I'm Just Another Village Elder

kids mugging for the cameraLast night at dinner, my wife and I turned to each other and couldn’t contain our grins. We understood each other without speaking our feelings: “This totally rocks.” What revolutionary event in our parenting lives sparked this tsunami of warm satisfaction?

We had kids over without their parents.

Two kids, to be exact — a brother and sister from up the street — and just for three hours or so while their dad was at a meeting. And we did exactly what you’d expect: the guests and our daughter Fern drew Halloween ghosties, played ball in the basement, danced and sang and played from our musical instrument box. I made dinner with a little “help” from some toddlers; we ate. No big deal, right?

But here’s the thing: before having kids, both my wife and I dreamed of just this sort of community moment, when we could help out the neighbors by watching their kids, and they would do the same for us — and it wouldn’t really be unusual. Not worth mentioning. Everyone in the tribe watches the children, right?

Except — we hadn’t ever done it. Up to now, we’d very rarely watched anyone’s kids, maybe five times total and only the kids of old friends. Those idyllic childhood memories of cooperative parenting never seemed to ring quite true for us.

And last night it was easy to care for the three kids. Three is a great number — everyone was entertained by one another and no one needed much intervention. We had a great time and much macaroni was eaten.

The question remains, though: why was this such a rare event? The notion that people can take care of the neighbors’ kids is hardly novel: we somehow just never got into it. Many factors probably contribute to this lack: Fern is only two and a half, so is just now entering the age where she can easily be dropped off with other adults she doesn’t know well. And since we haven’t done any daycare or preschool, so she’s not used to that sort of arrangement.

Really, though, I think it comes down to two glitches of today’s society. First, everyone’s too busy to get to know their neighbors well enough to feel comfortable asking them to babysit. Second, and most sadly, many parents seem to feel that asking their neighbors to watch the kids is somehow an imposition — even when it’s understood that the favor would be reciprocated in the future.

And that’s a shame. Because the experience of being “baby-sat” in your own home by a teenager is fine, but not nearly as primal — and educational — as being watched by another family, by other parents with other kids. The “village” experience is sorely missing in our parenting circle, and critically important.

by Doodaddy

Photo graciously provided by 09traveler, through a Creative Commons license, some rights reserved

3 thoughts on “I'm Just Another Village Elder

  1. Chris

    Oooh…my pet topic! Community development! I think with all that’s working against neighborliness these days we really have to be intentional about getting to know our neighbors and finding ways to help one another. Somebody has to make the first move, and if the guy next door hasn’t introduced himself to you, find an excuse to go have a chat. Impose yourself, just a bit, and offer something in exchange. Do that with everyone who lives on nearby. I remind myself that in an emergency, I might really need to call upon one of my neighbors. Hand out cards with your contact info and ask your neighbors if they’d be willing to give you theirs. Organize a block party (our city waives the block-party-related fees during the week before and after National Night Out in early August….check if your city does the same). During the colder months, organize a monthly soup night…you could host or see if others want to. Have an open house on New Years Day.

    Whatever you do, get to know your neighbors! There is so much to be gained and saved by having good working relationships with the people who live nearby.

  2. Kelly Damron

    I’ve never thought about asking my neighbors to watch my kids nor have I offered to do so for them. It’s a great idea. We’ve been relying on my mom – who is moving away from us next July – and we’re not sure what we’ll do about date nights. This gives me food for thought. Thanks!

  3. Nan

    Beware! While I was out of the country recently, two of my boys were cared for by “the village”. They were farmed out to a selection of trusted family and friends, people who we share child care with, people whose kids are in our house all the time. When I returned, it turned out that one child in another house may have been molested by … someone. It came out because my son is communicative and knows it’s okay to tell me anything. But he was scared because of his friend’s fear. “It’s a secret, Mum. I promised I wouldn’t tell.” And his friend had taught him to “play doctor”. It seems that my son was not interfered with by any adult, but my skin crawls when I think… What if he had been! He was there! Did the adult in question leave him alone because they knew he would tell? I immediately called an emergency meeting with a therapist and the other parents, and hope that everything turns out okay. What I want to say is, LISTEN TO YOUR INTUITION! Do those people drink or do drugs? Are they really watching the kids? What does your heart tell you? Most of my “village” is wonderful. Some are just convenient. Choose your Elders carefully.

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