If you came to my house and listened to me parent, you’d hear several things I’ve robbed and duplicated from my village. My kids are called “lovey,” and I say, “That was kind,” instead of “nice” because of my friend Erin. “If you choose to disobey, do things go well for you?” came from Laura. I remind my kids that we are blessed so that we can bless others because of Shelley. And whenever I think my head might explode from parenting and working at home, I’m comforted by Shannon’s voice: “Working moms are not okay. We’re just not.”
These phrases have become woven into my parenting because of the privilege I’ve had of parenting alongside these gentle, wise, and generous parents. God gifted me, my spouse, and my kids a village.
The season I saw “it takes a village” played out clearest was when we lived overseas. For a year, we had just about the most ideal setting for community anyone could ask for: four expat families in one neighborhood on similar schooling schedules.
I got a front-row seat to watch them comfort, coach, and teach their children (and sometimes mine) in all kinds of situations. And they saw gifts (even when they’d gone awry) in my children, encouraged me in my struggles and weaknesses, and just generally shared the load of parenting. Our village formed mini-search parties when kids wandered too far, provided last minute dinner invitations and babysitting, and organized neighborhood holiday celebrations.
Why it takes a village
Maybe you long for a village like that. I find myself longing for it, too. I may never have that ideal aligning of proximity and life stage again. But my taste of parenting in community has given me a hunger to go out of my way to pursue a village for me and my family.
Here are three reasons it takes a village and why we’d all benefit from praying for and pursuing one.
1. We learn parenting tips and tricks.
These days, you can download any parenting book to your phone or tablet with a few clicks. Or find parenting coaches, child psychologists, or other experts (and non-experts) handing out advice and encouragement on social media, blog posts, or podcasts. In some seasons of parenting, I have frantically consumed every resource I could get my hands on. But it was never enough.
It’s like the difference between studying a foreign language from a book and being immersed among native speakers. It’s difficult to become fluent without practice, without noticing the structures and flow in real conversations, then trying it out and having a knowledgeable speaker close by to give feedback and encouragement. Not that, in parenting, anyone could be said to have perfect fluency. And not that we could or should emulate someone down to the “T.” We can “try on” different phrases and patterns and tailor what we like to our families’ needs.
It takes a village. Because when we’re immersed in other families’ lives, we have the benefit of observing, asking questions, and then discerning what, if anything, we’d like to incorporate or tweak. We also have the benefit of problem-solving and brainstorming different issues with other parents that know us and our kids.
2. We learn we’re not alone.
It’s all too easy to fool ourselves into thinking we’re the only ones struggling with something. Social media is usually the space parents share their highlights. We forget that everyone has things they’re not including in their curated online space. When we parent in community, we see our friends’ kids become dysregulated and melt down. We see our friends become dysregulated and melt down, too. We see a more accurate picture of another family’s reality.
And while more “influencers” are trying to use their spaces to share hard things, again, you just can’t beat being with a real person, in a real situation, and having that healing feeling of “me, too.”
But let me clarify: Parenting in community doesn’t mean that you see a family in passing at school or church. It means you do life together—you’re with each other in a variety of circumstances, settings, and through a variety of seasons.
I fell into a trap once of deciding a friend’s family was perfect: perfect children, perfect parents. It planted a seed of resentment that wasn’t fair to either of us. It wasn’t until I got to know them better and we spent more time together in a variety of situations that the veil was pulled from my eyes. Of course they’re not perfect. Empathy and appreciation flooded out any resentment.
Which leads to my next point. . .
3. We experience the gospel firsthand.
When we live out “it takes a village…,” we have more opportunities to grab hold of the good news of Jesus’ unconditional love (and cling to it for dear life). Healthy villages stick together during the hard stuff. They speak truth in love. They believe the best in one another, support one another in hard times, and respond with empathy instead of judgment.
Parenting offers parable after parable of the Heavenly Father’s love, compassion, and patience for each one of us. I remember holding my first babe close and having my mind blown at the realization that the delight I felt for her was a mere shadow of the delight God feels for me. Conversely, when I’m short or ungracious with my kids, parenting forces me to acknowledge daily that I fall short of the love, patience, and generosity of God.
When we parent alongside others who are living out their own parables of God’s love, we’ll end up exposing ourselves to exponentially more reminders of our own and our children’s belovedness.
Pursue your village
It can be messy to parent in community and open your family up to a village. Kids will have conflict, parents will have conflict—communities are imperfect humans living with other imperfect humans. We’ll hurt each other sometimes. We’ll need to confess failings to each other and extend and receive forgiveness. But even in that—conflict and comparison and confessing are all opportunities to grow in grace and knowledge of Jesus. To sharpen and be sharpened. To remind each other of our Heavenly Parent’s perfect love and help each other grow in love.
If you find yourself longing, like me, for a village to parent alongside, pray for a family (or two or three). You may already be connected to folks who would make a great village; it might just take you going first. Arrange a playdate. Text to share a struggle and/or ask for prayer. Be willing to pursue relationship and let your “real selves” show up.
And may you find a village for your family you can grow and learn alongside, be comforted and encouraged that you’re never in this alone, and be pointed back to the unconditional love of God for you and your kids.
Copyright © 2021 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.
Laura Way serves with FamilyLife as a writer and lives in Orlando, Florida with her high-school-teaching husband, Aubrey, and their two vibrant young daughters. She and Aubrey lived in East Asia for seven years until relocating unexpectedly a couple years ago. She enjoys writing about becoming more fully human while sojourning through different places, seasons of life, and terrains of mental and spiritual health at hopeforthesojourn.com.