When I was in high school, I heard the African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child” for the first time. But it wasn’t in a positive way – oh, no. It was being mocked by someone who had Very Strong Opinions about how a child should be raised.
“It does not take a village,” they countered back. “It takes a family! That kind of attitude just undermines the importance of parents in a child’s life.”
I’ve heard or read varying degrees of that same attitude when it comes to some of the conversations about “biblical” womanhood as people heap guilt on mothers or fathers for everything from choosing public school education to relying on babysitters or daycare, from Sunday School to family structures.
“I’ve seen the village and it is not raising my child!” I get that sentiment, I do. There are parts of our culture that I don’t appreciate or want to emulate in our home but those aren’t limited to sex and violence, it’s often also the consumerism or materialism, the prideful arrogance. Yet not too many of us think that we need to throw our children to popular culture willy-nilly, I can’t think of anyone who denies the importance of a stable and loving family for a child, anyone who thinks that by creating a strong community we are abdicating our roles as parents, not at all. Perhaps this has been a straw-man, political argument, one that doesn’t do us in the trenches any favours.
I spent a fair bit of tears as a young mother on the fallacy that I had to do it all on my own. I didn’t realise how much I had internalized the lie that I should be all things to my tinies until I was unable to do it. That lie made me feel guilty for hiring a babysitter, guilty for using a daycare, guilty for putting the tinies into school instead of homeschooling, even guilty for asking for help from my family when I needed help. Surely, I should be able to do everything on my own!
Our village has made me a better mother. My old belief that I had to “do it all” myself and that I didn’t need anyone else to help left me exhausted and filled with guilt, drowning in misplaced pride and bad theology. And I didn’t do my tinies any favours.
Praise God for our public school teachers. I look at my tinies thriving in their little community school and think, “Thank God!” Thank God for dedicated teachers who truly see and know and love our tinies. Thank God for their hard work, their patience. I can’t imagine the tinies’ lives without their beloved teachers. Bless the school principal who knew the kindergarteners’ names that first week of school, who plays the old upright piano at school concerts, who stands sentry during pick-up and drop-off herself. Bless the teacher who isn’t afraid to say “I love you.” Bless the teacher who has high standards, who says “you can do better.” Bless the teacher who keeps an open door to parents and partners with us. Bless the school Christmas concert which single-handedly restored my faith in humanity.
Praise God for our babysitters, nannies, and daycare workers, for the ones who change diapers, who help with potty training, who serve up lunches, who show up “off the clock” to Christmas concerts and birthday parties, who sit and fold laundry beside us even after “quitting time” just so we can talk the little ones over together. Our two-day-a-week babysitter has become a beloved part of our family, and now we’ve adopted her entire family, too. Praise God for another family who delights in my tinies, for teenagers who serve as adopted cousins for tinies to look up to with big eyes, for another home where they are welcome and loved, for older women who not only care for my children but care for me, too.
Praise God for the church nursery and Sunday school workers, for the young ones without babies themselves (and all of their energy), for the older couples who have raised their babies (and all of their calming certainty), for the other tired parents who take their turn so that they could perhaps listen to the sermon next week. Praise God for the ones who go home from church covered in glitter and Elmer’s glue, who sing Sunday school songs all week. Praise God for them because my tinies love to go to church.
Praise God for the neighbourhood parents who stand outside to “keep an eye” on everyone, who buy the biggest bucket of sidewalk chalk so that all the kids on the street can use it.
Praise God for the aunties, for the grandmothers, for the uncles, for the grandfathers, for the friends who feel like family, for the public health unit, for the community centre, for the pastors, for the music teachers, for the dance teachers, for the hockey coaches, for the preschool teachers, for the carpool.
In my experience, the more people who love our babies with us, the better.
The more people who support us as we raise them, the better.
The more people who make little people feel seen and cherished and beloved, the better for us all.
There isn’t any need for guilt because we rely on our village as parents, because we are part of someone else’s village. This is the way we were created: to need one another, for family, for one another. It’s not something new, folks: this is called community.
I’m a better mother, we’re a better family, because of our village. It takes a village to raise a child because it takes a village to raise each other.