Editor's note: The Deseret News is proud to introduce "Why the Family," a weekly column by family and parenting experts Linda and Richard Eyre. The Eyres will also be sharing their insights in Mormon Times, in the Deseret News Opinion section and online in their blog.
When the Deseret News asked us to write a weekly column called "Why the Family," our first thought was, "Why not?"
We think about that subject all day, and we might as well write about it for our favorite newspaper.
For the past three or four years, since our youngest set out for college and left us as empty-nesters, we have been "on the road" almost constantly, meeting with and speaking to parents and families around the world. Our books had precipitated speaking invitations for decades, but we could accept them only sparingly while we still had kids at home.
But once they were gone, so were we!
We've been around the world a few times these past four years, speaking to parents in 50 countries as well as all over this one. Rich parents, poor parents. Christian parents, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu and Jewish parents.
And here is what we've learned: When it comes to the hopes and dreams and the worries and fears that they have for their children, all parents are essentially the same!
But different parents in different places are good (and bad) at different things. And 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: Kids will repeat behavior that they get attention for, positive or negative.
Latin parents seem to stay rooted and bonded with their extended families 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 four to six weeks off each year, and they tend to spend it somewhere (usually staying in one place rather than hopping around like most Americans on vacation) with their children. A lot of quality time and communication is 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 those practiced by Mormons.
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 bring the admirable calm.
And so many Christian parents that we speak to have an orientation to and a concentration on Christ that put us to shame. 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?"
Despite all of our varying strengths and weaknesses, and our differences culturally, politically, economically and religiously, it is quite a wonderful thing to realize that we have so much in common with other committed parents around the world that our similarities outweigh our differences.
The key word in the title of this weekly column may be the first word: "Why." Much of our book writing through the years could be classified as "How the Family" — how to raise responsible kids and strengthen marriage relationships. We are somewhat known for our marriage methods, for our parenting techniques.
But we welcome the opportunity, in this column, to focus more on the WHY because what our travels and our observation have taught us is that people who truly prioritize their families — who have been converted to the fact that family is the core of their lives and the root of their happiness — these people figure out most of the hows for themselves.
Of course we all know that family is important. On public opinion polls, more than 90 percent of us say family (and family relationships) is the most important thing. But do we really know that deep down? Do we feel it in our bones to where it influences everything we do? Or are we just paying lip service? Is there too much of a disconnect between what we say and what we do? Is there some inconsistency between what we say matters most and where we spend our time and our mental energy?
This column will explore these questions both on the macro and the micro. We will look at why government and public policy should do more for families, but we will also look at why (and a little how always creeps in) parents can do more for their own families. Sometimes, when it strays toward politics or opinion, the column may appear on the op-ed pages. Other times, when it has a particularly spiritual or religious focus, it may show up in Mormon Times. And there will be a blog, too, that you can click to from the column — a place where we can put even more personal things about our own family.
But most of the time what we write will be right here, on Mondays, on the front of the Family section of the Deseret News, both in print and online.
We hope to have you along, to travel with us so to speak, as we explore the always interesting and always relevant question of "why the family."
New York Times No. 1 bestselling authors Richard and Linda Eyre are the parents of nine children and, by coincidence, the authors of nine internationally distributed parenting and life-balance books. They lecture throughout the world on family related topics. Visit them at www.TheEyres.com or www.valuesparenting.com.