4 Things I’ve Learned About Parenting (From Around the World)

Inviting another culture into your life and home, makes you see your life and home differently.

When we had out-of-country guests from Africa staying with us in September, it was impossible not to see my life differently through their eyes.

When I put pumpkins on my front porch, there were confused looks (No, we won’t be eating them. It’s like a fall tradition.) When we sat and watched my daughter at her once-a-week tumbling class, there were comments and questions about opportunity and privilege (all true). When I complained about having to return my (supah nice) rental car for my 10 year old van that was in the shop getting repaired, there was a long sigh from the backseat (Bring your old van to Kenya, it’s a very nice car there).

So. Yeah. Perspective.

I also couldn’t help but watch and learn from my friends–not just those visiting, but every time I step into another country, I see other people’s lives through my eyes. But over the years, I’ve also noticed a lot of differences in first and third world parenting. And while poverty or wealth, freedom or oppression influence how we do or don’t parent, it’s hard not to acknowledge that giving our kids less is often giving them more.  And giving them more, doesn’t always make them want less.

4 things I've learned about parenting from around the world

Here are things I’ve seen in cross-cultural parenting that are influencing the way I raise my kids:

  1. Less stuff, more imagination | Without a doubt, this is one of the most obvious differences in other cultures. Kids don’t have their own rooms or (often) beds or electronics. They don’t have closets full of clothes or shelves with books and toys. I think that’s to be expected in impoverished areas, but it was hard not to notice that it didn’t stop kids from using their imagination. As a matter of fact, it seemed to cultivate it. They valued their small collection of clothes and books. They created toys and balls from sticks and plastic bags. They didn’t have pocket technology and I think they are better for what they don’t have than what they do.
  2. More independence, less dependence | It’s crazy to meet a mom who leaves early in the morning for work to roast peanuts on the side of the road because it’s the best time to sell to the mob of people walking to work. She leave her baby with her 8 year old daughter and returns before she leaves for school. She repeats this when workers are returning home late in the afternoon. While we can’t or wouldn’t do this for obvious reasons, I’m amazed at the independence children have in other cultures. They run errands and contribute to the family at an early age. They often do it because there aren’t any other options, but I’ve always noticed very little whining and complaining (something I tend to hear a lot of at my house). So, it leads me to believe that kids who are given independence and expected to help also learn to solve problems (or realize what real problems are). And that might just make them less dependent on us to fix all their problem.
  3. More time outside means less time entertaining inside | I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s and I think we understood and celebrated this idea a lot more than we do now. Go outside. Go play. It was the mantra of my childhood and sometimes my parents and grandparents locked the backdoor so if I whined or complained, they never even knew. I survived it. I’ve noticed this isn’t a new or old idea, it’s a way of life in most cultures. It’s good for our kids to make up games, to sweat, to understand that we don’t exist to entertain them or fill their hours with something to do.
  4. More focusing on what matters, less discontentment | Our culture is obsessed with things that don’t really matter. It may sound harsh, but I think we all know it’s true (and if you doubt it, just invite a third world family to stay with you for three weeks and explain your life). We have so many layers and conditions, so much convenience and comfort that sometimes we focus on the minor and we lose the major (without even realizing it). When we can teach our kids by our example how to focus on what really matters in this life–people and loving God and serving others, we create the perfect atmosphere for contentment.

No matter where I’ve gone, it’s the one thing we have in common that touches me the most: we want the best for our children. And this motivates us to work hard, to sacrifice, to give them what we didn’t have, or withhold what they don’t need.  It may look different from house to house, but love is common ground.

My Favorite Day of The Week

The older I become (and the older my kids get), the busier our lives have become. I’m so thankful we held off on a lot of extracurricular activities when they were little, because, whoa, hello Jr. High and High School.
It’s especially crazy this time of year, with marching band at football games and music contests and when you throw in science fair projects and AP classes, it’s exhausting in a wonderful –I love watching my kids do what they love– kind of way.
I think that’s why I cherish Sundays so much. It’s our family day. We go to church. We take a nap. We eat a nice meal out. (Okay, so maybe I love it because I don’t have to cook. Don’t judge). We declared it a media free day years ago and the quiet reading and togetherness is my favorite.

