“It takes a village to raise a child”
The old Igbo and Yoruba African proverb says “It takes a village to raise a child” has been a staple in the Black community since I was a little girl. The proverb illustrates the importance African cultures has on family and community. It takes an entire community to raise children. Similar translations for this proverb include “One knee does not bring up a child” in Sukuma and “One hand does not nurse a child” in Swahili. My parents, who are three generations removed from slavery, shared with us countless stories about how the community came together to take care of them as children. The people in their village fed them, allowed them to send the night at their homes, watched them as they played in the streets, and even disciplined them.
Kids today are lonely, stressed out, isolated, and lack the same social skills and social/emotional intelligence older generations accrued from growing around with family, extended family, and other community supports. When deciding to have children, having a village framework can make a kid’s entire life. Not having one can break a kid’s spirit.
One person, no matter how hard they may try, can’t raise a child alone. Children learn from parents and their village how to interact to the world around them, including how to adapt to changes. Good villages:
- Show and share an appreciation for their children and families
- Hold children, and parents, accountable
- Reduce loneliness, isolation, and can be confidants, especially for latch-key children
- Help teach and/or reinforce healthy boundaries and show love and respect for children
- Spend quality time with together
- Communicate frequently
- Provide love and supports needed to grow healthy children
- Keep kids and communities safe, and
- Work to ensure children make their communities proud
Kids don’t come with instruction manuals, and because every child is different, having a strong support system that includes experienced elders and surrogate parents who can offer support and guidance. A good village can provide children the tools, skills, and eyes/ears birth and/or adoptive parents don’t have.
There is no such thing as pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. We need each other to survive, no matter how much our government and politicians tell us otherwise.
What Happened to the Village?
I don’t hear people talking much about their villages anymore. It’s like a badge of honor to do everything yourself, which could explain why we are more stressed, our kids have fewer manners and get into more trouble we’re more depressed, our communities are less safe, and our life spans are shorter. We need help to survive. When we rely on our family, friends, and community members to help our children grow, thrive, and survive, we’re all better for it.
We miss out on so many things spiritually, mentally, and emotionally when we isolate ourselves from the world.
Those of us who were blessed with a village framework of good, loving people, with good intentions know the value of a good village. I’m from the deep South, and I had a village to help me raise my children. I’m oh so glad for it. The people in the community helped me monitor my children when I wasn’t around. As a parent, In order for the village framework to work, I also had to have a village mindset. I know I needed others to help me with my children, so I had to relinquish some of my control and inform my children the village was helping me raise them. Village frameworks won’t work where parents undermine the village. By undermining the village, parents teach children there is always a back door, and they don’t have to listen to anyone except the parents. That line of thinking ends up being a huge problem by the time the child reaches adulthood, and I didn’t want that. We all have to answer to someone. That lesson should be taught at home.
I wanted my children to develop social intelligence and learn different people have different parenting and teaching styles. There is more than one way to get a lesson, and if you’re an open vessel, you get a lesson from almost anyone.
I loved and appreciated my neighbors. They helped me keep my children on the straight and narrow. My neighbors told me if my sons were outside misbehaving, if they talked inappropriately, or if they left the street when they were not supposed to. Teachers were a part of the village too. They called me when my kids misbehaved in school, didn’t do homework, or got snarky. My kids knew if I got a call from the school for anything besides them being on fire, I was taking an early lunch break and they were leaving campus to get a spanking. I taught them early our names were all we have, and your character is always being judged.
I. Did. Not. Play.
Folks from my old church kept eyes out for our sheep. My village made sure kids didn’t make any wrong moves. There is no “I,” “me,” or “my in the village. The village kids were our kids. When one needed, someone stepped up to provide no matter what it was. We fed each other. We clothed each other. We taught each other, and we loved each other. If one of us had a loss, we all experienced a loss. The same with triumphs. When one child graduated from high school or scored a touchdown, we all graduated and scored touchdowns.
I had pastors that dry snitched, coaches that told me of my sons’ potential and advised us if there was a need to go in a different direction. I was blessed with excellent male friends, uncles, granddads, ex-boyfriends, and other male acquaintances in my life who saw something in me and my sons and poured into us. If my sons were out in the street acting any other way besides “the right way,” they would be corrected, immediately, on the spot. Even my sons’ barber was a part of my village. I was thankful for every hand offered and word spoken to help me raise my boys.
My sons were surrounded by kids who had parents that were like me, laser focused on parenting young Black boys in a racist world. Sometimes, my threats weren’t racist behavior or my kids making silly kid choices. Frequently, the threats we faced were in our own community. They were usually Black children who didn’t have a village framework. Parents left their kids floundering in the wind, with no guidance, going towards anything and anyone that would accept them. Kids without a village were often in a death spiral which can lead to gang affiliation, drug use, drug sales, juvenile delinquency, jail/prison, teen pregnancy, dropping out of high school, and sometimes — even death.
My village served as a bumper from the world.
Something has happened to villages today. They no longer exist. People don’t want to be responsible for anything anymore, and people don’t want to help. Kids are so disrespectful and threatening today, teachers neighbors are afraid to help talk to them. Not only that, parents don’t want the support. Many parents are so power hungry and in need of controlling someone or something, the village framework option isn’t for them.
There is something magical about having a village to help shape and mold children. Strong villages make strong children.
We Are Our Brother’s Keeper
America’s independence mantra and false bootstrap philosophies have us all tired, stressed, and weaker — unable to raise the productive little people who grow up to become productive adults. We need help to make it in this world, but America teaches us asking for help is a sign of weakness. It’s a myth. We are our brother’s keeper. We cannot exist without the help of others.
Even as we age, we need others to care for us. Older people are using the village framework to create communities for seniors. Village frameworks help senior citizens age in place.
I help seniors living in Florida who can’t find their cars to locate them. I aid little old ladies reach things on store shelves so they can maintain their independence. I have donated food and pet food to seniors on a fixed income so they won’t starve to death. Some are widowed. Some have worked all their lives and unfortunately didn’t expect it to cost so much to live in “paradise.”
The world is a hellish place. I need you, and you need me. I also need your children to become healthy, well-rounded adults. I don’t want your children to grow up being bullied and feeling isolated. Nor do I want your children to grow up angry people who decide the only way to deal with their problems is to kill me or other innocent people. A strong village can help parents’ children struggling, providing the support and strength they need to keep going. We are our brother’s keeper. When one family struggles, we all struggle. When one family hurts, we all hurt.
No matter what anyone says, it takes a village to make it in this world. Our children are only as strong as their village, and children are in crisis in America. Young children are committing suicide, being bullied, being killed at school by their classmates, self-medicating, being left alone, perping on each other, consuming porn and lots of misinformation from social media and the inter-webs, being bullied into gangs, learning to smoke from peers, experimenting with drugs and alcohol, and kids end up having sex long before their minds and bodies are ready to deal with the consequences of their actions. No smartphone, tablet, or laptop can ever replace the wisdom a human village can provide to our youth. We overrate technology in my opinion. Some of the saddest kids today are those with access to the most stuff and the least amount of adult supervision.
Whether parents are biased or too busy, the village framework can act as extra parents, extra eyes, more ears, guardian angels, and spare counsel.
Don’t go it alone, our children need us. Find or create your village and let it help you raise your child(ren). It still takes a village to raise children.
©2019 Marley K. All rights reserved.