I’ve been thinking a lot lately about that phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Anyone who has children, taught children, or even been around them for any length of time, can probably appreciate the feeling behind it. All the stuff that goes into raising children sure is easier when you can spread that work around. Aside from just the physical needs like food, shelter, healthcare, hygiene, clothing, exercise, etc., children have a whole lot of emotional, spiritual and intellectual needs. They need support, encouragement, discipline, fun, wisdom, education, guidance, moral direction….Stuff. So. Much. Stuff.
So yes, it absolutely takes a village. But what’s that mean, anyway? I don’t live in a village. I live in a city (ok, technically a suburb), and I only know the names of about four of my neighbors (don’t judge). So does that mean we’re out of luck? No village for us, we’re on our own?
My family went on a camping trip recently with three other families, and I realized that no, we’re not out of luck at all. A village isn’t necessarily geographical, it’s a relationship construct. It’s something you create with others, and that has little to do with the neighborhood you call your own. So how did we “build” our “village”?
1. We found people that shared our values
This is incredibly important. If we were going to trust people to help with our children, we needed to make sure they shared our values. Parenting styles vary from family to family, and are truly all over the map. So if we were going to trust people to care for our kids as if our babies were their babies, we needed to be very sure that we liked the way they treated their own kids.
In our case, we are incredibly fortunate to have lots of family that lives nearby, so we have family in our village. We also have great friends, though. Friends that we can trust to care for, discipline and look out for our children when we’re not around. We don’t agree on every single parenting issue – breastmilk or formula, spanking or time-out, co-sleeping or cry-it-out – but we agree on the big things. We believe in respecting others, helping our friends and trusting God. We want our kids to be honest, self-sufficient and responsible. We want them to feel love and acceptance, and to extend that love and acceptance to others.
2. We invested in those people
If we wanted to truly know people in a way that would allow us to trust our kids to them, we had to invest in their lives. We needed to know their “crazy,” as my sister-in-law puts it. Not only know it, we needed to walk it with them, support them through it, and trust our own “crazy” to them in return. We had to give, serve and help, and accept those things from others when they were offered.
3. We trusted them
This is a tough one, especially if you’re talking friends instead of family. Although in some cases, it may be just as hard for family. However, by spending the time and effort on the first two points, the trust wasn’t hard at all. My kids have gotten to know our village so well, and trust them so much, that they accept the praise, correction and affection from them as if it was coming from me or Aaron.
While camping, my four year old had no problem asking my sister to take her to the bathroom. I used my shirt to wipe my friends’ daughter’s nose (don’t act like you’ve never done it before). My brother-in-law made sure my son got his dinner, and any of the kids would stop running towards the lake when any adult yelled.
It can be hard work to build a village. It requires a commitment of time, effort and emotion that can be exhausting sometimes, especially in these days of so many pulls on our time and energy. However, the rewards, when you get it right, make it all worth it. That camping trip didn’t include all of our village, but it was a wonderful picture of what one looks like. Not everyone agreed on everything, but we all agreed on the most important things – keep the kids alive and have fun doing it.