Happiness, More then a Mood by Maryssa Dennis and Charlotte Larcabal. These articles perfectly combined the message from the Church, and from Shawn Achor.

You might think that steady happiness requires steady prosperity and freedom from pain or trials. But studies show that favorable circumstances don’t guarantee happiness, and unfavorable ones don’t doom it. Instead, among all factors that affect your happiness, your choices have some of the greatest influence. Elder Ulisses Soares of the Presidency of the Seventy taught, “Happiness is determined by habits, behaviors, and thought patterns that we can directly address with intentional action.” Happiness is more than just a good mood or a carefree life—it’s a way of thinking and living that we can control. General mood levels are certainly affected by genetics and our upbringing, but our personal choices play a significant role. In short, “happiness is a choice that anyone can make.”

As we take measures to have the Spirit with us, and then apply positive, practical exercises to retrain our thinking, we can create happiness no matter where we live.