"It takes a village to raise a child." African proverb, title of Hillary Clinton's book, 1996
I was in Abby's classroom (kindergarten) again yesterday - I continue to be amazed at the community that exists at the school, at all the caring people that make the place "go", at all the children whose lives are touched there for at least six hours every day. During my last twenty minutes there, one little boy sat next to me, leaning, sprawling, and wiggling as close as he could get. He was in "time out", a place where he had landed because he was clamoring for attention. That I could provide him with just a bit of that one-on-one attention for a few minutes made my day - and got me thinking again.
I'm going to start with stereotypes - which are not usually perfect but at least provide a point of reference and some truth. When raising children, it seems to me that many Christians believe that their family (or at most, church family) is the only safe place for their young kids (0-10+ yrs?) to be. To that end, they may choose Christian schools, church sports leagues, after-school church clubs, Christian books, Christian cartoons, home school, church-based service, only Christian friends. I think of ripples of uproar among Christian adults that I knew when Hillary Clinton wrote "It takes a village" in 1996. The thinking went, "Our children are up to us, God forbid that the government should start raising them." But I think that they missed the point completely.
I do believe that our families (Christian or not) lay the foundation for our kids' lives. But what I glimpse in the actions above is that some Christians don't really want to be a part of the "village" (or you could say, the neighborhood). They don't really want to be served by secular schools or sports or clubs. Let me try hard to distill my thoughts here. I acknowledge that they are kind of one-sided, but that's what I've got for now.
- If I expect the village to raise my children, I may neglect to work hard at teaching values and character at home.
- If I expect the village to raise my children, I may blame others when my children don't turn out as planned.
- But, if I overvalue the family (and church), I am essentially devaluing the community I live in. The teachers, coaches, club leaders, mentors - they are not good enough for me and my kids. Invite them to Jesus, when my kids are too Christian for their group?
- When I choose to keep my kids out of general public activities, I withdraw myself too. I give less to the elementary school down the street, the park district sports league, the Girl Scouts. I'm less likely to go volunteer with any of them, because my daughter isn't involved.
- My kids are going to grow up and eventually live in this "village". Will they avoid it just like me? Will their neighbors, coworkers, janitors, etc. be the kids who we didn't get involved with so many years before?
- Finally, I think back to the little boy cuddling up next to me at school. Some kids, even many kids, don't have a family that is as strong as they need. They need others in the village to love them, teach them, befriend them. If I live like family is the only place to raise a child right, I am ignoring the needs of millions of kids who have only a village to depend on.