An expat teen in trauma

A mother’s love

This is for all expatriates who are struggling as they parent a teen in trauma. It doesn’t matter that statistics quote 25% of teenagers self-harm. When it’s your teen, it becomes personal. It adds to the crisis when you live far from home culture and support systems. Professional help isn’t readily available.

You feel so alone. I know, because I’ve been there.

After recently reading this article about self-harm, I reflected on my experience.

What follows is compiled from journal entries – 2009-2012:

Dear son,

When you were young, I’d put a bandaid on the owie and kiss it better.
When did life become so complicated?
Now I hear the bathroom door shut and know you’re cutting with a piece of torn metal,
trying to take the inside pain away.
You’re in an abyss of darkness – far from your loving family’s reach.
Your face is expressionless; your eyes empty.

At your best, you’re sensitive and always make us laugh;
caring and loyal; a creative thinker, with many talents – now lying dormant.
Putting Lego together comes intuitively to you.
But building the broken pieces of your identity?
No intuition comes when there’s trauma.
Only survival.

And that you have done well.
Like a wild animal, you leave at night: wandering, preying.
No remembrance. Police at our door.
We rush through the door of emergency – pills swallowed, such pain.
PTSD. Triggers at school. Severe behavior.

I’m so sorry I couldn’t protect you from the international school bullying.
I’m sorry your dad and I couldn’t keep you safe from the trauma.
Please forgive us for not listening enough,
and for the times we looked at you as a problem to solve or something to fix.
You are our precious son. Our gift.

I’m in pain, seeing your pain.
My tears, like a leaky faucet, run day and night – yet aren’t enough to float me to you.
My words of love seem to hang icy, silenced by your pain and brokenness.
My touch is shrugged off.
I long to hold you as I did when you were tiny – cuddle, care, surround you.
All my trying seems useless.
I’ve never felt this helpless.
Fear, like an octopus, wraps its tentacles tight around my heart, suffocating hope and trust.


My teenager has given me permission to share this story (this is the 1st time I’ve shared it publicly) and these are his words to you as expatriate parents with teens in trauma:

Never give up. Be there for your kid. Just love them no matter what. They need you more than you think.

For advice on how to cope in this or similar situations, please see these articles:

Republished with kind permission of Becky Matchullis via Is Your Third Culture Teen In Crisis? Help for Expat Parents Living with Teen Trauma.

Becky Matchullis, CPCC, PCC is a expatriate family resilience coach who has over 10 years experience coaching individuals, couples, parents and families towards living their best life even in the midst of trials and crisis. She lives what she coaches and has experienced the global life as a TCK, young adult, wife and mother. She has spoken at Families in Global Transition a number of times over the years and is an expert on raising healthy, resilient kids and teens. Her website is and you can contact her at

Need to talk 1-1 about your move and life overseas with someone who 'gets it'? Consider me your own, personal expat expert! I'm here for you.

Your one-stop-shop for a successful life abroad

Expatability Club

An expat community and advice hub where you’ll never feel alone or unsupported. With an Expat Expert in your pocket for real-time support.

Let's stay in touch!

Subscribe to my newsletter and be first to hear news and updates from Carole.

By subscribing you also agree to receive marketing emails from Carole Hallett Mobbs. You can opt-out of these emails at any time. My full privacy policy can be seen here: Privacy Policy

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Want some personalised advice?

Find out how I can help you make your expat life a success!