For parents of young children, it is so hard to raise our children and stay connected to Circle of Hope’s mission and community. Raising children is very hard; for some of us, it will be the hardest thing we ever do. And for so many people, just keeping our head above waters is success. We are just trying to survive with our infants and toddlers. Sometimes it feels like I’m peeling my eyelids open as I awaken to the sound of my baby crying and I walk into her room and she’s happy as a clam, smiling ear-to-ear, ready to get going for the day. And it is essentially non-stop from dawn until dusk. My prayers are answered when my daughter can sleep through the night and manages to take a nap or two in the day. Because then we can do the cleaning, cooking, and chores around the house that our new appendage, that beautiful bundle of love, make impossible. By the end of the days and ends of the weekends, we are so worn out, just spending some time with our equally exhausted spouses seems to be like a dream.
An antidote to these problems that we’ve come up with is an old idea—it’s really how children have been raised forever—it’s called “village parenting.” What is it? In a sentence, it’s raising our children together in faith and community.
For most of the world, parenting is a group process. Even in my home growing up, my grandmother lived with us. She was like another mom to me. And honestly, having her there was crucial to my upbringing. And even today, all over the world, parenting is a group process that not only involved blood relatives but neighbors and friends. In different cultures, there are nursing circles where women nurse each other’s children, even.
Jesus reserves some of his harshest words for those who don’t honor children. Look at this brief scene in Luke, where it seems like children are interrupting Jesus’ important work.
Jesus loves the simplicity and even the ignorance of children as they receive his love. They aren’t cynical or jaded. They are ready to receive. If we can copy their behavior, we might actually get closer to Jesus too. That unending joy that our children seem to exhibit is worthy mimicking. That unadulterated joy for life. But also, their uncanny ability to express their emotions in a way that has no self-consciousness. It’s amazing, we lose that ability (usually when our parents don’t let us cry or laugh too loudly) when we grow up. Watch the kids and be like them. They inherit the Kingdom of God.
Jesus honors raising children together as a village. And I think the idea is appealing to a lot people, but before we get to the importance of raising our children together in faith and community, I want to dispel some myths about what village parenting isn’t.
First of all, it’s a challenge to figure out how to raise our children together. But I don’t want to be reductionistic about it. It’s not limited to babysitting. Parents won’t be able to make or keep commitments to the community, maintain an iota of a social life, or even be able to nurture their marriages without community support. Your presence in their life gives them an opportunity to deepen their faith and find rest. So the childcare that many of you give our parents—free of charge!—is invaluable, truly.
But a nice childcare network isn’t the true fruit of village parenting. And I hope you don’t just reduce your participation in it as just that. For some of us, being a sitter, alone, will be a great contribution. I think it might be an aspiration for some. But for others, it might be the minimum service we can help our parents with.
For parents, I hope we don’t just think that our participation in the community is just going to result in an endless supply of sitters.
Please, don’t just think this idea is just for parents. We can really bifurcate the community between people with children and people without children. Nothing should be devoid of the unity of the Body of Christ, including how we raise our children. If you don’t think you can participate in the communal raising of our children because you don’t have any, I hope I can change your mind. I know sometimes as parents we will contribute to your feeling that way, but feel free to have some conflict and be a part of the body.
Finally, village parenting may seem like a great convenience to the daily trouble of raising young children, but it will often feel like more work. It’s not just a way to make things easier. We don’t do it because it makes things easier—even if it does, of course—we do it because it builds up. Do your part in being known and available and intentional. That will feel like “extra work,” in a life that absolutely has no extra time. But I think the community we build will result in a healthier environment for our kids. And that’s the thing: we raise our kids together not because it is easier, but because it’s better.
A few more points about that. Why is this important? Why is it better?
I want to note that our increasingly atomized and individualized society has numerous problems. The “Leave It To Beaver,” white, picket fence suburban sprawl isn’t working. Our space is limited, the resources we are consuming are limited, and the distribution of wealth and services is not equitable, that’s for sure. When we do things together, and communally, we make the world a more just place.
When we raise our children together, we don’t just limit our mutual care to people in the community. It’s about using the resources that we have, and not arrogantly isolating our children with the latest education philosophy. We can quickly become esoteric, as we compete for the best ways to raise our children, what medicines to give them or not, what doctors to go to, how to feed them, how long to nurse, how to educate them. We can just obsessed and that intimidation hurts the village, that arrogant threatens people and limits them from being includes. It certainly makes our neighbors think we are “those people.”
The village is not just an insiders-club, which I think it can quickly become, it’s inclusive. It includes other people—not just the lucky few that win a lottery, or have the right friends. It includes everyone and the beauty of it is that is becomes more than mere justice, it becomes faith-building.
Village parenting gives us faith. It gives our children the chance to know Jesus incarnationally, not just because their Sunday School teacher taught us the right theology. Raising our children together, especially outside of our immediate family, is such a good way to model that the Body of Christ is loving and caring. It’s a great way to show our children the Love of Jesus and lead them to be followers of Jesus.
It not only imparts faith to our children, who are great receptors of it, it also afford our parents the opportunity to keep developing their faith into their adulthood. Often times, it’s the Sunday School or youth group that keeps parents of children of a certain age connecting to the community and they often leave the church after their children graduate.
Finally, the village gives us another chance at family. Goodness me, the atomized isn’t just unjust, it’s psychological daunting. The nuclear family experiment is failing our children. Think about all of the attachment issues the self-aware among us deal with. How often we must traverse the road less traveled to overcome the trauma of our childhood! How elemental our parents are to our lives and how they affect us. A bunch of twenty-somethings and early-thirty-somethings raising kids together is a formula for dysfunction. The village introduces more parental figures, more influencers, and literally will ease the stress that our parents feel.
We want to raise our children together in faith and community. Jesus loves our children and thinks they can model entrance into the Kingdom of God. It’s not just about babysitting, for parents, or just making things easier. It’s going to take work. But it’s worth it, because it’s just, it builds up our faith, and it gives us a new sense of family.