“It takes a village to raise a child” – African pro-verb? Not entirely clear apparently. Hillary used it as a title for a book a while back. It’s one of those sayings that if it didn’t exist someone would need to coin it.
It speaks to me because it is so simple. A child needs exposure to good people other than its parents to gain social experience and to find its place in the community. The hard work of raising a child is most often done by the parents or a very close family member. However, if indeed there is an extended family, family friends, and good teachers who know the child, that can prove invaluable not least in times of crisis. And sometimes a child needs to talk to an adult outside the core family about their relationship with their parents. Sometimes a youth needs a different perspective on life choices – education, careers, relationships.
A case in point: I enjoyed my high school girlfriend’s family a lot – in particular my girlfriend’s father who was a special person – funny, educated, entrepreneurial, casual (He swore a lot!). He didn’t tell me what to do, but watching him and hearing about the early stages of his adult life helped me figure out in which broad direction I wanted to go.
But maybe it is not just children who need that village.
Being away from my siblings and large family with little access to coaching and connection has been a feature of my nomadic life. First, I ran away from the family. A few years later, I virtually turned my back on them and rarely reached out. My own little family became my everything.
Then some 10-12 years ago, my wife asked me to “talk to someone”. Our small family – in a foreign land with no “village” to turn to – couldn’t cope with all the tension building up in me – the silent, intense, cold focus on work and duty. I think she was asking me to find someone in a village, that could provide emotional relief, even guidance the way an uncle or a brother or a childhood friend would. I accepted her request, and it proved a turning point.
Today, I keep building my village. My closest family is at the center as always, and now more than ever . I continue to reconstruct connections with my extended family that I “eloped” from some 40 years ago. And I keep recruiting people to my new village – good people from my worlds in sports, music, languages, travel, charities.
There is a difference between the village that raises a child, and that of a grown-up. The village gathers around the child to nurture and assist whether the child is requesting it or not. The grown-up is likely to be more pro-active. I for one try to open up, ask for help, share vulnerability – and endeavour to be there when another “villager” needs me.
This is new for me, but I think it works. I’ll keep at it.