I’ve heard it said that it takes a village to raise a child. This idea was popularized by Hillary Clinton when she named her world domination plan book after the idea, ostensibly an African proverb. While there is some argument about the origin of the phrase, it is in close keeping with many cultural ideas about raising children and as such not worth quibbling over.
The idea is generally that a child’s upbringing should be the responsibility of the entire community, not just the family. Interestingly, I’m sure most of the people calling for such child-rearing would only have a neighbor influence their child’s development if she was nineteen and came with a foreign accent and references.
I understand the thinking: communities are important to us, our sociological identities are formed within the boundaries of our “villages” and many parents at some time or another need the support of their neighbors or friends.
The problems occur when people refuse to take care of their children and somehow some magic fairy parent in the sky (that would be me) has to swoop in and supervise, referee, and otherwise manage a child not her own.
I live in a neighborhood with issues, and I don’t mean the neighborhood of my brain (this time) for those of you who might make assumptions about such things.
No, this is my legit ‘hood, the place I lay my hat and hang my laundry. And stuff.
And now that Ethan is old enough to play outside a bit without me, I love it that we have kids around.
Except for this one; I’ll call him, uh…”The Tattler,” or “TT” for short. He has absolutely no supervision whatsoever. For a while, in fact, he was escorting his baby sister around. She’s like eighteen months old, and he just turned five! They would wander the street, often in the street, all day long.
Now, he just comes to our house. All. Day. Long.
At least he leaves his baby sis at home, but he’s a bit of a trouble maker, as anyone who has no guidance in his life is prone to be. And whenever anything goes wrong he immediately points fingers at the nearest kid. I’m not so naive as to think my kid is never to blame, but I’m equally sure it’s not his fault every time. So far, we have had glue on the dog, rocks on our porch (lots and lots of rocks), toys broken, and a missing Ethan for a minute because TT convinced him it was okay to cross the street and visit his house. Heart attack material, I tell you.
I don’t have a problem helping people out when they need it. It’s great for Ethan to have someone to play with outside. But a child who is this neglected is so desperately needy. He needs interaction, attention, and a massive amount of guidance on what is considered acceptable behavior.
When I was young and childless, I befriended kids like this. I invited them over, fed them, played with them, read to them.
But the truth is, with my own challenging child to deal with I’m already in over my head.
I’m sure many of you will respond with ideas and advice about how to handle it by giving more of myself. I’m familiar with this routine. But I’m not willing to sacrifice the little energy I have to raise someone else’s child.
And aside from what I believe should happen (forced sterilization or licensing requirements for reproducing come to mind), I have no idea what to do about this.
Except maybe transport myself back to frontier days. There’s always that.