Saying “Goodbye” with My TCKs

I mentioned in Saying Goodbye: A Process about making sure that my kids’ needs were met when they said goodbye to Africa.  With our TCKs being so little–Bub 3 years and Honey-Bear 20 months–I didn’t know how much they would remember, but I wanted to make sure they had every opportunity to have full closure.  So we did four things that I think helped them process goodbyes and make leaving Africa a reality for them.

Giving Toys

It is amazing how many toys you accumulate in a year and half. It helped that we were given hand-me-downs from several family. So when it came time to get rid of things, I wanted to use the opportunity to help my kids learn (1) how they can bless people by giving and (2) how they can be blessed by giving.

So week by week, I asked them what toys they wanted to give away.  Some weeks they would choose two toys and other weeks they would choose ten toys, but it was always their decisions.  After choosing the toys, we would decide who to give them to.

For their closer friends, they gave specific and special toys to.  And the gift exchange made a sad goodbye experience turn into a happy goodbye…most of the time.

Speaking ‘Goodbye’

For Bub, specifically, speaking the word “goodbye” was an extremely emotional thing to do.  Even FaceTiming with family back home, he would get so upset when it was time to say goodbye and refuse to say the word.  After a while, he could say, “See you later,” but hardly ever a full, “Goodbye.”

Knowing this struggle of his, we started a couple months before we left Africa talking to him about how important it is for his heart and others’ hearts to speak the word “goodbye.”  When we started giving toys away with saying goodbye, it turned his negative emotional experiences into happy, fun experiences.

Saying goodbye to Si
Saying goodbye to Si

When he gave his dinosaurs to his best friend, Si was so happy to get new toys that Bub go really excited too.  In their happiness, they hugged and said goodbye with no negative emotions.  It was a blessing to Si, which in turn blessed Bub with a happy heart and happy goodbye.

Talking with Honey-Bear

At some point in the leaving process, I realized that we were talking a lot about goodbyes with Bub but not with Honey-Bear.  She was the same age Bub was when we left America and we talked a lot with him about goodbyes.  So I was more intentional with talking about goodbyes with her.  And I know it helped her realize the reality of leaving, and when the day came a good final goodbye (read that story here).  She did great with speaking, “Goodbye,” giving hugs and kisses.

Bub’s Party at School

And to solidify their goodbyes, they needed to end well in all areas of their lives and that included Bub’s school.  He went to a Preschool/Daycare 5-days a week in the mornings.  He attended for ten of the twelve months we lived in Work City.  So these kids were his friends.  Knowing my son, bad at goodbyes and loves to have fun,  I wanted him to have a great goodbye with his class…so we had a party.  I called his teacher two weeks before we left and asked if we could have a party to say goodbye to Bub and she was thrilled.

The morning of the party we came with snacks and a gift.  Bub had chosen to give his Noah’s Ark set of boat and animals to his classmates to remember him.  We had a lot of fun!  We explained we were leaving. Bub passed out snacks and drinks to all his classmates.  Then he showed them his Noah’s Ark set and presented it to the class.  Then 20 some kids 5 and under ran around like crazy, having fun!

Bub's Party at School
Bub and his BFF, Maria

It was a blessing to my heart to see him interacting with his friends and teachers.  It was a blessing to him because he was recognized and got to serve and love his class through snacks and a gift. His teacher snuck out and came back with gifts for Bub, which was so sweet of her!

As we left, he cried and I cried and the teacher cried.  And it was good.

Having fun goodbyes made a big difference for Bub and Honey-bear as we sought full closure for this chapter of their lives.  Being intentional in using “goodbye” words and knowing your kids can make all the difference in ending well.


Saying Goodbye: A Process

This past January 1, 2016, I started our 90-day count down in leaving Africa to return to the States.  I’m not much of a last-minute-person and I like to avoid as much stress as possible.  So I started my 90-day count down of what I would pack and when; when I needed to make certain arrangements in the States; and when I would start saying goodbye to whom.

We have been through a lot of cross-cultural trainings and one phrase I’ve heard over and over is,

“In order to arrive well, you need to leave well.”

And I wanted to do BOTH well, so I put a lot of deep thought into how we could “leave well.”  I thought about our family’s needs: My Love’s need for a low-stress environment; my need for deep relationship-connectedness; and our kids’ needs for expressing their emotions during transition.

After evaluating those needs I decided (1) I would slowing start downsizing our possessions, but not start packing essentials till the very end as to keep our environment low-stress for My Love. (2) I would make sure that as we downsized, our kids would be a part of deciding what toys to get rid of each week and where they would go. (3) We would intentionally spend weekly times with friends and then keep our last two weeks free to be with our best friends.

