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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

It Used To Take a Village...

"Above all we need, particularly as children, the reassuring presence of a visible community, an intimate group that enfolds us with understanding and love, and that becomes an object of our spontaneous loyalty, as a criterion and point of reference for the rest of the human race."
Lewis Mumford

We have entered into a new era; this era where, what we do is try to adapt to a new, current and progressive set of rules (written or expected), while showing total disregard to the old habits, old ways and old beliefs. Our behaviour towards (and for) our children has us being extra cautious and solely in charge of every step they take. We hold on to them with an imaginative short leash, so we have this idea/sense of being in control, aware and responsive to all their needs and proactive in their protection. We are acting like vigilantes towards our own children, in fear of potential arms lurking out there. We’re doing all this, while missing (and yearning) the innocence of years past; where letting children play in the neighbourhood (not attended by the parent) was common practice. I miss the insouciance of years past, when children knew to respect and be attentive to “elders” (related or not) and as discipline wasn’t a parent’s privilege but a neighbourhood duty…

Today we no longer want to rely on our neighbours to keep an eye on our children as we no longer know what their lives are like, their morals… Now all of our doors are double bolted with alarm systems active, while before everyone’s doors were always revolving.
We feel that we can’t trust the “villagers” any longer as they don’t know how to act in front of our kids… Music blasting in the streets, with the only lyrics understandable being curse words. The dress code has change to “no dress code” and your Sunday best looks like everyday rags. We are no longer concerning ourselves with our community and its children but only our own, while judging others’. We now rely on the news or “fait divers” to update us on what’s going on in our neighbourhood, in our communities, in our streets and in our next door neighbour’s home…
While we are no longer concerning ourselves with the community as a whole but only our own four walls, we become easily outraged, upset and very eloquent when “the kid next door” has been declared a bully, when he beats up his parents or even worse; when he shoots up a school… But where were we when he needed someone to reach out to?

We have built these big cities that took over our “villages”, our little towns, our little rural communities and our “Little Houses on The Prairie”, where everyone knew everyone. Because all was known by all, the fear of who was watching, going to catch us, going to tell on us or punish us, was greater than the desire to do wrong. That’s when being embarrassed in front of the whole town or bringing shame to your family was the ultimate punishment.

The family dynamic has changed. Back in the day, the norm was to have two parent (biological) households, where we all trusted that the education, morals and values you were instilling into children were almost uniform. In some way, all families looked alike, other than the amount of children that formed the unit. Now we have just as much single parent homes, foster parents (which are a blessing for some children), adoptive set-ups and an increased disparity in (even) what the basic values are. We choose to keep to ourselves and with ourselves.
There are so many “do’s and don’ts”, so much research, and so much analysis, that confusion has intervened where clarity was supposed to direct us. Society is so worried about self that we don’t look at the bigger picture. Instead of competing with our neighbours and caring about appearances, why don’t we choose to be involved in their lives and learn to know each other? At the end of the day, every person that comes into direct contact with our kids will have influences on them.

I yearn for the insouciance of years past, where trust was easier as we all knew each other. I truly believe that when it comes to the journey from childhood to adulthood, there are more than the “close relative” influences that come into play. Although ultimately the caregivers carry most of the responsibility, the “villagers” (neighbours) also had some say in how the children turned out.

Positive and negative influences
I miss the concept of “It takes a village”. I miss the times when (it was a given that) your personal best wasn’t all that was needed for your child to be a positive, productive member of society. It was also true that family wasn’t the only determining factor in guaranteeing a child’s future, but you also needed the entire village or town to care and look out for all of the children. How important it is for us to realize that our values are just as important as the community values and will influence your child just as much… if not more…
The “villagers” (teachers, coaches, mentors, friends, church-goers) all need to be a part of the positive influence circle around our children. Knowing the “villagers” would help you determine the different influences in your child's life and different points of view they will come in contact with.

I’m originally from the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo) and even though I grew up primarily in Europe, the morals and values that were instilled in me were from African culture. So I do believe in the concept that “It takes a village to raise a child”; an African (Nigerian) proverb that fully embodies and summarizes what we believe the process of raising a child needs to be.
We need to take the literal out of the sentence and understand the meaning. It is, that we all need to have the understanding and attitude that you as a person are setting up an example for any child (or adult for that matter) around you. You need to step up your behaviour and do right by them and for your community. Extended families, neighbours and friends are very important in framing and providing a great support system to parents, and subsequently the children in the community as we are not all with our children 24/7. In no shape or form does this proverb imply that we have to transfer our responsibility as provider and caretaker to the “village”. We’re merely making it an understanding that we all are in it for success and that we all should be keeping a vigilant eye out for the kids in our “village”.
Let’s bring back our villager’s mentality, teach our children hierarchy and respect for all and a sense of pride for our community, ownership and a sense of belonging.

We are the next generation teachers…

What is your opinion on this subject? Do you feel that the facing out of “small rural upbringing” mentality and of small communities where people really lived by the meaning of the word are hurting today’s youth? Or do you believe today’s parents have to take sole responsibility of their child(ren) rearing and subsequently shaping the kind of member of society they will become?

     Love always,
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