It takes a village to raise a child, they tell us...
Originally an African proverb to highlight the importance of support for a child and family, this is now a commonly used phrase often used to validate a parent struggling with the day-to-day challenges of parenting.
We widely accept that a child does not exist as a sole person, they require a village usually consisting of:
Those directly parenting the child
Medical care teams
Educational care teams
And policy makers in wider society
Bronfenbrenners Ecological Systems Theory (first published in 1979) reflects this and looks at the complex layers of influences on a child’s wellbeing and development. It acknowledges that to understand and support a child, we must consider the impact of the surrounding on their development. And therefore, tells us how important a healthy supportive system is for the child.
Children are held both in the arms, and mind of everyone around them. And we accept they need this village to develop into healthy, happy, well-adjusted adults.
The phrase shortened to ‘it takes a village’ is an echo of a past where we all lived in a community together. Help could be called upon at a moments notice. The whole community took on the child as their own through settling, feeding, babysitting, teaching, listening to, and keeping a child safe.
What we forget though, is the other key message in the proverb:
That a village is formed around a parent, for the parent, so they can support their child.
Somewhere along the way we forgot this part. We invest all our resources; our love, time, money, material things, into giving what we believe our children need to thrive. We spend these resources preparing for our baby, but very little on preparing for and thriving through parenthood.
The Village Around Me aims to challenge this, and suggests that we invest in the village surrounding us as parents.
But how do we invest in ourselves as parents and build a strong village around us?
Sure, the practical things that get us through each day help, such as arranging babysitting, childcare, a cleaner, or some respite. But I’m talking about the things that meet our emotional needs.
Actually acting on what people offer to us “let me know if you need anything!”. Sure, I will. I for one have never offered this half-heartedly, and I imagine people don’t say this if they don’t mean it. So take them up on it!
Picking up the phone to talk to people. Go for a walk, text, talk about frivolous things; you don’t necessarily need to talk about vulnerable feelings to be able to feel heard by someone.
Identifying what your needs are, and starting the conversation with your village:
Do you feel held, listened to, understood, supported and what do you need to feel so?
What are the signs you need some extra support?
Shopping around for a care team to support you. Such as a GP that aligns with your values, counselling or mental health supports
Identifying what fulfills you and helps you feel connected:
Yoga or exercise classes
Community groups such as gardening, local ‘Buy Nothing’ groups
Hobby groups such as pottery, painting etc
It takes a village. And that village doesn’t form around the child, it forms around you.
And whilst there is a long list of ways you can start strengthening your village, rather than seeing the above as a checklist, take it as something to reflect upon. How might I make tweaks to ensure my needs are met, so that I can best meet the needs of my child?
So rather than picturing the child at the centre, or core of the System that Bronfenbrenner suggests, or the baby on the inside of a Babushka doll, picture you as the parent, holding your child, needing the village to support you both.
And if you are reading this as the village for the parents around you, remember to hold the parent, as well as the child, in mind (AND in arms if they need it of course!).
Words: Stephanie Loielo
Stephanie is a Clinical Psychologist and the founder of The Village Around Me - Perinatal and Parenting Psychology
Originally published in Connected Caregiving Winter 2022