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Bring Back the Village

by Cathleen Lewis

My daughter is playing on the swing set. It’s in my fenced in backyard, 30 feet from my house where I am attempting to fill the dishwasher. I say “attempting” because my ten month old thinks the dishwasher is a great surface to pull herself up to standing, so it’s a slow-go.

I see her in her playhouse having a blast and yet I feel guilty. I should be out there, right? Watching her play? Playing with her?

Maybe it’s because I work and fall in to the trap of quantity vs. quality time. Or maybe it’s because I’ve internalized the ridiculous notion that our children are forever in danger. It’s the same trap that arrests a woman from letting her 9 year old play in the park by herself and the one that suggests I use a sharpie on my daughters arm to write my phone number, as if she’s a sweater I might accidentally forget.

Sometimes, I think I’ve inoculated myself against it. We chose a neighborhood where kids roam the street, going from house to house playing, or selling lemonade. It’s a place where all the kids know each other and, for the most part, get along. And it’s where adults tell kids, regardless of whose kids, to look both ways or get a helmet on.

I love my little village but, the more I think about it, the more I think that we’re losing the village. Instead of thinking that our neighbors are our allies, we view strangers with suspicion. If someone has a harsh or critical word for our children, we run to the children’s defense instead of saying, “thank you” for ensuring my child didn’t run into that busy street.

If we see a child alone, we assume the worst and act accordingly. I’ve thought a lot about that 9 year old’s mother and the choices she had to make. She most likely waited until she thought her daughter was mature enough. She probably warned her of dangers and gave her advice to stay out of danger. What she didn’t do was explain that some people immediately jump to horrible conclusion that can break up a family trying to survive.

And, the fact that we so often jump to these conclusions is frightening to me.

When we lose the village, we don’t just cheat our kids out of the adventures and fun we had, we cheat them out of valuable skills. How will they identify danger if we always put up shields? How will they learn how to confront a playground bully if we step in first? How will they make friends if we arrange their friends for them?

I don’t deny the world is scary but instead of shielding them, why not arm them with age-appropriate info? When I was a little older than my daughter now, a girl was kidnapped from the steps of my school — one block from my house — which I’m sure terrified my mother. But I learned some valuable lessons. Some, I remember more than she does. I knew that scary things can happen, but I also knew how to keep myself safe. And I hope I can do the same for my children.

We need to teach by example, engage with strangers, teach them to have appropriate conversations, teach them what isn’t appropriate and talk about it, so they can learn to share with you and how to deal with it. We need to teach that it’s ok to ask for help and that it’s ok to offer help.

Our villages should be filled with friends, neighbors, teachers, police, firefighters, and lots of other different people. When we close the door on the village, we close the door on so much.

For everyone that bemoans the loss of the carefree childhood, I ask you to bring back the village so we can show our children the best of us and they can discover themselves.

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