It takes a village to raise a child. We have all heard this axiom before. Perhaps we've agreed in some way or another with the premise of this truism, but I wonder if most people have ever really given it any deep, meaningful thought as to the non-literal, intended message.
Books have been written, including by former First Lady and current Secretary-of-State Hillary Clinton, professing the significance of the African proverb. The use of the phrase is intended to enlighten folks of the importance of shared responsibility in rearing children. Clinton's book, which I have not read, is said to promote, among other things, the importance of government involvement in providing equal opportunities for children in education, healthcare, and safe neighborhoods via government subsidies and programs. Others use the phrase to promote volunteerism and philanthropic ideals to foster greater opportunities for all children.
The message, though, is not intended to be taken in the literal sense. As one Amazon.com reviewer of Clinton's book said, "To all the rocket scientists (whose) reviews made the bold statement ‘It takes a Mother and Father to raise a Child' you are completely missing the point." Indeed.
The idea is a tad more complex than that. The quality of existence for some children is dependent upon governmental and charitable help. That there are children in the country, in the world, who by no fault of their own are living in situations that are less than ideal - or worse - is well documented. But, I suggest that the idiom goes further to remind folks that we all are responsible to look after our most vulnerable citizens, especially those in our midst.
You can be the most protective "helicopter" mom or dad; but you cannot always be there to protect and teach your children. And whether you like it or not, sometimes they don't want to listen to you simply because you are the parent. There are many factors that can influence the behavior and decisions of kids. And while most parents will do their best to anticipate and prepare their kids for the times when they are not there to help them, sometimes outside influences can derail the best of parents' intentions.
Consider a teen's need to have and maintain friends. There is nothing more important to teens than their friends. There is no greater teen challenge than peer pressure. In school and in the community, kids live every day with the overwhelming need to fit in. Now imagine what your teen is feeling when she sees the idolized, ultra-thin models on television and in magazines; the near-perfect Disney Channel teens that seemingly have everything going for them; the bad-girls from reality television becoming famous and demanding crazy salaries for being rude, promiscuous, drunken fools. Teens are bombarded with media images depicting what is popular. So whom to emulate? The pressure to fit in builds, and the hard choices they face become harder.
So what is a village to do? I submit that there are times when villagers step up, and there are times when villagers miss the boat.
There are some situations where I have no doubt that most folks would intervene (be good villagers) when they see a child in trouble or in need. Some examples include: Helping a lost child reunite with his or her loved-ones; aiding a child who is hurt; stopping a toddler from running into a busy street; or making a donation for a child who is sick. These are all terrific examples of how we are more than willing to get involved.
But what about those situations that are more ambiguous, or uncomfortable? What if you suspect that your teen's friend is using drugs or alcohol? Do you simply tell your child to stop spending time with that person, or do you share your concerns with the parents? What if your daughter tells you her friend has been purging after every meal? How could any responsible adult ignore that information and not report it to her parents? Most people like to use the excuse that they just don't want to get involved - it's easier to just stay out of it. Besides, maybe it's not as serious as you suspect and not getting involved would save you and the parents of the friend embarrassment and the discomfort of an awkward conversation.
The problem is our non-action not only serves to allow potentially dangerous behavior to continue, it also teaches our kids the wrong lesson. We should be teaching our kids that it's important to bring potentially dangerous situations to the attention of adults who are better equipped to handle them.
Teachers. Coaches. Friends. Neighbors. Clergy. Shopkeepers. They are all examples of villagers in whom we have put our faith that they will watch over our children when we cannot. Whether one chooses to get involved, to intervene, or to care could mean all the difference in the world to one kid who may be making poor decisions or who may be in trouble. Raising kids is complex. I appreciate the magnitude of that responsibility. At the same time, I will take all the help I can get. And I intend to do my part, as a good villager.