Last week these 2 cousins graduated from high school. Unlike many of the current posts on social media that claim how proud the parents are for their child’s accomplishments, I am proud for different reasons. These children were truly raised by a “village of people” and although very different personalities they have been successful in their own way. I am proud that they managed to take this picture together without hurting each other (something that would have been impossible for many years!). I am proud that my sister and I have become better friends thru the ups and downs of parenting.
The village concept around raising children started when our third son was born. My husband and I realized that if we both wanted to continue working our full time jobs, we were going to need to rely on more sources of outside help to keep the family ship afloat. At about the same time, my sister moved back to Minnesota and was trying to negotiate childcare as a single parent working evenings and nights. Our family became her part-time childcare while she helped us out when we needed a night or weekend away. I like to think that my niece benefitted from the chaos that a large family creates and that my children benefitted from their bookish, artistic cousin.
While our Village started with my sister, it continued to expand as the children became older, consisting of many faces beyond family. Grandparents provided babysitting on evenings or weekends away. We were fortunate to employ nannies that not only provided wonderful care for our children but also became family friends. Neighbors provided a watchful eye when my kids were at the park. Sports team coaches worked to provide supervised exercise and competition. Teachers gave lessons in subjects that I had long forgotten. Parents of my children’s’ friends helped with rides to events and supervision of social gatherings. Youth group leaders at our church provided spiritual growth and discussions about social responsibility. And many times my husband was the single parent when I was unable to return home from work for 36 hours. Without the help of each and every one of these people, I couldn’t have worked and raised 5 children.
Many times my pregnant patients have inquired about whether I have any children. When I inform them of my family size, a common response is, “How do you work and have five children?”. It is interesting to me that a large family is such a foreign concept in America where we have abundant resources, both monetary and size of homes, as compared to a cultural expectation in many developing world countries, where money and house size is much more restricted. As an example, one of my son’s soccer teammates recently moved here from Ghana, where he had been living with his 5 siblings and aunt and uncle while his parents established themselves in America over 6 years before they felt that they had time and money to bring their children to live with them. If an American family agreed to care for a sibling group this large, it would probably make the evening news. But I have found this story from Ghana to be common in many of my immigrant patients lives.
I like to believe that my children have benefitted from the different parenting styles and views of members of our Village. Take this graduation season to reflect on the members of your Village, thank them and consider expanding your Village to benefit both you and your children. Parenting is difficult work and can only be made easier if we all share the burden.