There is an old African proverb that says “It takes a village.” This means that the child is not just raised within the home, but everyone in the community has a hand in raising that child. Preachers, teachers, coaches, tutors, and organization leaders all lend towards the development of our children. The principle is not meant to take away from the role of the parent, but to help bolster, strengthen and reinforce parenting lessons.
As a single, working mother, this African proverb meant even more than that to me. I simply could not do it all by myself; working full time to provide, run kids to extracurricular activities, help with school projects or school events and volunteer for other activities in which the children may wish to participate. I needed to clone myself! When finances are tight, it is not like there is a ton of extra money for hiring a nanny. I had to get creative in finding win/win resources to make all worlds go round.
Carpooling has been a blessing for us, especially before my daughter could drive. First, it just makes efficient sense to share the gas and time with other parents who are going to the same place at the same time. Whether it is a ride to school or to an after school activity, take advantage of carpools. Some moms swap cooking for rides. One will make breakfast tacos while the other drives the kids across town for that all-day Saturday swim meet.
Speaking of sports, we always had a rule about sports bags: “Never leave your bag in the car.” There is nothing worse than finding out that your business meeting is running later than expected, calling someone to help out with getting kids to an after-school sporting event and then realizing their bag is in your trunk; a situation entirely avoidable if the sports bags are always brought into the house.
In times like these, it is also important to have a short list of emergency phone numbers of other parents you can call for help. Do not feel bad for asking for help because I guarantee you, they will eventually need help, too.
Sometimes other parents are just not available, this is when I call on my retired neighbors and empty-nesters. These folks are usually more than happy to help because they miss those days of raising their own children. By the way, get out and meet your neighbors! Go old school like June Clever and take some baked goods over to introduce yourself. When emergencies arise later (and they will), you’ll be glad you know your neighbors and can count on them.
I remember one sweet neighbor whose son was already grown. She would watch my car race into the driveway, race out of the driveway several times in a given Saturday. The kids and I would come into the house in one set of clothes, then we would leave the house in another set of clothes. Sporting events, birthday parties and other events had us running non-stop on the weekends. In the midst of the routine chaos, my neighbor took me aside one day and so kindly and softly said, “I know you can’t see it right now, but these days are going to pass quickly and one day you will miss these moments.” She was right.
Another time, my son had come home from school as planned, but he became very sick. Nate called me feeling achy with fever and chills and his stomach not feeling well. In that pinch, I called this same nurturing neighbor of mine and she was at my home in a flash. She brought sprite and peanut butter sandwiches with her. She had Nate comfortable on the couch with blankets, a wet cloth on his forehead and his favorite show on the television until I could get home. Not only was my neighbor a blessing to us, but it was also her pleasure to help us. She was grateful we called on her and trusted her. To this day, even after our move to another city 60 miles away, this loving neighbor follows us on Facebook and always takes interests in my son’s activities.
It really does take a village to raise our kids. In our neighborhood there was another single mother whose daughter was in my daughter’s grade and her son was in my son’s grade. She, too, came from a big family and enjoyed cooking. We gave each other access to each other’s houses. Whomever got home with the kids first after their extracurricular activities would jump in one of our kitchens and start dinner. What was mine was hers and what was hers was mine. The best part of this arrangement was that she could get my kids to eat things they would not eat for me. I guess they did not want to hurt her feelings, funny how that works.
She and I also were aligned in our values and morals so I had no issue with her verbally disciplining my children in my absence. She also took advantage of teachable moments when they arose and she set in place appropriate boundaries, like insisting the boys not fart on the girls and they wear their shirts at the dinner table.
Coming together with other families and neighbors also gives our children a sense of community. They witness everyone coming together for the good of all. They learn to respect their elders through their words and actions and they learn to ask “How may I help you?”
As much as we women want to believe we have it all under control because admitting that we may not would make us “bad moms,” there is nothing wrong with asking for help. Our babies will always be our babies. No one can truly replace “Mom.” Release any insecurities, fears or pride that keep you from asking others for a hand. Asking for help will take stress off your back, make others feel useful and benefit the children in so many immeasurable ways. It’s a win/win/win. Start building up your village today!