it takes a village

 

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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.

 

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  • Sarah, I love this! Thank you Jesus for the village! I love ours more and more with every passing year. I wrote a letter to some young friends who had expressed hesitation about hanging out with our kids for fear of “interfering” (http://bronlea.com/2013/09/16/thank-you-for-loving-my-children/), but to them I say with you: no! We love the village!

  • Carmen

    My mother had me in her late twenties. She was a stay at home mom, and my dad worked long hours. She was pregnant again a few months later after having me. She definitely needed the help, especially with me. I was often sick as an infant and as a toddler I would refuse to eat sometimes (so funny, because I love food now). She befriended a neighbor before having me, and she helped out a lot. Sometimes I think they became best friends because of their shared exasperation over me. One of my cousins was a teenager at the time, and she was a huge help to my mom as well. They would often have to do silly dances in order to distract me and I would laugh so my mom could feed me. Even then I would refuse to chew. I was quite strange.

  • Love this! I would be lost without my Village, especially as a new mom. I just wrote about it a couple days ago: http://annierim.wordpress.com/2013/12/25/village/

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  • Briana Meade

    Beautiful Sarah! Thank goodness for people! Today I had to go to the ER with my little one and the church dropped off a frozen meal and someone came and took my toddler home while we got a CAT scan. I am soooo often the one trying to make it on my own. What a relief to have people pitching in and breaking down my walls.

  • Suzanne Burden

    Beautiful piece. May I expand the conversation by saying it’s not just young people without kids or older people who have already raised their kids who are contributing? It’s also those of us who are childless (whether single or married), who have desperately wanted kids but who choose anyway to serve those kids in our churches. This is how my husband and I found ourselves in the three-year-old nursery during one of this year’s Christmas Eve services. One of the things I like most about this conversation is the reality that the family of Jesus, as he made clear, is not along bloodlines. Each of us belong, each of us has a place, no matter what our biological family looks like.

    • Absolutely, Suzanne, my apologies for the oversight! Unintentional and I’m glad you pointed it out. Couldn’t agree more with you.

      • Suzanne Burden

        And I knew we were on the same page. 🙂 Blessings on you, Sarah.

  • AMEN. I love this, Sarah. I would be completely lost without my village. I’ve got a boppy and a bumbo and an ergo and a fancy stroller, but truth be told: those items don’t even begin to compare to my tribe.

  • Oh yes! I learned this lesson so hard last month. I really wanted to be able to do it all, but when we started having feeding issues in the throes of postpartum and my friends stepped in with everything from dinner to driving my girls to school I was so humbled, but so blessed. I’ve even made so many newer/closer friends by admitting I needed help and seeing who stepped up. I often joke that if I ever got sick I’d have no help because we don’t have a “church” family right now, but God has brought so many beautiful people into my life and while they may all meet different places on sunday they are definitely my village.

  • Nurse Bee

    Wonderful! I think it really took having my 3rd child to learn that I couldn’t do everything myself, nor was it healthy. (btw, I got Jesus Feminist for Christmas…almost done with it, totally love it, and am buying my sister a copy for her birthday).

  • Olivia

    Loved This, Sarah! Your Words echo What God Is Teaching Me Right This Very Second. I Fall To My Knees In Gratitude For My Village!

  • Monna Clare Payne

    Sarah – YEP! I agree. I felt those same emotions of guilt as a new mom. I needed to do it all and I needed to do it all perfectly.
    You can guess how that turned out! 😉
    Over the years, I’ve come to a similar conclusion. Regarding homeschooling and every other place we have a “village” helping with our kids. I don’t want to be the only person speaking wisdom and life into my kids. They’ll benefit from the input of others. I would not be nearly as creative, knowledgeable a teacher as the ones they’ve had. It’s not my gift. I have others and I am a great mom to them.
    That is, after all, my real job. Carry on, woman. You’re doing great!

  • the Sooz

    I love this. In my world, it would read, “Praise God for the homeschool group; for the Canadienne mother who offers to teach french to the kids, for the seamstress that guides my girls hands along the fabric or yarn, helping them learn that they are capable of creating. Praise God for the not-at-all-like-me women that send emails and collect money and plan Christmas parties. Praise God for the Mom of 8 kids that loves musical theatre enough to put on full length musicals every year.”

    And as for loving teachers and principals: I remember well meeting my principal, Mr. McKay on the first day of Kindergarten. He picked up each and every one of us and gave us a hug and welcomed us to the school. I still remember exactly where I was standing and that was 32 years ago. He, and my many friends that are teachers, are testaments to the loving, invested public school staff out there.

    We all benefit when we stop thinking of our choice of schooling as ‘the best’. There is beauty in both.

  • Love it.

    I grew up in a small town and while my parents stood taller than anyone else in my life, there is nothing like them being able to just let me run out the door in the morning, knowing i’d be back for lunch and in the interim, adults in every neighborhood would keep an eye out for any kids playing in their street. Plus, I always think that the more good role models kids have, the better off they will be and the easier it will be for them to shake off the bad role models.

  • Annie

    I have said that I am thankful for my village, but I’m also thankful that I get to CHOOSE my village. I don’t want to send my kids out, willy-nilly to whomever thinks they know what is best for my children. I want to make sure that the village raising my kids, especially now, while they are small, is going to reinforce the values and structure that we, their parents have set up. But yes, I do need that village!

  • clbeyer

    Sarah Bessey, you have me in tears this morning, on this week when we’ve decided to enroll our seven-year-old in public school after having him at home. Your sentiment is my prayer — that others will also love my boy and thereby extend our community and family farther than I’ve dared imagine.

    This part is jarring to my soul: “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.”

    Thank you for your praises of thanks over the valuable people who shatter that lie to bits.

    http://clbeyer.wordpress.com/

  • jamieivey

    YES YES YES!

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  • Erica {let why lead}

    Thank you for this, Sarah. I love the defense of the village! I don’t live near extended family, but I couldn’t parent my three young without the help of preschool and kindergarten teachers, parks & rec activities, friends and neighbors.

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  • You know, as I read this, I realized that being raised in this way makes it more acceptable to look for help and support outside your family as an adult.
    I’m just realizing how much my “village” supports me and how outside the box that really is.
    I’m so thankful, and I’m hoping that your tinies will have the same experience, being able to appreciate and receive help and love from whence it comes. xoxo.

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  • Jenna Kristine

    I’m tucking this away in the notebook I’ve got in Evernote labeled Motherhood, for the someday if/when I need to hear this.