Over the past few years, as a result of the wide distribution and bestselling status of some of our books, we have literally traveled the world speaking and presenting to and meeting with parents on every continent and in every imaginable situation. And, often, we have learned as much as we have taught. There are good parents everywhere — striving parents, concerned parents, parents worried about the same things we worry about, and parents looking for deeper and better and more lasting solutions to the challenges they and their children face.
Whenever we address parents in some far corner of the world, we realize that parents everywhere have as strong a desire as we do to raise happy, responsible kids and to build a strong, lasting family.
Of course there are a lot of secular and worldly families who seem to worship the material gods of money and possessions, and there will never be any scarcity of the kind of abdicating parents who don’t seem to feel much responsibility at all for their children. But there are also truly marvelous parents and families everywhere we go. These are the people we are most often with, since they are the kind that will come to lectures on parenting.
So when we speak, it is anything but a one-way street. We try to teach what we know, but we also marvel at what people already know and practice and at how much better they do many family things than we do.
We can learn so much from other parents and other family cultures. In broad, general terms, Asian families have such great respect for their elders and for their ancestors, and Asian parents are much better than we are at giving attention for positive behavior and largely ignoring little negative things that they don’t want their kids to repeat. They seem to put into practice a truth all of us know — the fact that kids will repeat behavior that they get attention for, positive or negative.
Latin parents seem to stay rooted and bonded with their extended families far better than more mobile and independent U.S. parents. Whenever we are in Mexico or South or Central America, we are amazed at how many families have lunch together every day. Often the kids have a school break, the working dad comes home in the middle of the day for two or three hours, and they have family time (often followed by a siesta!). And on Sunday, so many Latinos gather in extended families, usually at the grandparents’ home for a full day of eating and talking and being together (and the gatherings seem to number into the hundreds!).
European families certainly take longer family vacations. Many workers get 4 to 6 weeks off each year, and they tend to spend it somewhere (usually staying in one place rather than hopping around like most Americans on vacations) with their children. A lot of quality time and communication are happening there.
Muslim families — at least most of the ones we have been with in the Middle East and in Indonesia — are devout! They respond to the five times a day calls to prayer from the minarets of their mosques, and so do their children. They fast all day (daylight hours) for nearly a month at Ramadan, and they truly direct their fasts to self improvement and to trying harder to follow God’s commands. Their health laws and taboos against drugs and alcohol are at least as strong as ours.
Hindu and Buddhist households seem to find a peace and tranquility that we find ourselves longing for. It is not just the incense and the flasks containing the ashes of ancestors whom they revere so deeply; it is the devotion and constant prayer and the spiritual paradigm they have that brings the admirable calm.
And so many Christian parents that we speak to have an orientation to and a concentration on Jesus that put us to shame. Perhaps it is because they do not have the restoration and the completely constituted Church that they are able to simplify and focus so completely on the thing they know best of all — that Christ lives and is their Redeemer. We love it when we meet parents who base their whole lives and all their decisions large and small on the question, “What would Jesus do?”
It is a wonderful thing to realize that, whatever our differences culturally, politically, economically, and even religiously, we have so much in common with other committed parents around the world that our similarities outweigh our differences. Let us give you a bunch of brief sketches from parents and families we have observed recently, and share the closeness and commonality it causes us to feel with them:
• A Korean mother getting ready to leave home to live with her two daughters at boarding school in America so they could learn English and have a chance for a better life.
• A Saudi family sitting outside their desert house in the cool of the evening, talking with us about how they hoped they could send their children away to college without having them lose the values they had been taught.
• A poor family in Mexico waiting by the post office for word from two of their sons who had swum the Rio Grande to try to find work in the States that could pay for the mother’s doctor bills and allow the family to build a small house.
• A rich businessman in Guatemala whose most prized possession was a helicopter that allowed him to fly his children to their school each day and avoid the kidnapping dangers on the roadways.
• A Muslim family in Bahrain explaining to us that their ten-year-old thought that he was old enough now to understand and participate in the extensive daily fasting that accompanies the religious holiday Ramadan.
• A Japanese mother ignoring her misbehaving child until he settled down and politely asked for her attention, whereupon she stopped her conversation with us and directed it fully at her little boy.
