We give thanks every day for our opportunity to travel throughout the world speaking to groups about parenting and families. And we often learn at least as much as we teach. Regardless of how different your background and circumstances might be from someone in another culture, the mere fact that you are all parents gives you so much in common.
Here are some brief, random sketches of parents we have met and want to remember:
A Korean mother getting ready to sacrifice everything and leave home to live with her two daughters at a 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 their hope that 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 three of their young men children 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 8-year-old was now mature enough to understand and participate in the extensive fasting that accompanies the religious holiday of 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 who welcomed us into her spotless little shack 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 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 allows only one child.)
Sitting with the minister of Malaysia 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.”
Sitting with tanned, fit, young Australian parents in Perth and hearing them talk about the outdoor activities they do with their children — experiences that are the center of their lives and the highlights of their week.
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.
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 LDS 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 several Indian parents in Bombay about the best way to “unspoil” their kids and to find ways that they could give personal service rather than money to the masses of poor people in their very own city.
Hearing a father brag about his mother in Monterrey, Mexico, and how now in her 80s, she still cooks Sunday dinner each week for all 85 of her living posterity who gathered at her hacienda.