It Takes A Village, But Where Is That Damn Village When You Need It?

by Elizabeth Broadbent
rawpixels / iStock

We’ve all heard about “The Village.” You know, the idea that we’re all in this together, helping each other to raise up the next generation of children.

But where is it? How do we find it?

Under a headline of “New Mom Faces Jail Time for Leaving Baby in the Car for Three Minutes,” one commenter wrote on the Scary Mommy Facebook page, “No, ‘what if’ this and ‘what if’ that, NO. I found ways of running errands, getting gas, etc with my son alone and so can you. I would rather err on the side of caution and call the cops and see the parent run out to the car and leave then ignore it and risk being partially responsible for a child’s death.”

She wouldn’t stand on the side of the car and watch the child for predators, molesters, kidnappers, or any of the other dangers some commenters ballyhoo. Nope, she’d go straight to the police, provoking an investigation, perhaps a court case and a CPS inquiry.

Just after her, another commenter laments, “I remember a time when we were kids and parents were truly a village. When parents actually tried to help each other instead of trying to victim blame and hurt each other… Are you really erring on the side of caution by calling the cops or do you really just want to cause drama? We’ve all lost our common sense in this world that we can’t watch each other’s backs. Are you concerned? Great! Check it out! Make sure a child is safe. Nothing wrong with that.”

We have lost our village, and it sucks.

It’s not just the baby-left-in-car scenario that shows it. I see a mother struggling to load four small children into a minivan in the Target parking lot, all while wrangling a cart. I offer to take the cart off her hands so she doesn’t have to wheel it back to the return, and she’s so pathetically grateful. Like I’ve offered her a winning lottery ticket, or a free Starbucks gift card. She shouldn’t be that grateful — it shouldn’t be that shocking that someone’s going to offer a helping hand.

Not that she’s helpless; she’s clearly capable. But she needs to be assured of a public behind her that’s going to support her, not judge her for having “too many kids,” or for one kid squalling, or for buying GMO-laden produce.

I like Publix because it is a tiny “village.” When I pay for my groceries, a nice person offers to push my cart, including the kidlets sitting in it, out to my car. Then they load the heavy bags inside. These kind souls, who are certainly mandated to do this, accept no tips, and always smile and talk to me on the way. I feel cared for. I feel like part of a community. I learn their name and thank them profusely. And I always return.

There are little vestiges of the village, if you look. People stop their car for you when you cross the parking lot. Often, people ask if I need help when one of my kids is throwing down and the others are climbing under the cart. Screamers get stickers in the Target checkout line and what a blessing it is. But this is a kind of manufactured corporate village, and while it’s great, I want the real thing.

My parents, for example, never paid for daytime babysitters. They had relatives in town. I don’t, but I have friends. My BFF and I used to drop our kids at each other’s houses on a whim, clean each other’s bathrooms, and hang out for dinner on a bad day. That’s a village.

Then she moved. Now I have no one’s bathrooms to clean or kids to watch. Instead of lamenting this, though, I need to lasso in the other women I know who have the potential to be those people. There are at least six of them. Our kids are the same age. I can watch them, and cook for them, and help tidy up when relatives are coming.

I can remind them to stop cleaning up before I come over, and instead, I can help clean. I can sort laundry. I can watch kids and kiss boo-boos and my August (who loves Band-Aids) can go to them for a sticking plaster for once. That’s a village. When the kids are all screaming about dinosaurs in the back room and throwing Legos, and you find your separate peace folding laundry with a good friend. You’ve helped. You’re rejuvenated. You’re less lonely because, well, you’re not alone.

I can send my son and Veronica’s boy down the block on bikes to her mother’s house, where they will do who-knows-what. This is community: it’s a trust that no one will kidnap them (note: violent crime against children is down 33% for physical assault and 43% for attempted or completed rape from 2003–2011), that they will enjoy themselves, that they are out of our hair for an hour or so. The intrepid bike-riders are 7 and 8 years old. I trust the neighborhood will watch out for them. This is what it means to have a village.

But how does someone get a community if they don’t have it? What if you’re an independent mom responsible for all the things all the time? Get friends — good friends. Offer to clean their house and play with their kids. They will be blinded with surprise that someone would offer to help, and they will help you in turn because reciprocity is what humans do. Offer to help that lady struggling with the cart, the mom struggling with a child’s tantrum, the man who is blind trying to hail a cab, and the woman reaching for groceries on a high shelf.

Go the neighborhood meetings, or just do daily walks and actually speak to the people you see. Introduce yourself and your kids. That’s how we got an invite to use the next-door neighbor’s pool. Then when you need a cup of sugar or a battery jump or an emergency babysitter, you might have a group of people to ask. Because just as you give to the village, the village should give to you.

And maybe, one day, instead of freaking out and calling the cops when we see a kid left alone in a car on a mild day, we can stand there and watch to make sure he’s safe. And when the parent comes back, we can say hi — not “You shouldn’t have done that,” or “What were you thinking?” but just “Hi.” We can create a world where we can trust each other. We just have to start, one mom, one bathroom scrubbing, one babysitting stint, one kind act at a time.