There once was a time when neighborhood children played together outside and were monitored by whoever's front yard they happened to be playing. You may have heard a neighbor call out for one of the children to get back home before it got dark. This would also have been the time that aunts, uncles and grandparents all lived so close that they became extensions of the nuclear family unit. Everybody played a part in raising each child within the community, and the children benefited from the diverse relationships and guidance they encountered on a daily basis.
Slowly, families shifted away from this "village" to isolation as nuclear families and neighbors moved away from each other both physically and emotionally.
Bunmi Laditan wrote a Huffington Post piece titled, "I Miss the Village." Laditan, spending most days alone with her child in isolation, dreams about what this village would be like:
"It would be impossible to tell whose children belonged to whom — we'd all attend to the group of toddling wee ones, check on the deeply breathing babies, wave little hands off of our floured table, pinch cheeks and kiss boo-boos... When one of us was feeling sick or needed extra rest from a long night up with a child, we'd swoop in and tend to your children as we would our own for as long as necessary — no need to even ask... I miss that village of mothers that I've never had."
This same longing and sentiment is shared by Natalie Singer-Velush in her post "Raising a Family Without a Village." Natalie says, as new parents, "There was no one to rush over when the thermometer spiked to 103 degrees and we, as nervous new parents, needed as much calming as the baby. No one to step in when the daycare was closed, but our jobs still expected us. No one but us to swoon and coo regularly, no one to bring over a new board book or puzzle 'just because,' or to cook up a pot of soup or three for the freezer."
Not only do parents feel loneliness but children also miss out on the extensive relationships that were formed within the village. They had the benefit of constant attention from adult figures who weren't exhausted by the sole burden of child-rearing because they all shared the load. This is especially true for single mothers who not only have lost the village but also cannot share the load with a spouse; all aspects of raising a child rest solely (and heavily) on their shoulders. The village was the means to remove that considerable load, and children inevitably benefited from that reinforcement.
As a single mom, I've always remained conscious of the need to create a village for my family. I consider the lessons, wisdom and relationships my daughter may miss out on and supplement with what I affectionately call our "makeshift family." It is quite diverse: it's multicultural, age and gender agnostic, and consists of friends, teachers and community members who have, over time, proven to be supportive and present. It is made up of both two and single parent households. It's important that my daughter understands that family comes in different forms.
There are a number of ways I reap the benefits of our village. I form collaborative relationships with my daughter's teachers so we are unified in supporting her needs and embracing her individuality. We have planned holiday and celebratory events we attend with the same families each year. One of our single-parent supporters is remote, so we schedule annual visits and weekly video calls for our young children to connect. They talk and giggle about school and life. They are forging a bond and learning to develop a healthy relationship.
Given the setup of our communities and society, it is imperative for you to create your own village. It does take some work, and it's something you will proactively need to try to accomplish. We can benefit so much from learning from each other versus confinement to our homes. Forge relationships with other parents with kids that are your child's age, play host to your neighbors and children, and take the lead in having open parenting discussions.
You can also look for your village in non-traditional ways. Take Master Jennifer of Champion Taekwondo in Fort Mill, South Carolina, as an example. In addition to self-defense, Master Jennifer teaches her students the importance of respecting themselves and others and the value of kindness, and she engages her students in serving the communities in which they live. "Before a student receives a belt promotion, parents are asked to complete a questionnaire that assesses good character development," says Master Jennifer. "If a student, as an example, is not being respectful at home, their promotion may be delayed until further improvement." For many parents, Master Jennifer and the Champion Taekwondo has become an extension of family.
Villages are important in raising healthy, confident and emotionally stable children, particularly in an age where distractions are at an all-time high. Look around your community: Who can you be a village to? Consider new parents, young parents, an ailing parent, single parents, a single person, to name a few. Let's re-create the villages we need today. Our children deserve to have communities that rally together to support their best interests.
Georgia Lobban is the founder of Little Proud Kid, a place to celebrate all people… one people. Little Proud Kid focuses on bringing an array of multicultural toys, books, resources and more to help you teach and celebrate the uniqueness in each and every child.
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