There’s an African proverb that tells us it takes a whole village to raise a child.
I often wonder, though, do we really raise our children as a village? Do we look out for them throughout their lives and protect them – and one another – as a village? When I read the headlines every day, I am reminded that all too often we do not. And I wonder, when did we stop living and acting as a village?
When my Husband and I told my Grandparents that we were pregnant, they were thrilled, of course. One of the things my Grandmother said to me that day – with no malice whatsoever – was “Good luck. I would not want to raise a child today. It’s a whole different world.”
My Grandparents were no lightweights when it came to raising children. They raised their children through the 50s, 60s, 70s, and into the 80s. By the time Zilla arrived, they had already been helping to raise grandchildren and great grandchildren for nearly 40 years besides. They had probably seen just about everything.
I remember thinking, “Holy crap! What have we gotten ourselves into?”
Kids are different today than they were when my Mom and her siblings were kids. They are different than we were as kids. They’re even different than they were a short 10 years ago. But while that is true, it’s not really the kids that makes raising children today so terrifying. It’s the rest of the world.
Decades ago, it really did take a village to raise a child – and the village did its job. Everybody knew everybody else and if your neighbor’s mother told you to straighten up and fly right, it was just as good as hearing it from your own. When you did something stupid, your parents knew about it before you walked in the back door because the other parents called them and told them, not because they wanted to ruin your life, but because they wanted to protect it. They did it because they cared. To me, that’s not nosy or presumptuous. That’s a community raising its children together.
But now? I often wonder if people care about anyone but themselves. I know, I know – that sounds terribly cynical. And I know that there are people do care. I have friends and family who do look out for one another’s kids, who aren’t afraid to speak up when they smell trouble, who aren’t afraid to have an opinion. But as a society? We have become so afraid of being criticized or sued for taking an interest in someone else’s well-being that we have isolated ourselves to the point of destruction.
Take the Cincinnati zoo gorilla incident, for example. People were so quick to judge that mother for taking her eyes off her child for one second. The way I understand it, she was with several children. Kids move fast and they do things they aren’t supposed to do. What makes her any different than any other parent? What makes her different from me? I have one child and I can’t keep my eyes on her at every moment. She gets away from me. She does things she isn’t supposed to do. One of my big questions was not why wasn’t that mother looking at her child or why didn’t she stop him, but why didn’t anybody else?
You cannot tell me that no one saw or heard that child heading for danger. Did they grab the mother and get her attention? Did they grab the boy and pull him back to safety? I don’t know; I wasn’t there. I’d like to think that if I saw that scenario unfolding, I would’ve grabbed that kid back from danger and delivered him to his mother. I would like to think that I would not fear a lawsuit for touching another mother’s child. If my daughter were the one heading for that gorilla enclosure – and believe me, I know she has the potential to do it – I would like to think that someone would act quickly and grab her, not stand there taking a video to post all over the internet showing what a lousy mother I am.
Now let’s talk about the Stanford rapist problem. I think Kristi and I were doing the same thing at the same time late Monday night – reading all the things out there about it, sitting open-mouthed in front of the computer screen, feeling physically ill that we live in a world where this kind of garbage happens and is tolerated. Because it is tolerated; and that’s the problem.
I don’t have to tell you that a six month sentence for what he did to that young woman is an outrageous miscarriage of justice. You already know that. I don’t have to tell you that the manner in which each of the parties involved has been represented in the media and throughout the trial process is nothing but the work of spin doctors. Was she too drunk? Was he? Did her sister or her friends try to stop her before she was too far over the edge? Did his? I don’t know; I wasn’t there. I would like to think that people look out for one another and try to keep one another from danger, simply because as human beings we should want to keep one another safe. But all too often, we stand ready to make assumptions and judgments. We worry far too much about whether we will be criticized for stepping in than we do about acting in the best interest of another. The fact that those two grad students saw what was going on and took action bolsters my faith in humanity, in compassion, and in the concept of the global village.
But the reality is that such action is all too rare.
Right now my daughter spends most of her time in my company or that of another adult I know and trust. But as she grows, she will spend less and less time by my side. I won’t be there to help her make decisions or grab her back when she steps in front of danger. When my daughter goes off to college, I won’t be there, either. I can only hope that the things we teach her now will go with her and serve as an invisible hand to grab her when she needs one.
I would like to think that my daughter will never do things like drink too much or dance with a boy she doesn’t know that well. But I’m not a fool and I know better. When I was that age, I did things that were stupid and impulsive and could have potentially landed me in all kinds of trouble. I know my Husband did. I’ll bet most of you did, too. Little kids move fast and get into trouble, and most of the time, we can reach out and grab them and pull them back. But not always. Big kids move fast and get into trouble, too. But most of the time, we aren’t going to be with them, and who is going to reach out to grab them and pull them back then?
So when I see things like the Stanford story on my screen, I spend a lot of time worrying about my daughter. I worry about her now and I worry about her then for all the reasons that every parent worries. But then I start to factor in other things like her ADHD and impulsivity issues and I worry even more. I had (and still have) those issues; I know that these and so many other factors put our kids at exponentially higher risk for danger than “normal” circumstances present. Put all of that together with the kind of travesty we see in our headlines, and that is why I’m terrified.
So what’s the answer?
I wish I knew.
All any of us can do is guess and proceed by trial an error. We can teach our kids everything we think will help them make wise choices as they grow. We can hope and pray and pray some more that they will be safe. But aside from all of that, perhaps the best thing we can do is remember that if it takes a village to raise our children, then there actually has to be a village. So take an active part in building it. Open your doors. Open your hearts. Get to know and understand the people around you – and people far away. Talk about life and love and values. Be unafraid to stick your nose into someone else’s business and show that you care. Stand up and speak out loud when you see hate and injustice in the world and maybe, just maybe, the evil that is out there will see that we mean business, that we will step in when it rears its ugly head, and we will all protect one another from harm.
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