As first world as it sounds, deciding where we are going to eat after church is always fun (and by fun, I mean, I usually say whoever is paying gets to choose).

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Last Sunday, there wasn’t an argument or complaint since Red Robin sent me a gift card for our family to try out their Gourmet burgers and bottomless sides, which include bottomless broccoli, side salad, cole slaw, garlic herbed fries, and sweet potatoes fries. For a great meal at a great price, Red Robin offers the Red’s Tavern Double Burger starting at just $6.99, including bottomless fries. Two classic-sized fire-grilled patties topped with American cheese, Red’s Secret Tavern Sauce, tomato and lettuce.

Holy moly.

It was our first time as a family to eat at Red Robin and it was such a delicious treat! I think what I loved most was there was something for everyone. My teen son has a bottomless stomach, so he was especially excited about refilling his fry basket over and over. My teen daughter has been trying a gluten free diet on for size and she was happy to find a hamburger bun that fit the bill. My hubby and I try to be low carb eaters, so we opted for the no-bun option on our gourmet Bleu Ribbon burgers topped with bleu cheese and crispy onion straws (yum!). And our youngest was pretty excited about Chicken Stickens (chicken on a stick). All you can drink freckled lemonades (pink lemonade with strawberries) were a huge hit too.

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We ate and talked and caught up on each other’s lives. Good food and family just go together. And then we went home and took a nap.

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The Bravest Person in America

I called my family into the living room and told them we had to have a meeting, my voice pinched and shaky.

They looked nervous.

I took a deep breath, “We have family pictures this weekend and we have to talk about outfits and coordinating them,” I said as I pointed to the wild assortment of clothes spread out on the couch.

“I’m serious. We haven’t had them in two years and this is important and I need your help!” They looked at me like I was crazy. I half felt it.

I felt a meltdown coming for days. I had held it together with off-and-on company for months, my husband in Africa when school started along with three carlines, a car wreck, broken appliances, speaking engagements, the pressure of our Mercy House fundraising Gala, stress from turning in another book manuscript, and now, I was going to lose it over clothes.

As I stood in my living room trying to get a grip on reality, the words hanging in my entryway caught my attention. You make me brave. They made me think of the young mother who approached me at the ladies retreat where I spoke recently about Mercy House who waited to tell me, “how brave I was.”

I looked at the clothes and I could almost hear the words mocking me.

the bravest person in america

Little did I know, the next day the bravest person in America would remind me that life is about more than clothes and busyness and everyday stress. It’s about more than my momentary troubles and sometimes hectic life. It’s about more than me.

The headlines read “School Shooting-Again,” and we flinched at the senseless deaths. This time, the news hit closer to home as we learned those who admitted to being Christians were killed on the spot.

I don’t know about you, but I have to wonder just how brave I would be with a gun pointed at my head. I wonder if I would hesitate or declare my faith boldly-knowing it would mean death. I want to believe I would lay down my life to stand for Christ, but it scares me just to think about it.

I’ve imagined what it must have been like for the second and third and fourth person to answer that questions as their classmates died at their feet.

I go days and weeks without thinking of losing my life to find it or picking up my cross to follow Jesus. I’m a Christian. I choose to follow Christ but I don’t know where He will lead me.

And we don’t have to travel to an oppressed country or militant region to find out, we just have to send our kids to English class at the community college down the street.

It’s terrifying to think that by raising our kids to follow Jesus, we might also be putting their lives at risk.

I wonder about this country and where it’s going and I worry about my children’s future.

No, I’m not brave.

But I know I live for something worth dying for.

As we stood and posed for our family pictures, I didn’t think about our outfit choices or how we looked or the crazy month we had. I looked at my husband and kids and whispered a prayer of thanks for the fake smiles and awkward poses.

And I asked God to make me braver.

How Prayer Changes The Way We Parent

parenting upstream in a go with the flow world

guest post by my friend Arlene Pellicane

When your child has a problem – maybe he’s not paying attention in class or she’s experiencing girl drama – what’s the first thing you do?

Google the answer, of course!

Yes, it can be handy to have so much information at our fingertips, but if we are turning to Google before we turn to God for answers, we’re in trouble.

