As the saying goes: It takes a village to raise a child. My question is: Do you even know the village?
The years since the 1950s, when people stayed put for decades and neighbors knew each other, have moved increasingly towards isolated living. Whole neighborhoods are now filled with virtual strangers. People can meet and get to know each other on the internet only to find out months later that they live in the very same neighborhood. Even worse, people that live in close proximity to one another, like in apartment buildings, may not even recognize the neighbors that live on the same floor as them.
Of course, this is not true of all people and all neighborhoods, but perhaps it is true of too many. How well do you know your neighbors: by name, by face, by their car? Have you been in each other’s homes? Consider it a personal challenge to go meet your neighbors. You may be pleasantly surprised by how many people really want to be connected in small ways, but simply don’t have the nerve to initiate a friendly relationship. Although not everyone is a social extrovert or good at practicing hospitality, many people are. If you are not that person, perhaps you can find a neighbor who is and encourage them to lead the way.
Do you sit in the bleachers, on the sidelines, or at every dance practice with the same families month after month, season after season, year after year watching your children together, yet still don’t know each other’s names or anything about each other?
So, how feasible would it be for a village to help raise your child if you don’t even know who the villagers are? Isn’t it incumbent on you to find out what type of people you are surrounded by, how they think and what they value? Chances are your child is going to be exposed to your neighbors in one form or another: whether at the school bus stop, on the elevator, in the front yard, or through the thin walls that separate your apartments.
Then there are those that your children spend time with at school, on organized teams, or outside playing in the cul-de-sac. Who are these people and what are they saying and doing around your child? Are they showing your child how to be disrespectful, deceitful, obnoxious, and rebellious or how to be honest, responsible, friendly, and obedient?
This doesn’t only apply to other children. Unfortunately, there are plenty of adults that I wouldn’t necessarily want my child to spend too much time around. Although this can be due to those adults making poor life choices, it is often simply because the adults are not cognizant of the filter they should be using around kids.
In order to best determine who your child should spend time with, you must get to know your neighbors, team families, and school community. These relationships help everyone feel part of a bigger community by creating common bonds that help parents socialize their children while keeping them safe. It also sets us all into a larger familial framework that can serve as a support system when life hits us with its many challenges.
We all want to raise our kids into responsible and productive adults. The village can help us do that. The job of getting to know the various villagers that surround our children is an important one that should not be overlooked. On some level, the village is going to play a role in raising our children whether we like it or not. So, get to know your village and don’t forget to be a good villager yourself.