Raising A Child: Does it Take a Family or a Village?

As Rick Santorum has become more prominent of late, I was interested to hear about the book he wrote, It Takes a Family. What interested me was the fact that this book was written in opposition to Hillary Clinton’s book, It Takes a Village. I haven’t read either book, and I have no intention of doing so, so this post is based only loosely off the books themselves, and more on the underlying concepts. The following is taken from the publisher’s book description of It Takes A Village, on Amazon: “Her experience with children has strengthened her conviction that how children develop and what they need to succeed is inextricably entwined with the society in which they live and how well it sustains and supports its families and individuals. In other words, it takes a village to raise a child.” I recently watched Santorum say that it doesn’t take a village, but rather a family, to raise a child…which surprised me quite a bit, as I will explain.

First of all, arguing for the value and importance of a ‘village’, the surrounding society and people outside of the immediate family, does not negate the value of the family!! Of course it also takes a family. I can’t speak for all who would hold this position, but as seen in the description I quoted above, the value of the ‘village’ is in sustaining and supporting the family. So this is not a either/or scenario, in which those who argue for the need to ensure we have a strong society therefore believe that families are weakened proportionally. I would imagine this would work the other way as well, and even the families that Santorum advocates for must live in some sort of wider community, a village. Aside from the need to disagree with Hillary Clinton, I don’t know why he would see the need to deny the role that a village plays in family life. My first thought when I heard his comment was that this is such a narrow and limited American perspective.

Having lived in Africa, where the notion that a child is not the sole property of the family alone, but of the wider community, is strongly prevalent, makes such a debate even more absurd. I remember having a discussion my first year at NEGST on email policy, where an email would be sent out to the entire campus announcing the birth of a child, and then there would be 20 or so replies to all, going out to every email user on campus, from various professors and other leaders in the community congratulating the parents! That would drive the Americans and other Western students crazy, I certainly found it rather annoying. But the Kenyan students said, no, this is an important aspect of our community that the leading members would be able to register their congratulations to all. These new babies were not being born to families alone, but into a wider community. It was customary to visit the new children with small gifts, and during my time on student council, it was one of the responsibilities of the council to send as large  a delegation as possible to visit these new arrivals to the community. I participated in many of these visits. These visits also took place when children (or others) were lost, which happened with tragic frequency, and the house of the bereaved would be packed for days with members of the community circling through to express their condolences and demonstrate their solidarity.

While I think in many ways it is somewhat simplistic, and not always accurate in my experience, to say that ‘African’ cultures are communal, and ‘Western’ cultures are individualistic, this is one way that I believe many Western cultures lose out the value of the larger community, the ‘village.’ I’m sure that even Santorum would advocate for the importance of wider community life, but I believe that publicly acknowledging the value of the village in the development of a child is a good way to start.

One of the distinctives of the English language is that is lacks an official second person plural, which many other languages, including Greek and Hebrew, use. Thus many of the imperatives in the Bible are addressed to ‘you all’, not just ‘you’ as English is forced to misleadingly reduce it. The people of Israel clearly led a very communal life, and the tribe of Levi was not even given an inheritance when the Israelites settled in the promised land, but rather they had to share the inheritance of all the tribes and live among the people as the priests and representatives of God. The metaphor of the church as a ‘body’ has strong communal implications, when we see the people that compose the church described as an eye, nose, mouth, and hand all working together to form one cohesive unit. How many churches are close and intimate enough that  the abilities and gifts of their members are known, let alone utilized, in the ministry of the church? That is the model that the New Testament is advocating. Let me include a brief passage from 1 Corinthians 12:21-26:

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. ESV

In summary, from my personal philosophy, understanding of the scriptures, and especially after my experiences in Kenya, I would argue quite strongly that yes indeed, it does take a village.

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