It Takes a Village

They say, “it takes a village to raise a child”. Who is this ‘village’ supposed to include and when do we begin to include them into our child rearing?

The meaning

When someone says “it takes a village to raise a child” what they are usually referring to is the concept that an entire community or people provides for and interacts positively with a child. This gives that child the opportunity to experience growth in a safe and healthy environment. Although the phrase can originally be attributed to a proverb in African cultures, it really made its way to that main stage in 1996 when Hillary Clinton’s book It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us was published.

It’s a nice sentiment and I believe an expression that we use frequently in today’s everyday language. But what does it really mean TO YOU?

What is a village?

Well, if we’re speaking literally, a village is a group of homes and buildings, larger than a hamlet but smaller than a town. Great. Wonderful. But that’s not really the kind of village that we’re talking about when we use this phrase.

The village it takes to raise our children is more of a community. People with common characteristics, common values, and common practices. This is a group of individuals that together often share similar attitudes, interest, and goals.

Our village that is helping raise our children is a group of individuals that work together to create positive experiences which teach our children how to be the kind of individual that we wish them to become.

Who is in a village?

Well, that’s really the great thing here. Because we live in the 21st century, and because we have access to many people and places, we have the ability to CHOOSE whom we want to be a member of our village and community.

Back in the day, your village was your family. Immediate and extended. Good or bad. You didn’t have a choice. You relied heavily on your relatives to assist you in day-to-day matters regarding your children. Their values became your values.

As time progressed and the way we lived changed, this too changed. Suddenly we were able to be more selective in whom we included into our village. We were able to decide whether or not we wanted to include our relatives. We were able to determine what OUR family values were and what that meant in terms of raising our children.

Who is in YOUR village?

So now you are a parent (or are about to become one) and suddenly you realize that you could use some help. As your child goes through different developmental stages, so too does your need for assistance and ability to support others. The reason that you need help and the people you will turn to for that help may change over time, but typically, you want to select a good core group of individuals (or families) that will be there for you.

Of course, this group can include family. Your parents, your partner’s parents, siblings, cousins. Whomever you are close to and whose values align with your family’s. But there are also nonrelatives that can and often do become important members of your village.

Moms that you met in baby group, parents that you volunteer with at preschool or elementary school, families that you participate in extracurricular activities with. YOU can CHOOSE your village. You can determine who you want included in helping you raise your children.

What if their values don’t align with yours?

Look, sometimes it happens that our parents are included in our village, but we don’t agree with the way they treat our children or handle situations with our kids. It happens. All the time. So, what can you do about it?

Well, as always, I’m going to say communication is key. Don’t shame these individuals but tell them calmy and succinctly how you wish they would handle things in the future. Don’t be passive aggressive. Say what you mean and say what you NEED them to hear. If you don’t, you’ll only grow resentful and ultimately the relationship will be strained.

Stick to your truth. And if they can shift to align with you, great. If not, and it really bothers you, then you need to determine how much time your kids with spend with these members of your village.

Why is the village important?

Some may ask “Do I NEED to have a village” and of course the answer is no. You NEED to do what’s right for you. But the village can be an important part of your life, your child’s life and – I believe most importantly – your mental health.

The village is there to HELP you. When you feel burned out or in need of a break, the village is there to help. They are there to continue to provide your child with the warmth, positivity, safety and boundaries that you would provide. They are THERE for your child. You know that if something were to happen, small or large, these members of your village would be there for your child, just as you would be there for theirs.

What does the village really do for my child?

Aside from just BEING there for them, being a member of a village can have such a positive impact on your child’s social emotional growth and development. Becoming a member of a community is important, and knowing how to participate in a community is important. As you participate in your village, you don’t only TAKE but more importantly, you GIVE. You give back to the people that help you. You provide support for them, for their children, for their families. And you know what, your children see this.

They see the importance of kindness or showing up for others and of asking for and taking assistance from others. The see you show up for other families when they are in need and learn to do this for their friends, peers and others in the community. Your child will learn to be a member of a community but watching you participate with your village.

What if I’m not ready for a village?

It may seem overwhelming at first but know that most people in your village have experienced or are currently experiencing the struggle of parenthood. Remember that relationships are give and take. You can’t always take, take, take and expect to experience a positive, healthy relationship. Part of the beauty of a village is that when you need them, they are there for you. And as you climb out of need, you are then able to provide for others.

The reciprocal nature of the village itself is a beautiful reminder of the give and take of relationships. When you’re in the infant stage of parenting it is hard to help someone else. But guess what, as your child grows and enters new developmental phases, your ability to assist someone else with their children opens. Suddenly you are able to do a pick-up or watch someone else’s child at the park for an afternoon.

Lean on your community. Find ‘your people’. They will not only help normalize what you’re going through, but will be there for you.  😊

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