Remember the beautiful and famous words of Psalm 121:1-2:

I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Unfortunately, we can pray this, but in reality, our lives reflect this statement:

I lift up my eyes to my phone – where does my help come from? My help comes from Google, the holder of all information.


We have become so resourceful, so reliant on our digital world, that we can forget our dependency on the Divine. The answers to your family’s problems aren’t found on homepages or search engines. The answers you need are found in the ancient pages of God’s Word and by speaking to the source of wisdom Himself.

James 1:5 says,

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

In other words, when your toddler is screaming or your teenager is rebelling, ask God for wisdom. Have a conversation with your Heavenly Father first. Not your phone first. Not your friends first. Talk with God first.

Do you check your phone first thing in the morning? If so, you’re like 40 percent of all adults and 56 percent of millennials. Instead of reaching for your phone, why not say a prayer instead?

I heard author Sheila Walsh share something simple you can try tomorrow. First thing in the morning, she says “Good Morning Father.” As you say “Good morning Father” you can hear Him saying back to you, “Good morning my child.” Every day you get the chance to start over. Fix your attention on God first before you fixate on your phone.

Prayer can be frustrating because who has the time? But you know what, even if you take the first five minutes a day praising God for who He is, it will change the way you see your kids and their needs.

How prayer changes the way we parent

When my oldest son Ethan was in first grade I joined a Moms in Prayer group. Moms in Prayer meets once a week for one hour to pray for kids and their schools. I remember one meeting, I prayed for Ethan to find a Christian friend in our huge public school of 1200 kids. And do you know what?

The very next day, Ethan said, “Guess what? I found a Christian boy at recess. He was singing a song and I asked him if he was a Christian, and he was!”

God answers prayer.

Whether you’re praying for your kindergartener to learn how to read or you’re praying for your high schooler to say no to drugs and sex before marriage, your prayers make a difference. You might pray for each child by name as you fold his or her laundry. You might pray for your family while you’re standing at the kitchen sink. Make the most of your in-between moments to talk with God and also put time in your schedule to pray.

If you will make prayer for your kids a priority in your life, you will experience the best school year ever.

I love what my friend author Kathi Lipp has to say about prayer:

Prayer does not change God, but it changes me in big ways. It helps me accept the unacceptable. It helps me love my kids when they are unlovable. It helps me trust God when all the circumstances are untrustworthy.      

Let’s pray together:

Lord, indeed my help does come from You, the Maker of heaven and earth. Forgive me for relying on Google and information for answers. I realize You are the source of wisdom. Teach me how to pray effectively for myself and my family. I leave my concerns at Your feet. Please fill me with your peace today. Amen.


Bio: Arlene Pellicane is a speaker and author of 31 Days to Becoming a Happy Mom and 31 Days to a Happy Husband. She is also the co-author of Growing Up Social: Raising Relational Kids in a Screen-Driven World (with Gary Chapman). She has been a featured guest on the Today Show, Fox & Friends, Focus on the Family, FamilyLife Today, The 700 Club, and Turning Point with Dr. David Jeremiah. Arlene lives in the San Diego area with her husband James and their three children. To learn more and for free family resources such as a monthly Happy Home podcast, visit www.ArlenePellicane.com


Love Your Neighbor As Your Selfie

Pauline is 18 years old and mother to almost 3 year old, Melvin.

She’s known more sorrow and difficulty in her short years than most know in a lifetime.



No one plans on being born into the world’s largest slum in Kenya or suffering at the hands of an abuser. No one asked her if she wanted to get an education or become a teen mom.

But impoverished and oppressed girls like Pauline don’t often have a choice.


She momentarily pondered these thoughts in her heart as she waited for her Fair Trade Friday group to arrive. It was finally her turn for the group to visit her home.

But this wasn’t just any social call, no, it was a day she looked forward to for many months.

She smiled as she thought about how far God had brought her after graduating from Mercy House (Rehema House in Swahili). Who would have thought she would be nearly done with her first year of vocational school and leading a Fair Trade Friday group of twenty mothers in the slum? She had taught the group how to make jewelry and turn their paper beads into bracelets and necklaces and hope. The money was changing their lives.

