There was an article posted on Facebook recently that was the musings of a divorced mom sharing her struggles and angst with the role. She was sharing how it is hard to have the kids all by herself at times, and then just as hard to have to share them with someone who removes them from the home for a few days at a time. She valued the kids having time with their father, but missed them when they were gone. Still, when they returned to her and she had them all on her own, she found her energy was short and she often wished for help. And I found myself just thinking how different it was to be not only a single mom but also a SOLO mom - a parent who has full custody, full responsibility, full time being a single parent with my children.
My experience is not unique. Parents whose co-parent is deployed oversees, or whose spouse has died or is incarcerated, or single people who adopt all share this experience. Sometimes they have one child, sometimes more than one. Sometimes they have all straight A stellar kids, sometimes they have a special needs or especially challenging child like I do. Whatever our circumstances there are many of us. And yet, one of the factors that I think most of us share in common is the overwhelming SENSE of being alone - of trying to do it all ourselves when we simply don't have the time, energy or resources to be able to do that.
It takes a village to raise a child. Yes, it absolutely does. And yet, we live in a culture that emphasizes independence, that separates people into their houses and boxes and buildings. We live in a place where asking for help is often taken as a sign of weakness, and where it is not really tolerated on a long term basis. I have asked for help with the children in the past, from people who have offered help, and yet have been greeted with "I don't want you to become dependent so the answer is no". The whole idea of being "dependent" is incredibly feared, stigmatized and seen as one of the ultimate "bads" of our society. It is a little more acceptable to ask family to help, rely on relatives, especially when it comes to the raising of kids, but even then, I've overheard countless conversations with older people that basically come back to, "You shouldn't have to be helping your children raise their kids. You raised your own already. You are done with that." And, truthfully, it is not just those helping who resist the "village" idea. We live in a place where advice given on child rearing is often resented. We don't know everything, and yet we are supposed to, and somehow when we are given advice we take it as a personal insult to our lack of innate knowledge about the best ways to rear children. I've also heard of numerous situations in which kids become attached to the "help", and then the parents replace the helper because the parents become envious of those deep connections to their kids. How does all of this work with the true wisdom that it does indeed take a village to raise a child?
As a solo parent, I make all of the decisions for my kids on my own: where they go to school, what they eat, what clothes we buy, who watches them when I work, what they can watch on TV, how much media time they are allowed, what activities I will enroll them in, where we go for vacation, whether or not we pray at dinner and at bedtime, who we will spend our free time with, what influences they will be exposed to, where they will live and play and study and work. I do it all on my own. I can consult with others, but the ultimate decisions are mine. I am aware that I often get it wrong. I don't pay them enough attention because I work too much. And when I do have time and attention to give them, I am not always in the best spirits or give them the kind of attention they really need and deserve because I'm worn out. I probably let them see way too much of my own moods, frustrations and fears because there just isn't another adult in my home with whom to share those things. I do an adequate job, but not a great job. They aren't abused. They are fed and housed. They are loved, and they know it.
But I know it isn't enough. And there are moments at which I am all too aware that I am just simply not enough. There are moments in which I make a decision and worry that it isn't right. But more, I'm aware that the limited resources I can give them, regardless of the decisions I make, aren't enough. It takes a village to raise a child. Where is this village that we talk about? Where are the villagers who can be called on to help raise each child?
In the Presbyterian church, we baptize people of all ages, and that includes infants. We do this because for us it is a sign that God chooses us even before we are old enough to understand it. We also have rules around that. A person cannot have their child baptized in a Presbyterian church if the parents are not members of the church. The reason for this is that a big part of our understanding of baptism is that it is a commitment from the faith body to be the "village" that raises the child. A big part of the ritual is a promise from the congregation to raise the child as a child of God. The congregation promises to support, love, nurture and raise each baby that is baptized in its midst. Sometimes people move, but the promise is made on behalf of all congregations to which that child might belong. Sometimes people come in to my office whom I have never met and who have no intention of attending church and ask me to baptize their baby. I understand that. It usually means something very different to those individuals - they are worried about the baby's salvation or afterlife, usually. That isn't what it means for Presbyterians, so in those cases, I usually encourage the person to find a different denomination to baptize their child who might have that other understanding. But I digress.
The point is that in our churches we make promises to each child baptized in our midst that we will help raise them. How seriously do we take those promises? How deeply do the parents whose children are baptized in the church take in that promise of help and care and nurture for their kids?
My sense is that it is not taken with the seriousness with which it was intended. I say again, with absolute conviction, it takes a village to raise a child. The "myth" that we should be independent is simply that, a myth. All of us are interdependent. We are all connected and to believe that you are independent or even SHOULD be independent is to believe a lie. But it extends even beyond our daily reliance on other people into the bigger picture that our connections go deeper than we know. When you are hurting, I am hurting. When your kids don't have enough attention, my community and my world is lessened. And when we offer care and love and support to one another, all of us are enriched. I have more energy and love to give when my kids are loved and cared for. And you are more able to care for others when I have the energy to care for you. When I have enough, all of my interactions with others are more positive, and that extends outwards. It is circular. and it deepens. I'm reminded of a song I learned at church when I was little, "Love is like a magic penny. Hold it tight and you won't have any. Lend it, spend it and you'll have so many, they'll roll all over the floor! Love is something: if you give it away, you end up having more!"
I am deeply grateful to those who have chosen to be part of the village raising my children. I am grateful every day for those who offer help and who take an active interest in my kids' lives. I hope that you are enriched by it as well. But for me, it is absolutely essential for all of us. It takes a village to raise a child. And as we build that village for our children, we are blessed to find ourselves part of a community that nurtures and feeds and "grows" us as well.