One cold blustering winter day while walking to school, my 5 year old (now 33 years old with a child of his own) looked up at me and said, “Daddy, let’s go back to America where it’s warm!” This comment impressed upon me again the challenge of raising children in three different cultures at the same time. My son had no idea that the winter in Connecticut is colder and longer than here in the Middle East. All he remembers is the wonderful warmth of summer with lots of green grass he could play in and a place to swim every day.
Living in three cultures (American, German and Middle Eastern) is, however, not a handicap but a privilege. The Lord has designed this experience to enrich our boys’ lives. They get the opportunity to adopt the best of each culture, to have a great understanding of others and to simultaneously learn three languages basically painlessly!
At the same time we must be careful that we provide them with a realistic view of each culture, not letting one become a dreamland in their minds. We also must help them keep bridges open among those cultures: they shouldn’t become so Middle Eastern that they can’t fit back into American society, or so German that they are critical of the untidiness here.
How do we keep this balance? The first step is, obviously, prayer, for all our efforts are only feeble struggles unless empowered by God.
The second step is to have right attitudes ourselves. If we are critical of one culture or its people in general, this will certainly rub off on the boys. It is good to point out all the advantages they have here: where in America does the milkman come with a horse and wagon, the drinking water come in a big bottle brought by a dump truck, and the call from the Mosque serve as our alarm clock?
Third is by schooling. Both boys went to the German Kindergarten where they polished up their German and learned a bit more about German culture and customs. They also both realized the privilege of speaking three languages as they sometimes translated for the local children who came to learn German. Outside of school all the boys’ friends are local, getting them more into the local culture and language.
Reading is also a great way to keep the doors open to each culture. 8 year old Josh is learning to read in all three languages, both to himself and to Nat, and is delving into Ranger Rick, Reader’s Digest and National Geographic.
The most important area is a-cultural, that of training in spiritual things. Consistent family devotions are important, as is memorizing Scripture. But of primary importance is our attitude as parents. I can’t expect them to learn thankfulness if I’m always complaining, or kindness if I’m unkind. Nor will they learn the power of prayer if I do things only in my own strength. That is the greatest challenge of all to live out before what I say I believe.