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Worlds apart: The challenges of global parenting

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 28 2013 10:31 a.m. MDT

Melissa Dalton-Bradford thought she had failed as a mother.

It was November of last year, and the annual onslaught of Christmas cards was just beginning to trickle into her home. She also received an LDS mission announcement and a wedding invitation.

"What I saw immediately in those pictures was a big, stable community," she said. "All these people that had known (my friends') kids forever that were there to back up and to celebrate and to support them."

And she started feeling sad. After moving her family across eight countries in the past couple of decades, Dalton-Bradford, a mother of four, and her husband, Randall Bradford, have given their kids many things. Stability and continuity haven't made the list.

Along with the everyday fears that accompany raising kids, international parents — mothers and fathers who raise their families abroad — face additional concerns when trying to guide their children through adolescence and a slew of languages and cultures.

These "third culture kids," as they are called, have spent a majority of their formative years in a culture, language or country different from their parents, Dalton-Bradford explained on her blog, Melissa Writes of Passage.

But Dalton-Bradford, a blogger and newly published author of "Global Mom: A Memoir," received some defining encouragement from one of her kids.

"We are Bradfords," daughter Claire told her. "This is what we do."

It was 20 years ago that the Bradfords' lives started to change. It began with a new job, and over the years it has taken them to Norway, France, Singapore and Switzerland, to name a few.

With each move came what Dalton-Bradford calls a new passage, a new culture, a new language — a new life, essentially.

The Bradfords are unique in terms of international parents. In addition to living in a culture different than the American roots of their family, Dalton-Bradford's husband has a job that requires them to make international moves often.

Dalton-Bradford identifies this term on her blog as a "Transient International Composite Kid."

And the constant state of momentum has taught Dalton-Bradford some vital lessons along the way.

For example, Dalton-Bradford knows that within every good story there is an element of loss.

And for a family that uproots every few years, that loss can be acutely felt in many ways.

"The story of our family is about all sorts of levels of loss," Dalton-Bradford said. "You lose your mother country, you lose your contact to your family. You lose your comfort zone, you lose your sense of identity over and over again."

And that isn't necessarily a bad thing, she said.

Because for Dalton-Bradford, some of the greatest triumphs have come from watching her children thrive between cultures — like when she overheard her son speaking Norwegian for the first time while playing with a friend, or hearing her daughter recite a sentence in French or another son speak German for the first time.

"That for me is gratifying," she said. "You have then, a very human, sensorial connection with other cultures. It's not like (my children) have just been window shopping. They've gone in and actually bought the cultures."

But it's not without a toll. Take, for example, education.

Dalton-Bradford's son, Dalton, has been through nine different school systems.

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