In 1996, Hilary Clinton used the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child,” as the title of her book, It takes a Village. The origins of the proverb cannot be found. Those who have gone looking for the proverb’s origins, haven’t found its roots and aren’t quite sure where Hillary heard it, but that doesn’t matter – because we in America like it and we believe it. We like the idea that we parents are not alone in raising a child, that it takes neighbors, coaches, teachers, tutors, pastors, other parents, instructors, pediatricians, and civil servants to help raise a child. We like the idea that our children have a net underneath them to keep them from falling or failing. We like the idea that there is a village of people out there helping us raise our children, filling in the holes we have neglected to fill, offering the life lessons we have forgotten to teach.
I have always liked this idea; that we are all there for each other and for each other’s children. But lately I have begun to wonder: Is there entitlement in the village? We don’t hope that teacher’s mentor our children, we expect them to see our children for the shining star that they are. We don’t appreciate when coaches tell our kids they did well, we expect them to pay them special attention. We want our children to be seen, recognized, given a star, be first, and noticed for the awesome child that they are, and if they aren’t recognized, we become offended, we take it personally and demand justice.
We have moved from “it takes a village to raise a child,” to “the village better love and appreciate my child!” What is the result of that shift? – Entitled, self-absorbed children, who become entitled, self-absorbed adults.
Don’t get me wrong, I love when other people love my children. I need other adults to guide and nurture my children. God knows I can’t do it by myself. Where I am catching myself is that sometimes I want the village to fix my children – to take care of them because I know they are lonely or insecure, or struggling. I know they need something I can’t give them, and I keep waiting for the school, the church, the coach, to swoop in and see what I see and to save the day. That is not the role of the village.
We all need to learn how to be lonely. We all need to work through our insecurities. We are all left out from time to time. We all need to learn humility. We all need to learn that the world does not revolve around us. We all need to learn how to be good winners and losers. We all need to learn to fail. The village cannot save children from the pain and challenges of growing up and it doesn’t do them any favors if it tries.
Our job in the village is to treat children as human beings, respect them and hold them accountable as fellow participants and contributors to the village. Our job is not to worship them, or protect them from life, or expect less of them because they are children. The village is responsible for forming community in which there is a deep sense of belonging, in which there are agreed upon norms and behaviors, and shared values and beliefs. The role of the village is treat all children equally, to teach what it means to be a good neighbor and to hold them accountable. The village it is not responsible for the happiness of every child. The village is not the Super Parent.
As I write this, the world seems more unstable today than it did yesterday – although I know that’s not true. Yesterday’s violence in Paris just brings the instability of the world into focus. I am reminded that all too often my understanding of the village is far too small. We live in a global village. What happens to children in every corner of the world, impacts the global village. When God’s children suffer, the whole world groans.
The village has work to do, love to give and compassion to offer. The village needs to be looking outward to a hurting world, not inward to self acclamation. Let’s be certain we are not hurting the village by demanding more than it can give and taking more from it than we need.