(Excerpted and adapted from an EduCare article by Steve Bryant)
Some issues that third culture families face are the same as those faced by any family, but with the added pressure of the cross-cultural experience. One of these is the importance of the father’s role in the children’s development. This is such an important issue that quite a few books have been written to address it, including ones from Josh McDowell and the best-seller from Rob Parsons called “The Sixty Minute Father”. The TCK Cart-Core findings in the book “The Family in….” (ed Leslie Andrews) tackle this from a specifically cross-cultural perspective.
No-one was ever heard to say on their deathbed, “I wish I had spent more time at the office.”
Probably the biggest challenge for most fathers, and many mothers, is the balance of time among the various areas of life. In so many cases it is the work commitment that takes over; this can be justified in that it is vital work and therefore must have top priority, or it could be always put first because we are facing the needs of life and death situations. It is true that there is an extremely needy world around us, but we were never meant to sacrifice our children in the effort to help others.
There is a Bainouk proverb from Senegal that likens fathers to two kinds of tree, the mango and the oil palm. The oil palm trees there give shade to a moving small patch of ground, usually some distance away from the tree itself. So it is with the father who spends too much time concerned with business away from his home. A full-grown mango tree by contrast offers a lot more shade all around the tree itself throughout the whole day. A father who looks after his family well provides a shaded haven for others in addition to the family itself. A healthy family is also open to welcome others to their “mango tree” haven.
As one overseas worker who had spent many years in Southern Europe was about to leave, it was fascinating to him to hear…the comments (and praise) related to the family and how he had related to his children. There were very few references to any of his talks, seminar presentations or other work achievements – “just” recognition that he was a good husband and father and a good role model to the people he was working with. All his other efforts would have been largely wasted had he got this aspect wrong. In a world where so many families are disjointed and dysfunctional, this sort of family is a good example anywhere and a strong reinforcement for any words on the subject.
It is easy for fathers (and so many mothers too) to go on a guilt trip when they consider their failures in this area. Keeping a healthy balance isn’t easy and there will be phases of life when things go out of that balance at least temporarily, maybe with urgent work deadlines to meet. The point here is not to induce any further guilt, but to challenge parents for whom excess work is the norm. When the office or work trips always take priority and the children suffer from the absentee father syndrome then something is badly wrong and measures need to be taken to put that right. It has been rightly said that love can be spelled “T-I-M-E”, in that we can only show our love and full involvement if we have enough time to do so. There needs to be both the quantity and the quality of time together to create a healthy family. A piece of research done on this was released some years ago and quoted in a TCK manual showed the following:
- It is important for relationship building that fathers spend time with their small children and that they listen to early childhood ambitions and take them seriously.
- Fathers need to do things with as well as for their children. This is important at any age, but especially so as children go into the teen years and don’t want to open up so readily as they did when younger. They still need the listening ear and wise fatherly counsel. Doing something together is a good time to talk things through for most teens; a factor that is particularly marked in boys, and one shared by many fathers.
- Conversely there is a negative effect if fathers spend no more time than is necessary or
- if they are, or seem to be, too busy to answer the child’s
None of this is rocket science! It would be recognized as common sense by almost any thinking person. It is good though to read research that reinforces common sense.
A related problem area comes when the father leaves almost all of the responsibilities and decision making for the children to the mother. This can be very marked in some cultures. In some more traditional Asian families there are very high work performance expectations of the working father with a parallel of high family expectations of the mother. She may be almost fully responsible for the education of the children and if they don’t reach the expectations then it is her “fault”. This strong division doesn’t square with a better trans-cultural understanding of family, where a father should have a more active role.
Our responsibility is to train our children in the way they should go so that they won’t turn from it when they are old. A good father should provide this training in all areas of life so that the children can grow to a proper level of independence. This means deliberately teaching and role modeling our core moral values in all areas including devotional, lifestyle and ethics, so that the children grow up with a well worked out world view and make their own correct life choices and ethical decisions. This involves far more than taking children to children’s classes or a youth group and hoping for the best; a trend that is marked in many Western families and one that cross-cultural agency workers aren’t immune to, even if in this kind of work and community the children grow up surrounded by more overtly dedicated people and activity.
It is also important though to teach vital life skills (how many fathers just keep on doing things that they could and should teach their children to do?) and fully prepare their children for independence. As the children get older they need to be allowed more and more freedom in preparation for them leaving home to go to college, university or employment. It has been noted that many of the current emerging Generation Y suffer from the “helicopter parent syndrome”. This is where parents don’t train their children for independence properly and won’t let go of them early enough. The end effect is that many twenty and thirty something year olds are still dependent on their parents who hover around helicopter-like ready to intervene in any case of perceived need. Overall there is a lag of 5 years in terms of independence compared to the previous generation. There are a number of suggested explanations for this that are beyond the scope of this article, but the point is simply to challenge us as parents to train for independence and let our children go, sometimes to learn by their mistakes. This is not to say that we try to train our children for a situation where they won’t refer to us at all, but to aim for an ideal where they seek our advice where appropriate to help them make big decisions, and one where we accept it if they decide against our advice.
In all of this I have tacitly assumed that the parents are together, and at least have an ideal of full agreement in mind about how to go about parenting. The article is written to stress the importance of the father in such united parenting.
I’m aware as I re-read this article that it comes from a largely Western perspective and that cultures where the extended family is a stronger force may well have different insights on training for independence.
TCK Manual – chapter 15 – request a copy by e-mail from SteveGill@mkea.freeserve.co.uk
The Dad Difference; McDowell & Wakefield; Here’s Life Publishers ISBN 1-872059-41-4
The Sixty Minute Father; Rob Parsons; Hodder & Stoughton ISBN 0-340-63040-X
Raising Resilient TCKs; The Importance of Fathers in TCK Development; David Wickstrom; Book & article available on-line, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for the web reference
TCK Cart-Core with Leslie Andrews; The Family in …..; mail order from MTI at http://www.mti.org/books_family.htm
This is a condensed version of Steve Bryant’s article.
7 Virtues for Kids (great way to enhance devotion time with your TCKs)