It Takes a Village But Why’s It Gotta Be My Village?

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.

Until now.

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.


31 Responses to “It Takes a Village But Why’s It Gotta Be My Village?”

  1. It takes a village to raise a child but only one person to spank a bad kid.

  2. I wouldn’t feel bad at all about limiting Ethan’s time with him, or not allowing him in the house. You can’t fix that kid, and meanwhile you have E’s issues to deal with and he doesn’t need any new ones! Often times these sorts of friendships kind of fizzle out when the exposure is limited. I mean you can’t have your kid crossing the street.

    • We are definitely seeing some new issues stemming from this child. The most difficult thing is Ethan is so easily bored, and I just can’t keep him entertained physically the way TT can. I mean, I love climbing trees, but what would I do with Beckett?

      And now I’m waiting for that person who lambasted people who give their children last names as first names to slam me for doing it. I can’t remember who it was, but I know she’ll turn up sooner or later.

      I know it’s weird when other people do it, but Beckett is the coolest name ever. Put that in your Ce n’est pas une pipe and smoke it. 😉

  3. You could always slip him a valium in his cool-aid! Then he won’t cause any trouble and eventually your son will get bored of his sleepy friend! You probably weren’t looking for illegal/unethical answers though huh? It seems like I have to ask that last question 4 times a day lately. What the hell is wrong with me?

    • Scott,
      I really don’t want to use my valium stash on a kid, no matter how annoying he might be. I need them more. What ever made you think I wouldn’t want illegal/unethical answers? I’m sure there is nothing in my writing that might indicate I am a law abiding citizen.

      BUT IF CIA AGENTS OR MY HUSBAND’S SECURITY CLEARANCE MANAGERS OR ANYONE ELSE WHO CAN RUIN MY LIFE IS READING THIS OR LISTENING I AM A LAW ABIDING CITIZEN! YES! I LOVE ME SOME LAW and I have no desire to see this grand republic come crashing to its inevitable demise in the next few years.

      Okay, well that last part is true, anyway. Did you have some valium you were willing to contribute? I’ll pay shipping.

  4. woowoomama Says:

    five words. that is sucky suck suck.

    that’s all i got.

    but i’ll pay for shipping on valium too. for my, eh hem, annoying neighbor kid. yeah, for that.

  5. I don’t have a kid, but I think if I did, I would let him go over to your house and play. Because, otherwise there’s going to be glue on MY dog, and that stuff doesn’t come out easily. Please make sure he gets something to eat (lunch/dinner/maybe a late night snack).

    • Shawn,
      I’d be happy to entertain your kid if he’s half as funny as you are. I need to think about what I’m getting out of it, you know? Maybe we can work something out if you ever have kids.

  6. Since I don’t have kids, I’m clueless. Sorry. Good luck, especially since it’s Summer! Ouch!

  7. You should buy doors for your house. That is a sure fire way to keep the kid out.

    Or, you could send him home with a bunch of your empty beer cans. That might send a message to the boys parents. Party at your house!!!

    • I don’t drink beer from a can, TL. Bottles only. And I’m afraid that might prompt a little midnight foray into my home if they think I have excess alcohol about. Doors are a good idea. Especially doors made in the current century. I’ll have to look into that.

  8. Who do you think raises the village idiot? Someone else. We had a similar problem some years ago…so we moved.

    • Ah – see, I wanted to work the village idiot into this post somehow but I just couldn’t get there. Thank you. Moving is an appealing option. Probably better than burning down this hell hole of a house, which is what I want to do.

      Oh, and I am the village idiot. And I definitely know who raised me.

  9. Well, I don’t have a kid (yet) i have 8 more months to wait, but I understand. It isn’t your responsibility to raise someone else’s child, and consequently, when that unsupervised child is putting yours in harms way then it is natural to want to shield your child. Hopefully, by interaction with your child and your family, some sort of responsibility, at least in the eyes of a 5 year old, will rub off on the neighbors kid.

    Having said all that, don’t underestimate the power of neighbors parent. Some of my fondest memories was spending time with this elderly neighbor who would help me catch bugs and all sorts of cool stuff. I have a VERY good feeling that if this kid hangs out around you and your family long enough, he will be in much better shape.

    • I wanted to be that kind of person who had an open door and cookies and milk for everyone. Unfortunately, I’m the mom with the autistic kid who beats her up and the toddler who doesn’t want to be put down for one tiny second and the teenager who needs to be somewhere right now mom and the husband who works seven days a week. But I do have popsicles.

      So – I’m afraid I probably won’t be making nice memories for any kids, let alone one that’s not mine.

      Well, okay. Maybe a couple of memories.

  10. JaneSays Says:

    In my neighborhood we are the go to house, for whatever reason. I will not let my children out of our yard, by themselves, so everyone flocks here and it drives me bonkers! It was the same way when I was growing up. I now understand why my mom used to get so irritated about all the visitors. Half the kids abuse our stuff and ALL of their parents don’t know or care where they are. One of them was even told to come here after school if his mom isn’t home. Do you think she ever ran that by me? I am very selective of who I give drinks to or let into my house….can we say lawsuit if something was to happen to one of these kids. Their parents don’t care enough to know where they are but believe me they won’t hesitate to get whoever involved they think should be. Anyway, my kids are 8, 5 and 10 months.

