There’s an old African proverb that claims, “It takes a village to raise a child.” The proverb is often attributed to Hillary Clinton’s 1996 book titled It Takes a Village, but Clinton actually borrowed the phrase and the concept from the African continent. The wise claim is expressed in several different languages there, and while the premise seems perfectly clear on the surface, some have put forth the idea that Clinton meant that the state can raise your child better than you can. That’s a conversation for another day.
Personally, I prefer to believe that the African people and (hopefully) Ms. Clinton mean to say that the upbringing of a child is done best when the entire village (community) participates. In that context, I agree 100 percent. When children are raised in a family but also as integral and important members of a community, I believe that they grow up to be adults who care about their communities.
I also believe that the proverb means that, if parents aren’t around, the people of the “village” have a responsibility to step in and redirect a child who might be wandering off the straight and narrow path. At least, that’s what I believe would happen in a perfect world. I’ll give you an example.
When our youngest daughter was about 12 or 13 years old – that age at which a child yearns for some independence and a parent reluctantly doles it out in small portions – she invited some friends for a sleepover. We have a swimming pool (for this very reason), and anytime the kids had friends over, they often hung around outside well into the night. On this particular evening, our daughter and her friends decided they’d walk up to the neighborhood grocery store. I have no idea why they decided that, and no idea what they intended to buy once they were there. I think it was one of those teenage larks that makes no sense, no matter now you look at it. Still, they must have thought it was a grand idea, because off they went, all 5 of them.
My husband and I were staying inside the house, giving the kids some space as they swam, giggled and talked. At least, that’s what we thought they were doing, until we received a phone call from a neighbor asking us whether we had given the girls permission to walk to the store alone. At night. Crossing a very busy street to do so. “Of course not, why do you ask?” I answered, when she began to explain to me that a pack of girls was leaving the neighborhood, and she recognized my daughter.
“No, I did not give them permission,” I replied. When she asked if I wanted her to send them home, I asked her to just keep them there and wait for me. The rest of the story is predictable, of course. I explained to the girls why it was not O.K. for them to leave the house, much less the neighborhood, without our knowledge or permission. Our daughter was mortified, sure that we had ruined her life forever, certain that her strict and unreasonable parents had made her an outcast at school.
The point is, I was thankful that our neighbor stepped up and said something when she saw my daughter and her friends doing something that she knew we’d never allow. Too often, another adult might just watch the girls go, think that THEIR child would never behave in such a manner, and never say anything to us. I suspect that very thing happens all too often; it’s just easier to do nothing than to do something.
As our daughter got older, she cheered in high school; many of her friends were considered the “good” kids: football, baseball and basketball players, wrestlers and other cheerleaders. But when she was a junior in high school, it came to my attention (quite by accident) that all the kids liked to hang out at certain houses because the parents allowed them to drink and smoke pot. Oh, they’d have “rules” about it: kids had to turn over their car keys upon arrival and promise to stay over if they were inebriated. When I heard about this, I was upset – furious – that another parent would allow my child to drink or get high. What they allow their kids to do is their business, but no one has the right to let my child or any other do anything that’s irresponsible and illegal. That’s just common sense to me, but I guess it’s not so common any longer.
Of course, when I learned what was going on at these certain houses, I didn’t allow our daughter to go there any longer. Well, she became an outcast, and kids who were once her “friends” began harassing her and making her life miserable because her mother said, “This isn’t O.K.” You see, when teens have a place to go where “anything goes,” they will defend it at all costs, and no one is spared their wrath in that defense. The rest of that school year was very difficult for my daughter, and it broke my heart. But if I had it to do over again, I’d do the same thing. It was the right thing to do, period.
My daughter and I discussed that awful school year a few years later, and she explained to me how difficult her life became because of what I had said and done. I explained to her that any time you buck “the establishment” and take a stand for what’s right, you will make enemies. It’s as simple as that. But it’s better to stand up for what’s right and lose a few fake friends, than to go with the flow and risk so much just to be a part of the group.
In other words, I explained that I was doing the right thing, as a member of “the village.” I would have wanted someone to tell me what was going on at these houses, rather than finding it out on my own, and by accident at that.
Sadly, the parents I talked with about this – parents of our kids’ friends – believed their little darlings when they swore nothing like that was going on. I suppose I looked like a deranged, meddling mom who had nothing better to do than to try to get their little angels in trouble. The whole experience was quite disappointing.
The village has changed, and if you’re a parent who has the same “strict” policies as we did, I suggest you really get to know the parents of every kid your kid hangs out with. Ask questions. Go to the door when you pick your child up (or pop over anyway, even if your child drives). Trust me, just telling parents how you stand on these issues isn’t enough; in every single instance, our rules were ignored in favor of being the “cool” parents with the “cool” house.
Here’s to hoping this next generation’s village is more responsible than the village in which our kids grew up. Perhaps the frequency of DUI arrests and fatal car accidents involving teens will be enough to motivate parents to act like parents, rather than trying to be their kid’s best friend. Children have a school full of friends, but they only have two parents, and sometimes one. In the end, those parents are the absolute best friends a child will ever have.
Carole Townsend is a Gwinnett author and freelance writer. Her fourth book, BLOOD IN THE SOIL, was named Finalist for 2017 Georgia Author of the Year in the Detective/Mystery genre. Her previous three books are written with loving humor about the South. Carole often appears on network television talk and news shows, as well as on national radio shows. Her books can be found in bookstores, on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com, and at www.caroletownsend.com. When she’s not writing, Carole travels throughout the southeast, talking to groups about women, writing, family and life in her beloved South. www.caroletownsend.com. Follow Carole on Facebook (Carole Townsend-Author), Twitter @caroletownsend, or Instagram @carole.w.riter.