There are benefits to raising children with "village mentality" as well as definite drawbacks. The more people that children have to love them, the better adjusted they are. Is this concept of a village raising a child really accurate and is it really healthy? Can this idea become distorted and used by unhealthy people to meddle in the affairs of a family unit causing damage and unrest? How do parents and caregivers navigate these sometimes treacherous waters?
There are definite perks to having an extended village family. Mother's do not have to be 'Wonder Woman' and fathers do not have to be the 'Lone Ranger' trying to navigate their way through the hectic and busy lifestyles many face. Having an extended network can allow parents to meet their children’s needs more effectively. In this fast paced world parents and children alike are bombarded constantly and as our lives become busier and busier and the expectations placed on us become greater, this can leave many parents feeling overwhelmed and guilt ridden as they realize they cannot meet everything that is seemingly required of them.
An extended "village family" allows children a wide variety of people to learn to communicate with. It takes the pressure off the parents by providing other caring adults to whom the children can go to when they have a need. Some of these needs may be embarrassing for the child to address with mom or dad, believe it or not. I never imagined while holding my little ones there would come a time when they would not want or need to tell me everything...or that there are certain things that may be hard for me to swallow and wish they had gone unsaid. The important focus for parents is making sure their children know who they can and should go to and parents discuss their wishes with chosen family members, church family or friends. It is imperative parents really know and trust who they allow their child to have this kind of interaction with. Who ever you choose allow enough time to pass to know their true character and how well they support your beliefs and decisions as a parent.
Another perk to the "village parenting" mentality is children may then become a blessing to those whose children are grown, or for who are unable or chose not to have children. This is an important aspect of nurturing within a community that is often times over looked and forgotten. We disregard the fact children come into this world with lessons to learn and gifts to give. This is one area a childhood that should be nurtured and encouraged, especially since society seems to be very self-oriented and many go into adulthood without necessary skills to have healthy and giving relationships.Many children have no concept of learning what a blessing it is to have a servants heart and how important caring for others is in our world. I love watching the relationships my kids have developed with other adults. My son Theo loves hanging out with an older couple in town, listening to their stories, laughing and pitching in where he is able. I know they support Seth as I as parents and our kids will be encouraged in healthy directions. I love watching his relationships with others develop and the type of man those relationships are shaping him in to.
Having discussed some of the pros, there are equally as many drawbacks to this type of family village. Sometimes parents are faced with friends, family or close relatives that are not healthy. These individuals may have very poor boundaries themselves and encourage behavior that is unacceptable to parents and present challenges that threaten the main family unit. Often times these “well meaning” members of the family village use the idea and concept of village partnerships to exploit their own need for power. Sometimes it can end up with dangerous consequences for the family unit if the person is untruthful, emotionally unstable, and/or dishonest. I cannot stress enough the importance of only allowing those with whom you have had long term consistent relationship with to be in a place of trust with your children.
Members outside the core family unit can use the family village as an excuse to fulfill their own dreams and ideals. If their beliefs fit in with the core family's ideas and values it can be a benefit, but if it does not it can drain the life-source of a family and steer them into treacherous waters. It is important for the main family unit to remain in communication with each other as issues arise, and not allow things to fester. Nothing is more damaging to a family than to ignore major issues and pretend the proverbial elephant is not in the middle of the room. Children and teens do not often have the skills necessary to recognize when they are being manipulated or their core relationship with their parents is being damaged or abused. Parents and caregivers need to keep a close eye out and trust their instincts when it comes to their children.
It can be very frustrating for parents to have to continually set new boundaries with unhealthy friends or extended members of the group. Sometimes they are encouraged to feel guilty for limiting contact and reasserting their place as the primary caregivers. Oftentimes it is difficult for parents to pinpoint why certain behaviors presented are frustrating or not acceptable, and it is important for primary caregivers of children to have a grasp themselves of healthy boundary concepts.
Some warning signs that the village is unhealthy are things such as triangling. For example, when a parent and child or even two spouses have a disagreement and a third party steps in and offers advice or uninvited “help” or has conversations with others building up their point of view and tearing down the party they disagree with. This behavior creates an atmosphere of distrust and unhealthy boundaries. If it is allowed to go on for months or years, it can cause real lasting harm. It is really important to not create a gang up on mentality within the group, nor allow adults with interest, or even the children, room to manipulate things. Individuals must learn to sort out their differences without interference from outside parties. It is important to remember that advice or council can become distorted within a family village. This must be carefully considered and addressed. This is not to say there is not a time or place to have mediation or counseling, as this is a healthy option when it is warranted. Families get messy and it takes time to sort through the challenges we are faced with in life. The goal is to create an atmosphere where our children learn how to grow into well rounded, confident, and healthy adults.
Another warning sign is “He said- She said.” Many times stories begin to circulate within the family village, group, or community regarding behaviors or actions. Often times these are parenting styles, decisions, or behaviors of the children deemed “not ok” by the offending “He said or she said” and “gossip” begins to circulate, which again undermines the family unit and causes stress and division.Gossip within groups or communities can create lasting damage and should not be allowed.
It is important that the main family unit make the decisions in regards to what works best for them and to support each other. I encourage all families to have a family plan with established goals and ideals for the present and future, as well as a written family creed or mission statement. Bottom line is that it should be a decision of the parent/s or primary caregivers, when possible, and they should maintain a united front and clear boundaries with extended family or friends. The extended family should work as a support system. This will eliminate confusion for the children as well as teach them healthy boundaries.
Building a successful family takes a lot of work, education and love. An extended village family can be a loving addition or a drain on a family’s valuable resources. As with many ideas, to each his or her own!