Worlds apart: The challenges of global parenting

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 27 2013 3:25 p.m. MDT

"And it's not just nine different school systems through town, it's been a British system, a French system, a German system and they are all very different," Dalton-Bradford said.

And in addition to transitioning to a new country nine times, Dalton-Bradford said all of her children have had to exert a great deal of effort simply to establish themselves.

When Dalton-Bradford's daughter, Claire, attended college in Utah, what should have been "coming home" was in reality another cultural adjustment.

"And it's not because they don't love their American friends or don't love American culture," she said. "It's because there is a lot of it they just don't understand."

During her first year of college, Claire would tell her mother that there were references to TV shows and American experiences she was unfamiliar with, leaving her to watch from the sidelines.

"My biggest concern as a global mother — and this will be odd — has been with them reintegrating into America. Their whole lives have been spent outside. That's why every summer we have tried to come and spend time here so they know what a Fourth of July parade looks like and they know there are stores open all day and all night and they're not freaked out by that."

But Dalton-Bradford said that all comes with the territory of being a third culture kid.

"My children are used to being outsiders either as the one American child in a French culture, or the one Caucasian kid in a Singaporean culture; they are sort of on the margins no matter where they are," she said. "They might carry an American passport, but they might have never lived in America, and they might not even speak English at all."

Questions of where home is and how to deal with loss — including self, culture and a precious loved one — inspired Dalton-Bradford to write her memoirs as a global mother.

In 2007, after just a few short days of attending Brigham Young University-Idaho, Dalton-Bradford's son, Parker, was involved in a swimming accident where he lost his life trying to save another swimmer.

"There is the ultimate story of loss, with losing our son to death," she said. "That throws everything else into perspective. Those other losses are nothing compared to losing the thing we love the most, the thing that is our lifeblood."

Her therapeutic writing began with the encouragement of her publisher, who told her to start a blog. Although hesitant at first, Dalton-Bradford's transparent and intimate posts about life, grief and international parenting have validated other readers to face similar struggles all over the world.

"Writing has allowed me to sift through the bottom of my feelings and share them with other people. And in turn, they get to the bottom of their feelings and it's a validation," Dalton-Bradford said. “ ‘Oh, your children were also rendered mute? OK.' I think that we all need and want to hear about this experience, which is the ultimate leveling factor in humanity. We are all going to die. Our most beloveds are going to die. To be able to discuss this openly is enlivening."

Though, like all families, Dalton-Bradford has faced her struggles, it's been a love of culture and people that propel a life of international living.

"It's all part of who I am. I'm a composite," she said. "I'm a reconstituted version of all these places — and my kids are, too. I'm a citizen of the world. Wherever I can touch the heart of humanity, that is my home."

And for the Bradford children, a broad-view of humanity has been a gratifying one.

"They love the fact that when someone talks vaguely about Asia, they have the dust of the place under their nails. It’s a visceral experience for them. It’s sensorial. They know what it smells like, they know what it tastes like," Dalton-Bradford said. "When someone says the exotic word Singapore, they know what the humidity feels like. They are grateful for it."

And despite the lack of continuity and what could end up being a seventh language under their belt, this international family sticks together.

Because they are Bradfords, and this is what they do.

Emmilie Buchanan-Whitlock is an intern for the Deseret News with Mormon Times. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho. Contact her by email: ebuchanan@deseretnews.com or on Twitter: emmiliewhitlock

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