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Why it takes a village to raise a child

by Paula Marais
It Takes a Village to Raise a Child
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Parenting is one of life’s greatest and most rewarding challenges. But in a world that is becoming increasingly individualistic, it would be a mistake to forget the power of the communities in which we bring up our children. Read on for 7 ways a community parents our children. By Paula Marais

The African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child,” reflects the message that it takes many people working together to create a safe, happy, and nurturing environment in which our children can flourish. But how does this work practically?

The wisdom and practicality of elders

Grandparents and elderly members of the community are not only the founts of family knowledge, traditions, heritage, and other experiences, many are also actively engaged in supporting parents in practical ways as well.

Says Louise Lumb, “My 82-year-old mum-in-law lifts my children in the afternoon. I could not work without her help!” And Shanni Thomas comments, “The standardised education system failed my daughter … My gut told me to remove her from the system and my incredible mother rallied around and home-schooled my daughter for a year, my father pitched in, a good friend helped with Afrikaans lessons and together we ensured my daughter’s confidence was not broken but built. She’s now in Grade 8 and owns her dyslexia. There was a village who stepped in and up … Thankfully!”

Sometimes, grandparents are even able to help financially or also step in to raise a grandchild when necessary. In South Africa, it’s not an uncommon situation for kids to live with their grannies while their moms work in a different province.

School ‒ the second home

Schools are not just places of education; they are living ecosystems thriving with teachers, mentors, counsellors, and friends. Educators play a vital role in shaping the minds of young ones, inspiring them to dream big and helping them navigate the challenges of life. Says Tariq Hadi, “My son was being bullied at a school where he was a round peg in a square hole. His teacher opted to take her lunch in her classroom, so he had somewhere to be safe during breaks.”  Schools also enable kids to forge friendships, which facilitate the development of empathy, cooperation, and teamwork, preparing children for a future where collaboration is paramount.

Online support

Villages do not just exist physically, but in the digital world as well. There are online support groups for all sorts of communities that involve children, for example for kids with learning challenges, health issues or social setbacks. One community, called The Village, for example, calls itself: “South Africa’s most supportive, non-judgmental and harmonious online community of parents of tweens, teens and young adults” and has over 52,000 members helping each other with guidance.

Embracing diversity

A village represents diversity in its purest form. When children grow up surrounded by people from different cultures, backgrounds, and beliefs, they develop a broader perspective of the world. Says Matshepo Gumede, “We were lucky enough to live in a ‘vertical village’ (apartment building) in NYC for 10 years from the time my older son was 4 until he was 14 and my younger son was born there. All ages, all races, all genders, all sexualities, all income brackets, all ethnicities and religions and many pets! My children were raised almost in a commune environment running from floor to floor for play dates, knocking on neighbours’ doors for sugar, company or help when we were locked out. Some days I would leave my sleeping infant in his room and run up the block to collect my older son from school, and a neighbour would pop her head in to check on my baby for me.”

Through communities, kids learn to celebrate differences, embrace inclusivity, and develop respect for others. The exposure to diverse viewpoints fosters open-mindedness and empathy, essential qualities for creating the harmonious society we all aspire to.

  • Other parents: Whether these are aunts, uncles, staff members or adult friends or colleagues, support from peers in doing the most important job in the world – raising the next generation of little humans – is invaluable. Says Briony Robertson, “I’ve got a wonderful group of ladies in my book club who help me by supporting and encouraging me as I raise my children.” Nicholas Laubscher adds, “Our housekeeper is our children’s second mother. They would be bereft without her.” In South Africa, nannies are often “The Other Mother” to our kids.
  • The Neighborhood Watch: In a South African context where crime is unfortunately rife, families rely on each other to keep themselves safe. Neighbourhood WhatsApp groups alert families to possible dangers, allowing parents to navigate their children’s security. After an incident involving a matric girl and a robbery, one neighbour commented, “Within minutes the Neighborhood Watch and the DA counsellor arrived. We starting puzzling the pieces together. The Neighbourhood Watch was amazing.” Plus, neighbours had quickly contacted both the adolescent’s parents and brought her to a place of safety.

Unleashing talents

Within the village, every child can discover their unique talents and passions, whether these be musical, artistic, scientific or sporting. Encouragement from the community nurtures these abilities and creates an environment where kids can thrive. Says Nathalie Williams, “As a single mother, I know nothing about soccer. But my son’s coach is not only able to help him with his sport but acts as a male role model to him as well.”

While every village is different, the power of community in raising fully rounded adolescents is undeniable. Parenting would be a very lonely place without the nurturing and empowering environment a village can provide.

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