A couple practical ways we practiced “leaving well” were by giving things away, last meals, and writing letters.

Giving things Away–

So…it is amazing what you collect over a year of life even with a minimalist mentality.  And it is amazing what wont fit into just 5 check bags and 2 carry ons.  We had a lot of possessions to go through: clothes we brought in the beginning that we never worn or didn’t fit anymore; replacement clothes; kitchen items; toys; random electronics; and ‘office supply’ types of things.  So I divided my apartment into categories, and week by week went through that ‘area of the apartment’ to downsize–keeping all essentials till the last week.

I had a basket in our bedroom I would toss ‘give away’ items in, then once it was full I would give to a friend.  (The community aspect of African culture is amazing.  And what they didn’t use from me, they passed on to the next person till it all found a home.)

With our kids’ possessions, week by week I would ask them what toys they wanted to give away or were all done playing with.  Some weeks it would be two toys, others it would be 10 toys–it was their decision.  I wanted them to practice making the choices to downsize to experience the feelings in leaving, and to help them realize the reality of,  “We are leaving Africa.”

The second step we took with our kids was prompting them to give their toys aways to their friends and people of choice.  This also helped them ‘leave’ and created for them relational connections.  So Bub chose specific toys to give to specific friends.  He gave his TiLung leopard to Z to ‘take care of for him’ while he was in America. This was a special toy to Bub, but for some reason he didn’t want to take it to America so we gave it to an older girl friend to ‘take care of’ while we are gone.

He gave his Noah’s Ark boat and animal set to his class on his last day of school.  He did it so they could remember him when they played with it.  🙂  It amazed this momma’s heart how thought full and deep children’s hearts can be at such a young age–Bub is 3!  Though he struggled with saying the word, “goodbye,” this helped him.  His friends were happy with the new toys, so goodbye wasn’t a sad thing any more. Honey-Bear was great at speaking goodbyes and did her own give aways with a bit more direction from us.

Last Meals–

Having family meals is such an important part of African culture: a great to way to love, respect, and honor to the people you eat with.  We came to love meal times with other families and value them! So tried to have last meals with our closest friends and their families.

Of course, our friends wanted to host and give us their best recipes, so we enjoyed ourselves.  The honor they showed us was humbling.  The conversations we shared we so rich and meaningful.  These times were so precious and moments I hold dear in my heart.  And after 5-10 minutes of hugs, tears and goodbyes, we walked away sad but with a feeling of wholeness.  I found myself thinking, “If leaving people we’ve known for less than a year is this hard…we did something right!”

And though leaving them was hard and heart-breaking, the wholeness feeling we felt was from saying goodbye really well.  And each time after leaving their homes, we felt our hearts emotionally closing that door behind us, which made us ready to open the doors that were before us in arriving.

Writing Letters–

Writing letters is a practice I used when we left the States in 2014.  I’m a letter girl! I love to receive a letter that I can read over and over again–it helps the love ‘last’ longer–and it is deeply personal and intimate.  I’m also not a quick thinker and usually I leave a conversations and remember 10 minutes later, “Oh, that’s what I wanted to say.”  So…I again decided to write letters to my Africa friends I was leaving to say my goodbyes.

Through my letters, I was able to pour out my heart and say all the things I wa

nted to say.  I asked my language teacher to help me in this process.  So I ended up writing my letters in English, then she would re-write them in the national language.  With her help (because there are still many things I couldn’t say in their language), I was able to express my heart 100% to my friends. And my heart felt closure from that.

Since then, each friend I wrote to has messaged me saying how personally touched they were by my words.  And though I wasn’t looking for responses, it was an even deeper, more whole feeling to know they understood my heart, it blessed their hearts, and it made our relationships deeper.

So if you haven’t heard it yet, let me say it again,

“In order to arrive well, you need to leave well.”


Our Last Day in Africa

Our last day in Africa, we weren’t leaving our apartment till 11/11:30am that Monday in March.  We woke early–I with not much sleep–ate, washed dishes, re-weighed bags, and saw a couple more friends for our final goodbyes.

Last Day in Africa
Right before leaving our apartment.

Our transport came and we loaded bags into the car.  My Love walked through the apartment making a video of it for memories. 🙂 Then we said goodbye to our house helper, and began walking down the three flights of stairs. And that’s when it hit for Honey-Bear.  Saying goodbye to a most familiar face (our house helper) and to a most familiar place (the apartment she learned to walk in, talk in, had her first birthday in) she began throwing a fit, saying, “No, no, no,” very aggressively. I had to pick her up and carry her down the rest of the flights as she was shouting, “No, no, no!”