  11. LOSTL! My mum says that she would never let our village raise me. That im her son and that “no floosie or tramp will ever raise my son!”.

    TT sounds like my nemesis Tommy Belfonte. My mum says he was raised by ferrets and that they didnt do a good job. Or was it weasles. But he sounds just like TT in your story!

    But im sure that if i was Ethan, i would be happy to have a mum like you that worries about me, not like TT or Tommy’s parents. But i have my own mum, and shes just as great as you!

    HOORAY! Have a great day!


  12. I think I saw some brat spray on a website somewhere – I’ll have to find it.

    I think it takes a parent or two to raise a child, not a village. What if the village has an idiot?

    Wow – now I feel like reading Dostoevsky this morning.

  13. Some neighbors will assume you’re ok with assuming their parental role unless you specifically state otherwise. The father of one boy who spent an inordinant amount of time at my house some years ago offered to pay child support to me, rather than to his ex-wife, seein’ as how he ate ALL OF HIS MEALS and SLEPT at my house. Something tells me she would have been ok with it too. I should have asked how much coin he was talking about…

    • Well, I would ask this mom about it or tell her I was not okay with him being up here all the time if only I knew who she was. That’s how bad it is – he is in my house and she has no idea who I am. I know only vaguely which house they live in; I don’t know a last name or anything else. Did I mention NO supervision?

      I’m pretty sure this family is on welfare. Maybe the feds will pay for the popsicles.

  14. I haven’t had this particular experience but I assume it’s only a matter of time. I see plenty of unsupervised children roaming around my neighborhood. They’ve already done wonderful things like wreck the garden fence and pull all the tulips off the far side of the garage.

    My guess would be that a direct conversation needs to be held with the child’s parent(s). Something along the lines of, “I have my own children to take care of all day long. Yours likes to take my child across the street when not doing constructive activities like gluing the dog or landscaping my porch.

    If he is going to continue to be over here, I will be deciding when he returns to your house. If you’d like to make sure he returns there, perhaps you could stop over and retrieve him or at least look out the window now and then.

    You also owe me (some ridiculous amount of money) for the day care.”

    More or less those words. Sort of feel it out as you go along. There are so many parents out there who refuse to take responsibility for their children or their actions, quite possibly because most of the public insists on tiptoeing around everyone”s feelings.

    Depending on the violent crime statistics in your neighborhood, you may need to develop a less-confrontational Plan B.

    • I kind of live in the ghetto, CLT. Or like, a half-ghetto. And part of my fear about this whole thing is that it will be seen as a racial issue when it is definitely not. Our neighborhood has a lot of homes that are divided into apartments, and some that have been returned to single-family status. So it’s an interesting mix of folks.

      I’m not much for tiptoeing around feelings, except I don’t want the kid to suffer and that’s all that would happen. He would still be wandering around the neighborhood unsupervised.

      • Ah…

        I have no further advice.

        It appears you may be screwed. Sort of like sitting behind a 6’7″ 280-lb bodybuilder who talks on his cellphone throughout the entire movie.

        Only this movie is your life. And the bodybuilder is a wee child.

        Social services? (This may transfer the nickname from the meandering child to yourself, however.)

  15. Please don’t think I’m phoning it in, but this time it more than ever applies. And it’s the last time you’ll hear me say it. Promise. 😉

    I don’t have babies although I have tried to give birth on several occasions. No luck. My neighbours however do have babies and they let them roam outside all night long. I personally think people should be forced to keep their babies in at night. But that’s mostly because I get tired of them going through my garbage cans and peeing all over my shed to mark their territory. Damn babies.
    Dedicated this last time to Toots.

  16. I’m not sure how it happened, but I have the house where all of the kids end up. When they were all younger, I was the mom passing out the popsicles. It just kind of happened that way. Now, I come home from work and not only are all of my kids in the yard or near the house, but so are 20 other kids, and they all call me Mom. I’m okay with that. Mostly, I like knowing where my own kids are and who they are hanging out with.

    One day, I made a comment to my 14 year old about the kids being here all the time. “Don’t their parents miss them?” I was kidding, but my fun loving son became very serious and he said, “Mom, most of their parents just don’t care where they are as long as they aren’t home.”

    Incredible. I nearly cried. I can’t imagine feeling that way about my kids even though I joke about it (and blog about it).

    Not every kid who comes to my house is an angel. I’ve had to tell kids the rules to hang out at my house and if they don’t follow them, they have to leave and they aren’t welcome to come back. I’ve also had to take kids home and tell their parents who I am, what their kid was doing, and why they can’t come to my house again until they straighten up. I haven’t had one yet who didn’t get the chance to come back.

    I don’t even do it to raise them. I do it to protect my own. If they learn something along the way, so be it.

    And for the record, I think Beckett is a totally cool name.

  17. elizabeth3hersh Says:

    A call to Child Protective Services is in order as you have clearly described child neglect. These “parents” are in desperate need of parenting classes. Your call may prevent that boy from ending up with a child predator someday. Predators have a knack for finding the vulnerable and unsupervised.

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