It’s nearly summer and that means we expats are entering into the period of transition as we say goodbye to old friends, perhaps leave ourselves, and open our hearts to the possibility of new friends. Whether you’re staying or leaving, it’s important to know how to navigate a season of goodbyes—and even more important to help your kids process a time of transition an change.
So this week’s tip from The Prepared Expat is: RAFT your goodbyes.Read more: Tips & Tricks: RAFT Your Goodbyes
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The acronym RAFT comes from the excellent and highly recommended book Third Culture Kids by David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken. It stands for 4 things crucial for a good goodbye: (1) Reconciliation, (2) Affirmation, (3) Farewell, (4) Think future.
BTW, if you have kids and haven’t yet read Third Culture Kids, you definitely need to. It’s jam-packed full of wisdom and advice from the authors own experience as growing up around the world. It’s a great resource.
How to RAFT a goodbye
One of the biggest challenges and downsides to life as an expat is that you live a life constantly in transition; your family is usually far away and it seems expat communities are constantly revolving doors of hellos and goodbyes. Even if you’re the rare expat who spends 20 years of their life in a single city, surrounding you will be many friends who come into your life for a season…and then leave. Knowing how to deal with those transitions and goodbyes is crucial for maintaining your emotional and mental health.
This is even more important for children who lack a broader perspective of life and time and who may not realize that the world (and their life) isn’t ending just when they or a friend moves away. RAFTing a goodby helps kids to process what is occurring, enabling them to have a good goodbye that leaves them emotionally healthy and regret-free. There are four parts to a good goodbye:
Part 1: Reconciliation
Inevitably, as we live our life, we will have conflict with other people; it is critical to deal with any broken relationships before either party of the conflict leaves. If you don’t take time to reconcile a relationship before you or the other person leaves, you may never get another chance to see them or resolve a conflict, which can create ongoing, festering emotional baggage for you or your child. Instead, take the time to meet with the person and seek to reconcile the relationship. If necessary, involve a third party (or, in the case of your children, be the third party) so that you can fully move on without regretting what you leave behind.
One of my professors was engaged to a girl in college and, right before graduating, suddenly broke it off; they were both too hurt and scared to talk and both moved on after graduation. It wasn’t until 20 years later, at a reunion, that he was finally able to tell the girl why he had broken off their engagement; he said it was one of his biggest regrets in life—and she was hurt greatly by it as well. Don’t do that. Take the courage to address issues before you leave and make them nearly impossible to resolve; you don’t have to become best friends with someone with whom you’ve had conflict, but don’t leave without at least trying to repair a broken relationship. You may never get another chance.
Note: This is especially important if the person with whom you’ve had conflict is a family member. Life isn’t guaranteed and some of the saddest stories I’ve ever heard are when a loved one passes away and the expat never gets a chance to make right a broken relationship. Make sure that’s not you. Reconcile any relationships before you or they leave.
Part 2: Affirmation
Making sure there are no active conflicts in a relationship is a crucial first step, but it’s not enough for an emotionally healthy good goodbye. Instead, take it a step further to specifically think of and express to others things that you appreciate about them. Affirm them in the good they’ve done in your life and appreciate who they are and what they’ve meant to you.
You’ll find that making specific affirmations of others helps bring “closure” to a relationship; even though the relationship may continue on, it helps you emotionally “release” the relationship to become what it will become at a distance, rather than feeling that you need to force it to be something that can’t be sustained over distance.
This last year I said goodbye to two good friends; in the first, he and I both met and affirmed each other, expressing specific appreciation for things that we appreciated about each other and the relationship. As the second friend left, I thought we were going to have a time of affirmation, but I wasn’t intentional to make it happen and, in the end, lots was left unsaid as he departed. I regret that. Make sure you and your kids don’t end up with regrets of what wasn’t said.
Keep in mind that how you offer affirmation will differ from culture to culture; you may look the person in the eye and say it directly, you may write it down in a card, you may express it with a gift, you may express it indirectly through a third party. Regardless of the culture, find a way to express appreciation for what the relationship has meant to you.
Part 3: Farewell
This might sound funny, but amidst all the hustle and bustle of leaving internationally, it’s easy to actually forget to say goodbye to the piece, places, and things that have made something special to you. This intentional act to say goodbye produces “closure” for your heart and is crucial for your ability to move on without regrets.
When I last left the US, my Grandpa was 87 years old; since I didn’t know when I would see him again on this earth, I intentionally said my “goodbye” to him and told him how I love him. Though it was a bit awkward—he wasn’t on his deathbed or near it—I’m glad I did because, just a few years later he passed away unexpectedly. That was my last moment with him and I’m thankful I didn’t just get into the car with an awkward “Next time!” Saying farewell to him made it easier to grieve when he did leave us; I got to say goodbye. Make sure you do the same with those you love.
And remember to grieve; each goodbye is a kind of little death and, if you don’t allow yourself to feel the hurt and pain, you’ll have a festering emotional wound that keeps you from being healthy and facing the future without regrets. You don’t always get the time to grieve in the busyness of packing, but you can keep a list of things that strike your heart so that you can process them later.
Children, in particular, need to say goodbye to things and places in addition to people. When they leave their room for the last time or the bed they’ve always slept in, their minds and hearts need the closure of saying “goodbye” so that their hearts are open to the next room, bed, or whatever it is. When we leave, we take our kids to each room in our house and ask them what they want to say goodbye to in the room—it’s amazing the things that our kids want to say goodbye to, things that are special to them that I would never have thought were special to them.
You’re not going to have time to meet individually every person that you want to say goodbye to, so think in categories. A blog I’ve followed a while, Cultureblend, suggests the following categories of people and how to say by to them:
- Closest Friends — Quality time alone – Go away for the weekend
- Close friends — Go to dinner individually
- Good Friends — Go out as a small group
- Friends — Invite to a going away party
- Acquaintances — Send an email about your departure
- Stupid People — Walk the other way when you see them
Part 4: Think future1
In parts 1-3, you say goodbye to the past without regret, leaving you in an emotionally healthy place to be able to greet and look forward to the future. Being intentionally about thinking future helps “complete” the transition in your heart and mind. As you say goodbye to friends, as you process change yourself, and especially as you talk with your kids, intentionally think of the future in the new place or in the old place without the person who’s leaving. A few questions to consider, though there are countless ones you can use to process:
- How will life in the new place be similar or different? Or, if you’re saying goodbye to someone who is leaving, what will be new or different without the person?
- What can I look forward to or excites me?
- What saddens me? What will I miss?
- What hopes do I have for the person going or staying behind?
- What do I want the relationship to look like going forward? Note: it’s vitally important, especially with children, not to make promises you can’t keep, but it is important, especially with children, for them to express hopes or desires for continued contact.
As you think future, your heart and mind will “complete” the circuit of processing the change and transition occurring, freeing you up to embrace the future even as you are thankful for and miss the past.
There you have it: the four steps to creating a regret-free, emotionally healthy, good goodbye for you and your children. I suggest using RAFT whenever you have a friend traveling internationally. One thing I regret is that I didn’t RAFT my goodbye when a very good friend traveled home in early 2020; he was supposed to return in three weeks, so I didn’t do anything special…and then COVID came and I still haven’t seen him again. So RAFT well and RAFT often.
And if you haven’t read Third Culture Kids, make sure to pick up a copy because it’s full of wisdom like this.
1. In Third Culture Kids, the authors list this step as “Think Destination”; I’ve changed it to “Think future” so that it can apply to people who are staying behind, not just those who are leaving.
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