As we drove out of our beloved Work City, we asked the driver to pass by some of our favorite spots so we (mostly the kids) could wave a final goodbye.  We passed the walking pier and said goodbye.  We waved goodbye at the distant mountains fully in view.  We passed the slides where we most frequently walked to play.  And that’s when in hit for Bub.  He bursted into tears crying, “My slides! My slides!  No, no goodbye! I want my slides!”  And that’s when in hit for me.  Not only was I saying goodbye to this new place; my children were having to say goodbye to their home!!

Work City…Africa…had become their home.  Honey-Bear was two months old when we came.  Bub was 20 months old.  And here they were at 21 months and 3 years saying goodbye to what they now knew as home–Africa!  My heart broke for their loss.  And I wondered, “What am I doing taking my kids away from their home?”

After that initial leaving day, we spent two days in Spain before making the final fights home.  We were exhausted from goodbyes!  Our emotional tanks were pretty empty, and the rest of…honestly doing a whole lot of nothing was refilling.  We spent some time with friends, time at parks, and time eating good food. It was a transitional time to leave Africa behind and starting thinking towards what was coming the next couple days.  As Wednesday came around, we felt ready to leave the transition spot in Spain and return…home?

Preparing Your Children for Goodbyes

Goodbyes are so hard!! Saying goodbye with two babies is hard, but probably not as hard as some of you with older children. When we left, Bub was 21 months and Honey-Bear was 2 months old. On their parts, they don’t remember much about goodbyes. But no matter their ages, we want to do a good job of taking care of our children and their hearts.  Here are 4 tips for saying goodbyes with children.

4 Tips for Preparing your Children to Say Goodbye

First—Know your children

How do your children cope with goodbyes & changes? Do they cry, do they act out behaviorally, do they need comfort? It is important to know how your child handles their emotions so you can take care of their sweet hearts.

Bub is a sensitive boy. He can read emotions better than a book. As we got closer to leaving, Bub would act out when he felt our emotions escalate. So in taking care of his heart, we tried to be as calm as we could.

Second—Tell them in good time

As a one year old ‘tomorrow’ was the same as ‘next week’ or ‘next month.’ With no sense of time, we would tell him the morning of when we were going to do something. When we took down the crib to send off, we told him the morning of. He didn’t need lots of time to process his bed leaving.

If you have an older child, the morning of would not work for them. You have to know your children’s understanding of time and their need to process the emotions that come with that change.

Third—Make goodbyes meaningful & happy

Children are very emotional creatures. When they say goodbye to someone/something we can help them by making those last moments happy and short. The meaningfulness of a goodbye will depend on the person and your child. Our most meaningful goodbyes were with family and best friends.

The Sunday before we left, we had a picnic with both sides of our families. We did it at a park so all the kids could play and we were out there for hours. It was enough time that Bub got time to play with each uncle, aunt, cousin, and grandparent. And those were fun memories for him and the family.

**This part is just as much for taking care of your children as it is the family you are leaving behind!!

Fourth—Make the final goodbye short

Because children are so emotionally in tune, it’s best that the final words and hugs of a goodbye are short. Each child processes emotions differently. But one thing is sure, that after 40 goodbyes of sad, crying people any child would be exhausted!

If you have a lot of goodbyes to make, maybe schedule them out so their not all at once. If you do an event (party, dinner, etc.) wait till they are walking out the door to have the final goodbye words and hugs so it doesn’t drag on for another 10 minutes.

Do you have any tips that were helpful to your children?

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Saying Farewell & Loading the Van

My alarm went off at 6:45am, but I was already awake. I got up and dressed in my pre-selected outfit. We got babies up and took bags to the van. I hardly touched my breakfast when I sat down to nurse our two-month old baby girl, Honey-Bear. Our oldest, Bub, was 21 months and searching the rooms to find where his toys had gone.

When we finished loading our four check-bags and three carry-ons, I jumped in our company car to make the final ‘drop off’ before we left for an 18-month term in Africa.

After the car was dropped off, driving away to our final friend/family send off…it hit me. I looked over to My Love and burst into tears. “This is real…we’re really going.” We drove on submerged in a deep silence of reality.

When we arrived at our send off, it was a strange mixture of happy, sad, excited, and nervous. To see everyone who came to send us off filled us with joy and love. Seeing all the tears filled us with grief, sadness and loss. Strangely, halfway around the ‘goodbye circle’ I ran out of tears. And as we closed the doors of the van and hit the highway towards the airport I felt the page in our lives turn to the next Chapter: Africa.

My life moto.