But it was something more that kept them going.


The group found comfort and friendship together and hope in Jesus. Suffering knows no boundaries and each had struggled for years to feed their children, provide school fees and pay rent for their one room homes.

But together, well, they were better together.

Click to continue reading this special post at (in)courage…


Parenting is Hard. Especially When You’re Doing It Right.

This is so hard.

I shut our bedroom door and my husband pulled me close. I tried not to cry.

We had just had a parenting night from hell.

Can I say that here?


Because if you’re a parent, you might just know what I’m talking about.

There was yelling and tears. Hard conversations, hurt feelings, consequences and the symphony of slammed doors.

In less than half an hour and three conversations, we had made three kids angry and unhappy because we are just that good.

Parenting is not for wimps.

If it isn’t hard, maybe we aren’t doing it right? my husband said quietly in my ear.

I let his words sink in.  Because too often I believe the lie that says if we were doing this parenting thing right, we wouldn’t fight or disagree or battle over opinions and attitudes. We wouldn’t hurt each other. We would be normal. We would do this better.

And to be honest, parenting would be a lot easier if we didn’t care so much. If we didn’t try so hard. If we didn’t love so fiercely. It would be so much easier not to try and raise grateful kids who put others first, who honor our rules, who strive for purity and holiness, who openly share struggles and failures, who do not give up and choose to follow Christ.

Parenting kids upstream in a downstream world is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

We try to juggle grace and expectations and some nights all the balls come tumbling down.

But just because the road gets bumpy doesn’t mean we are off course. Actually, the right road is bumpy. The correct path does have obstacles and setbacks. The parenting journey is broken and beautiful at the same time.

We both sat on the end of the bed licking our wounds like we’d just waged war. And in a lot of ways we had.


Good parents fight for (and sometimes) with their kids.

Good parents make mistakes and apologize.

Good parents go-against-the-flow even when it would be so much easier to not say what needs to be said or enforce or follow through with what needs to be done.

Good parents cry. And doubt. And wonder. And pray.

Good parents offer grace when it’s least expected and needed the most.

Good parents remind themselves that this too shall pass.

Good parents look hard trials in the face and know they are doing something right.

Good parents recognize even good kids have bad days.

So, don’t give up, Mom. Don’t stop trying, Dad.

Yes, parenting is hard.

Especially when we’re doing it right.

If You Dislike Change and All It Brings

Guest post by my sweet friend, Kristen Strong

I have 3 precious children, and like all good mamas, I believe they are the most stunning works of art God ever created. Of course they have their faults too, and when it comes to not fulfilling certain responsibilities, each one is eager to use his or her differing limitations as excuses for a free pass.


For example, one of my sons is a chronic forget-er. From taking out the garbage to walking the dog, he has a difficult time remembering particular duties. Thankfully, his teen years have brought improvements to this department. But from time to time, he still pulls out this winner of an excuse when held accountable for repeatedly forgetting his responsibilities:

“Mama, I’m just a forgetful person. How can you scold me for something I honestly forgot? It’s not like I maliciously did it on purpose.”

Nice try, son. Nice try.


When it comes to accepting the change in our lives, I believe a lot of us view the challenge like my son views his forgetful nature. We see the change itself as a steely gray, concrete limitation to thriving, not something to work through or around. Not something to flip over and study as something God wants to use for us rather than against us

We see the change as the end of the story rather than a part of it.

Certainly, it’s easier to thrive through a limitation when it’s something on the small side like forgetting a household chore. But what if the limitation looks like a broken trust because of a change in relationship? What if the limitation looks like a downgrade in your living situation because of a change in employment? Or a disruption of your plans because of a change in your health or the health of a loved one? How do we keep these looming limitations from swallowing us and our ability to thrive?

How do we hang on to belief that God wants to use change for us rather than against us?

At times I have crossed my arms and allowed the limitations brought on by change to turn me bitter and disgruntled. I have complained till the cows came home and wished things were different. I have refused to believe God’s promises and character, instead believing I knew better. Too often I expect to have ultimate control in my life, and change with its limitations prove I do not.

