July 6, 2010
IT DOESN'T TAKE A VILLAGE TO RAISE A CHILD?
A few days ago I was reading a blog post (which I cannot get out of my mind) in which the writer argued that, contrary to the popular saying, or at least contrary to some popular interpretations of the saying, it does not "take a village to raise a child." The writer, Eric, pointed out that the "village" that the majority of our children grow up in offers a mix of values (or lack thereof) that we may really not want our children being raised with. He suggested that it really only takes a mother and father to raise a child, but that they may be backed up or supported by close friends of like values, in a Christian family's case, their local church - if that church is really living together in love and unity, rather than just as a program-run organization. (He also raised some related issues; You can check out the whole post at A Pilgrim's Progress), and see what he thinks).
Now I don't have a problem with the backed-up-by-the church part, if the church is really a part of Christ's family: a close-knit village within the Kingdom of God, if you like. In fact, I think it is ideal, and essential. But....
MA AND PA CAN DO IT BY THEMSELVES?
But I do wonder about the parents-only part. That whole "nuclear family" concept is pretty recent, and pretty western/North American.
THE "HOUSEHOLD" ... EXTENDED FAMILY ... VILLAGE
Historically, and certainly biblically, family was (and still is, in vast parts of the world), extended. Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins ... and biblically, servants (and slaves). And sojourners and people traveling through. The "household."
Living in a single large home, or in a compound - or in a village.
It wasn't that long ago, even in North America, that neighborhoods in cities were often villages in their own way.
NEIGHBORHOOD VILLAGES BACK IN THE DAY
When I was young (mid twentieth century), almost all our neighbors within a block or so in both directions from our house - and those over the back fence, too - knew each other well. The adults all watched out for each other's children. Grandparents often lived with families, and even those who didn't were generally accepted as honorary grandparents, and children were expected to respect them.
We played in each other's yards, and in the street, and in the empty lot in the middle of the block - usually without our parents directly present, but we knew they were keeping an eye on us from the houses or yards. Sometimes the adults would come out and play softball with us, or help us fix our go-carts or build our tree forts. No one much worried, because we all knew each other. When someone new moved into the neighborhood, everyone brought them pies or cookies, and invited them over for meals. We celebrated birthdays and weddings and other events together.
We were a village within the city, an extended family by common geographic location, and also, as I look back on it by generally shared values and beliefs. Most of us were at least nominally Christian, at least by Census statistics, though we represented many streams: Catholic, Orthodox, mainline and evangelical Protestants, Easter-and-Christmas-church-goers, even a Jehovah's Witness family. We didn't agree on all theological points, but we were neighbors, and so we didn't fight about them either.
Oh yes, and most of us were of European descent, some recently, some several generations removed. Most of us were hyphenated-Canadians, and it was always a delight, for example, to have real home-made spagetti with the Italian-Canadians, or listen to the Scottish-Canadians play their pipes, or whatever. We were proud of our backgrounds, but we really weren't that different.
In terms of our present-day multi-cultural society, our neighborhood (our entire town for that matter) was remarkably homogeneous. In our high school of 1200 students, there was, as I recall, one black family, one Chinese family, two or three Japanese families, and a small clan of East Indians who (very intriguingly to us) all lived together in one big house.
THINGS HAVE CHANGED, OF COURSE
I find myself almost shaking my head in disbelief when I think about it. That homogeneous "village" world seems very long ago and far away to me now. Is that why we find ourselves withdrawing into our private little "castles" and putting up the gates? Do we develop a fortress menality? To shut out those who threaten our apparently safe, homogeneous little family? Are we really better off to protect our children from those who are "different" from us, in culture, religion, values, and so on? (And if so, can we then really trust even those of our extended physical family whose lives aren't exactly like ours? Or even the "church family," made up as it likely is these days, of people from widely varying backgrounds? How far do we take this? What is driving us? Just protectiveness? or fear? prejudice? Can we really trust ourselves? Do we trust God?)
I've know parents who have withdrawn their children from the village. The children play with their own siblings, and on very special occasions with children from hand-picked families whom the parents cautiously associate with. The mothers sit with the children as they play together, watching their every move. Oddly enough, some, after protecting their children so carefully at home, send them off to public school every day. (Odd indeed. Another story...).
CAN WE EVEN STOP THE VILLAGE FROM RAISING OUR CHILDREN?
I really do think it does take a village, to some degree, to raise a child. I have yet to meet a set of parents who, themselves, have all it takes to truly raise children by themselves. At any rate, can we even effectively stop the village from raising our children? Media, schools, just observing the world around us as we drive down the streets. Shopping! Even at the corner grocery the global village is with us - not to mention at supermarkets and malls. Then there are public parks, community events, schools. Oh, and of course theme parks. Disney World, here we come!
Maybe it can be argued that "it doesn't take a village to raise a child." But it does seem to me that it is going to happen anyway, no matter how hard we might try to block it out.
I agree, we do need real churches, real, close-knit families of God. We need true, Godly, loving relationships with our God (Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit) and with His family. We need those relationships individually, we need them within our own physical/nuclear family, and we need them corporately in the true family of the church.
We need that because we can never totally stop the "village" (the global one, as well as the neighborhood one), from raising or at least influencing our children. And not only for that reason.
We also need, as God's children, God's family, to together reach out to the village around us, the village to which we are called to be light and life and salt. To which we are called to live out the love of Jesus. We cannot barricade ourselves in some fortress, and at the same time honor that call. Can we?
ARE WE, AS PART OF THE VILLAGE, HELPING RAISE OTHERS CHILDREN?
And do we, while trying to "protect" our own children from being raised by the village, at the same time expect them to let us help raise their children? Is that not what many of our Sunday Schools and Youth Groups and other programs try to accomplish? Do we even have the right to try and "raise" those other children when we refuse to become, to some degree, relationally, part of their village? Will those programs even succeed without us truly reaching out, building relationships, loving our neighbors, caring for them,being part of the village?
What do you think about all this?