Tuesday, 6 July 2010

it takes a family to raise a child? or a church? or a village? or?

July 6, 2010


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....


But I do wonder about the parents-only part. That whole "nuclear family" concept is pretty recent, and pretty western/North American.

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.


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.


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...).


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?


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?


Anonymous said...

Great Post!

Several Great points!

My wife and I have very young children (all 3 are under 3 years old) and we have started asking ourselves these questions, since they will be exposed to outside influences very soon we want to deal with that as best we can. This is why we want to start really pursuing and becoming a part of the community of believers. We also wonder, as you talk about in your post, what we do about those we disagree with. Do we try to hide their ideas from our kids? don't let them listen to certain music? don't let them learn about evolution in school? don't let them watch that program or read that book? we want to raise them to be smart critically-thinking people who can deal with problems when we aren't there to protect them. We don't really know what to do exactly and are very open to hearing how others have done it.

Thanks for sharing this post!

Norma Hill - aka penandpapermama said...

Tough questions. Our 5 children spent a lot of their growing-up years in a community where often we were very alone as believers. We had many close relatives there who weren't believers, as well. It really was impossible to hide our kids from the world around them. So we really did try to "raise them to be smart critically-thinking people..." I ended up homeschooling our last 3 years there - and we spent a lot of that time honestly delving into those issues.

We finally moved when our kids got into their teens. We went to a "better" community - and I suppose I wish I could say that everything went perfectly after that. It didn't (you can read about it at my blog A Mother's Journey), though it certainly became an amazing adventure with Father.

Our kids are grown now (all in their twenties) and we have 7 grandchildren. One of our daughters and her family are very joyfully involved in a Baptist church (she being the one who struggled most in her teens). The others don't "go to church" but I know they all believe. We still are "critically-thinking" - and praying - together, though we are scattered far and wide.

When they were young, I hoped they would all grow up and be Christians and go to church. When we went through those teen years, I really came to know Father, and my prayers changed - that they too would come to know Father, and would come to joyfully be part of His family, in His plan and purpose for each of them. I see that happening, day by day, step by step. It's a long process, a convoluted journey, definitely an adventure with many unexpected twists and turns - it's surely not a tidy package.

But always God is in the center of it. I have had to let Him take over "responsibility" for my kids. And I have peace.

My own de-traditional-church-ing in my own journey with Father has been a part of it. It has seemed that the more I myself have been able to let go of "going to church," the more open my children have become to Father ("church" became a real problem for them - some very bad experiences along the way... as it has been for my husband also, who is First Nations and was sent by the Canadian government to a church-run residential school).

I am delighted to see my chldren and my Heavenly Father growing in relationship together. (It's improved my relationship with them too).

I AM looking for a "community of believers" here... but I guess I am kind of skittish, terrified of being dragged back into "churchianity" ... and my many "church friends" are pretty much avoiding me - I guess maybe I am seen as apostate or something. My closest brothers and sisters now are local street people who have come to know Jesus! We eat and visit together, and talk about Jesus. That's church, isn't it!

But then I find myself struggling with thinking that church should be more! I guess the old ways are still clutching to me.

Wow! This is way more than a "comment in return." Maybe I should re-post it as a post. Would you mind if I do that, starting with your comment, and then following with mine?

I would love to see this become a conversation among many.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for sharing your insights!

I like that you seem to emphasize that a relationship with God is the most important element in the Spiritual growth of our children... I hope to foster that within my family.

I had always understood that the amount I was involved in institutional church reflected my relationship with God. It is still hard to shake those ideas. I catch myself making judgments about others based on this false notion!

I grew up knowing all about close knit community, it was not necessarily a community of believers, but it was a community that cared for each others' families. These people played a huge role in my development and understanding of the world. I pray that I can be part of a Christ centered community that will influence my kids as much as the community I grew up in influenced me!

I would love for you to share our conversation as a post. I was hoping you would as I read through your comment so I could share a link with some other people I think would be interested.


Norma Hill - aka penandpapermama said...

hello again, Dan!

I have posted the conversation as raising our children in community? - a conversation. Thanks so much!

I, too, thought was institutional church involvement was equated with relationship with God.

And I too had a strongly supportive community, partly church-related, partly our family connections, partly neighborhood.

But those things aren't always easily available nowadays, and my kids really didn't have that kind of support - and I came to realize that my efforts to provide it for them myself and within our little family was not sufficient. I didn't know what to do and had to throw myself on Father.

I know that my kids didn't see that relationship with Father very much in my own life when they were young - but in their teens and as young adults they have seen that relationship developing (slowly - I'm a rather slow learner, and stubborn, I'm afraid), and I have been honest with them about my questionings and my ups and downs. That is something I really didn't see, that kind of honesty, when I was growing up, despite communities that were supportive in other ways. I'm learning that honesty and openness are so important.

So yes, definitely, I agree that relationship with God is key in our childrens' spiritual growth!

(One other thing: In my youth, we tended to "be Christians because our parents were Christians" - but when we grew up and moved out, it was awfully easy to lose that. We need to point our children toward developing their own relationship with Father - and that, I think, can seem risky to us as parents! But in the end, it is wise and caring - and forces us to draw even closer to Father and trust Him even more.)

lol... maybe I should have added this as a comment on the new post :-)