In my own desire to make peace with change, this is what I’ve learned: Life’s limitations are God’s invitation to change my expectations.

In one form, limitations are boundaries. But in another limitations are wide-open fields where I acknowledge my own weakness and accept I need Jesus to go the distance where I cannot. They become a fruitful garden spot for me to reflect on God’s believability rather than on what I’ve lost because of my life change.

281612_Strong_Pins4Colossians 2:10 tells us, “In Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is head over every power and authority.” He gives us fullness of good things and rules over that which tries to interfere with those good things.

So if change brings a limitation in the form of rebellious kids, Christ is head over the authority that says you’ll never have a restored relationship.

If change brings a limitation in the form of a job loss, Christ is the head over the authority that says you won’t be able to find another position as good as your previous job.

If change brings a limitation in the form of a dangerous diagnosis, Christ is head over the authority that says worry and fear will do you in.

He is head over every authority that is a fear stalker and hope stealer. Christ is the bridge between your expected outcomes and God’s best outcomes for you.

Yes, while change may introduce new circumstances into your life, the same unchanging God is working abundant good for you and in you. Your life change—and its tag-a-long limitations—are not the end of your story.

God’s grace and goodness are.

May we expectantly gather hope as we hold onto His limitless love.
Strong_GirlMeetsChange_3DBio: As the wife of a career Air Force veteran, Kristen Strong speaks from the heart of a woman who has experienced change in many makes and models. Many of her life experiences, as well as stories of others and stories from Scripture, can be found in her just-released book Girl Meets Change: Truths to Carry You through Life’s Transitions. In this hope-filled read, Kristen invites you to see all the ways you are loved and cared for in the midst of change. She walks alongside you as a friend, gently ushering you toward a new view of change, one that meets you at the crossroads of your own sense of anxiety and God’s sense of purpose. Read more about the book at www.girlmeetschange.com and find out here how you can get the book’s small group study guide for FREE.


Kristen and her husband, David, have three delightful children and enjoy their home under the wide blue skies of Colorado.

Thanks to Revell Publishers for sponsoring this devotion today.

18 Things That Are Hard to Explain to Third-World Friends

There’s nothing more fun than experiencing something new with someone for the first time -like catching your first fish, eating your first American burger, or driving by your first cul-de-sac mansion.

Seeing your life and culture through the eyes of someone else is eye opening.


It’s wild how it changes the way you see your life and gives you a completely new perspective.

It’s the kind of perspective that makes you pause and really take a look at what you need and what you want and what you have and the difference between all three.

It’s the kind of perspective that reminds you to compare your life to those with less instead of those with more.

It’s the kind of perspective that interrupts your life.

In the last few weeks, I’ve found that some things are harder to explain than others:

  1. Halloween (scary decor, decorated yards and costumed adults in public)- What can I say? I don’t even really understand this.
  2. Free drink refills- “How many times can I refill my cup?” “What happens if I refill it 17 times?” “Are you sure this is free?” A conversation we’ve had every time we’ve gone out.
  3. Savings accounts and disposable income-It’s hard to imagine having enough extra money to put it away when there’s always someone you know who doesn’t have enough to eat for the day.
  4. Storage units- “You mean Americans have so much stuff they have to rent another building besides their house to keep it in?”
  5. More emergency vet clinics than emergency rooms for people. (I will throw in explaining Petsmart just for kicks)
  6. Mega churches with mega buildings, campuses, stores (you get the point).
  7. Garage Sales-So, people sell what they don’t want or need any more and then they buy more?
  8. Complaining about terrible, horrible no-good days (in which no one dies)
  9. Costumes for pets (See #1)
  10. Hobbies-Lesiure time and extracurricular activities for kids (that you pay for)
  11. 30 minute meals-It takes hours to sort, soak and boil beans and when you finish cleaning up one meal you start on another.
  12. Bikes for the whole family (or scooters or cars).
  13. Freedom to own or use a gun.
  14. Nursing homes-Paying others to care for your family is something many cultures don’t do.
  15. $5 cups of coffee
  16. Racism.
  17. Dishwashers-Well, first you wash the dishes, before you wash the dishes…
  18. The baby equipment aisle at Target.

Learning how others live might just show us how we live, too.