My village may not be the commune I want, but it’s the village I’ve got, and I love it. There are parents and non-parents, old friends and new, godparents and atheists, and old and young. This year, it included a Chinese exchange student. Some of the village will watch my kids. Some of the village has houses too messy to go in. I love the sheer spectrum of love around me, and especially around my kids. My childless friend loves them like the ones she’ll never have. Their godparents love them like their own. We are nothing if not lucky.
But as idyllic as my village sounds (I get sick, and food appears; I need cleaning, and help appears), every village needs ground rules. It sounds antithetical to the whole “It Takes a Village” idea — shouldn’t kids be exposed to all kinds of lifestyles? Yes, I think they should. But when it comes to my kids, I have some expectations. There are boundaries — and you better keep them, or I may vote you off the island.
1. Do not ask my children to keep secrets.
Teaching kids to keep secrets from mom and dad is one way pedophiles groom children. It puts a rift between parent and child that’s easy to exploit. I’m not saying you’re a pedophile. I’m saying that when you ask children to keep a secret “just between you and me,” you’re aiding and abetting possible pedophiles. “Don’t tell Mom, but here’s some extra ice cream”? That’s how it starts. Don’t start it.
2. Keep my children’s bodily integrity.
We teach our kids that no one has the right to touch them if they don’t want to be touched, and they don’t have to touch anyone that they don’t want to touch. That means you can’t demand hugs or kisses; you can’t tickle after they say stop. They know how to say, “Don’t touch me,” and when they do, it’s hands-off time. This helps protect them, not only against childhood sexual abuse, but against relationship violence of all kinds later in life. Their autonomy matters.
3. Know my family’s allergies.
Any village needs to be aware of everyone’s trigger foods and anaphylactic allergies. My sons have numerous food intolerances, and if they’re fed something they shouldn’t have, we’re in for a miserable few days. Please, please, please learn what they can’t eat, check ingredients, and when in doubt, give them fruit. You also need to know that my son has an anaphylactic allergy to bees, and my husband has one to cats. So don’t rub your kitty all over my kids — my husband will get eye blisters if he touches them. (Yes, it’s that bad of an allergy.)
4. Watch your mouth.
My kids pick up on words, and I don’t want my 2 ½-year-old busting out the F-word. Keep the adult themes and innuendos to yourself. But more than that: Please don’t badmouth people in front of my kids or talk badly about people they know. We want our boys to know that putting others down isn’t an acceptable form of conversation.
5. Monitor your TV.
Like most parents, we have strict ideas about what our kids can and cannot watch. No, I don’t want my 6-year-old seeing The Monster Squad. No, they’ve never seen Nick Jr., and they don’t need to start. So, please, if you’re controlling the boob tube, ask about the shows they can watch before you get creative and my kids have nightmares.
6. Respect our belief system.
Every family has their own dearly held beliefs about life, the universe, and a supreme being. You can debate the existence of God when my kid is 16. Before that, please don’t tell him our religion is a lie or that all Catholic priests molest children. We’re also staunch liberals and don’t appreciate you filling their minds with ideas about how the Mexicans need to go back over the border. When in doubt, keep your mouth shut.
7. Don’t compare them to other kids or to each other.
Sometimes adults say things playfully that kids take not so playfully. “Well, so-and-so knows how to write his lowercase letters” is not a productive way to help my child learn. Neither is “Joey ditched his training wheels, and he’s younger than you.” These comments are put-downs. And while you’re at it, don’t compare my kids to each other, like “Why can’t you be as good as August?” Way to sow discord and give them a complex.
8. Discipline them the way you think I would.
Every family has different ways of disciplining their children. For us, that means no corporal punishment. You hit my kid, I hit you. My kids will be brats sometimes. Try a time-in, a time-out if it’s really bad, removing offending toys, or using natural consequences (they have to come inside because they can’t be trusted not to hit each other with sticks). Just use gentleness and common sense, and you can’t go wrong.
9. Tell them when they’re being little jerks.
This is where the village part truly comes in. Don’t let my kids get away with a mumbled thank-you, or ignoring you, or blatantly disobeying. Feel free to make comments like, “Your mother told you to put your shoes on.” Sometimes hearing it from a different source can help. And if they do something wrong or say something rude, make them apologize. We’re not raising assholes here, village.
I hate making rules. But we’ve got to have these to keep our village happy and healthy, or at least, to keep my kids happy and healthy, and they’re an important part of the village. Together, we’re strong enough to raise some amazing people. We need each other to do it, but we also need to respect each other. After all, it’s part of being a village.