• A group of successful presidents of companies in England who decided to devote a full year to becoming better fathers to their children and who printed a booklet starting with the quote: “The one time I feel that I am a true man is when I am striving to be a good father to my children.”
• A little boy in Istanbul doing an exercise with us (in front of his friends and all their parents) on making decisions in advance. We gave him a case study wherein there was a lot of peer pressure to try drugs and asked him what he would say. Standing tall, this little fellow said, “I would ask them if they wanted me to break a promise I made to myself when I was 12 years old.”
• A grandmother in the ghetto of Soweto in Johannesburg, South Africa, who welcomed us into her spotless little shack with a big bear hug and said, “I’ve always wanted to meet an American.
Come in and let me show you the pictures of my family.”
• A group of mothers with water pots on their heads in Kenya talking, as they carried river water back to their village, about their children and how to get them to be more obedient and show more respect.
• Chinese parents in Shanghai worrying about how spoiled and entitled their child was becoming since there were six adults hovering over him all the time (two parents and four grandparents in a society that only allows one child.)
• Advising and comforting a distraught father in Bangkok who was bemoaning the fact that his daughters were exposed to such a sexually promiscuous society that went against everything he believed about chastity and fidelity.
• Sitting with the Malaysian Minister of Higher Education in Kuala Lumpur, discussing his idea to have a mandatory class for first-year college students on marriage and parenting, “because our country will rise or fall based on the strength of our families.”
• Admiring tanned, fit, young Australian parents in Perth and hearing them talk about their children who are the center of their lives and about the exciting outdoor activities they participate in with them, which are the highlight of their week.
• Helping a Canadian banker set up a “family economy” within his own home to teach his kids that money has to be earned, and that it grows when it is saved. “I want to put four or five kinds of currency in our family bank” (where kids got paid for doing their chores rather than getting an allowance) “so that my kids will realize that money works the same all over the world.”
• Listening to a proud Kansas City countertop company owner explain that his children had not paid much attention to their family laws until he had them etched into a slab of granite that now stood in the front hallway of his home.
• Sitting at dinner with an outstanding couple and their two boys in Bombay at the same Taj hotel where they had been held hostage by terrorists 18 months earlier. For nine hours they thought that they would never see their sons again, and we rejoiced with them as they explained that after that experience their sons (rather than their work) became the priority of their lives.
• Sitting by a darling Muslim teenager dressed in a completely black abaya (long black robe and head scarf) at dinner and having her tell us that since no dating was allowed she just had a good time being with her girlfriends on weekends where they watched G-rated movies at someone’s house and danced the night away. She was truly looking forward to having her parents arrange her marriage.
• Mourning with a father from Texas who, after sleeping in the hospital for two hundred nights last year with his twelve-year-old leukemia-stricken daughter, had lost her just before Christmas and was still glowing with his vibrant Christian faith that someday they would be reunited.
• Hearing how a father in Chile had arranged a two-month exchange between his son and the son of a California family so that both boys could “broaden their horizons and see how another family in another culture works.”
• Listening to an Arab instructor in the Church’s Jerusalem center who gives Mormon students a balanced view of the Arab-Israeli conflict and who was talking about some of the wonderful family traditions of Palestinian families.
• Brainstorming with parents in Los Angeles about the best way to “unspoil” their kids and to find ways that they could give personal service rather than money to the poor people in their very own city.
• Hearing a dad brag about his mother in Monterrey, Mexico and how she, in her 80’s, still cooked Sunday dinner each week for all 85 of her living posterity who gathered at her hacienda.
It’s apparent to us that in terms of feelings, hopes, dreams, and goals, we as LDS parents share so much with parents around the world. And perhaps the main thing we share is that we are all affected by the materialism, the amorality, and the entitlement that seems to work against the parenting efforts of all parents everywhere.
Where we differ from most parents and families in the world is in the fact that we have, through the Restoration, unique spiritual solutions that we can apply to worldly problems.
Periodically, over the next few months, we will share with our many Meridian reader friends what we think are some of the key advantages of being LDS parents and how the spiritual solutions that we have access to can be fully used and fully applied in our efforts to build strong families despite the distracting and destructive forces that surround our children. See you next time!