The Downside Of Modern Parenting: Where Has The Village Gone?

by Laura Burton
Fertnig / iStock

I am sure most of you have heard the expression, it takes a village to raise a child. Sitting underfoot of my mom and her friends, I would often hear this saying. It was easy for me to understand because my mom had a tribe. While she and my dad were our primary caregivers, they looked to neighbors and friends to watch us when they were in need.

On my school form, under emergency contacts (after my mom and dad, of course) were our neighbors. During public outings, other parents would comment on our behavior if it was inappropriate. Parents would work together to keep all children safe; they’d tell children other than their own not to run on the wet concrete at the pool or to sit down when they decided that standing on top of a picnic table looked like fun. Even as a child, my mom taught me how to entertain a baby that was crying in a grocery store or help a mom out when she had her hands full. Parents helped each other; they lived in a village where they supported the other villagers.

Now that I am a mom myself, 30 years later than my own mom, I have realized that the village no longer exists. Where has the village gone? Every once in a while, I will have an older person (usually a woman) help me with a crying or tantruming child, but most people just stare at me in disgust and walk away. It seems people have forgotten what it was like to shop with a little one, or they just don’t care to help anymore, or they are worried that getting involved may upset the parent.

I don’t know about you, but when my child is crying in a store, I’d love someone else try to get their attention and distract them so they’ll stop crying. Even more so, I would be extremely appreciative if a stranger saw my child doing something dangerous and intervened. I have my eyes on my children at all times, but sometimes things happen (like my other child falling and getting hurt, or grabbing an item off of a high shelf which takes time for someone so short).

This has been a recent topic of conversation between my husband and me. I am frustrated with the looks and stares I get when I am out with my children and they misbehave even a little bit. He, on the other hand, has a very different experience as a male. People look at him and smile because they are amazed that he is out with his children alone. Being hopeful, I commented to him that maybe I have just had some bad experiences. Then I told myself that I had to have faith that if I was really in need, someone would stop and help. But about a month ago, when I found myself in desperate need of help, no one came. There were no other villagers in my village. I now realize that when I am out with my children (sans family or close friends), I am truly alone. And it’s frightening.

My youngest is a rambunctious child. His energy is intense and his ability to maneuver and climb is on par with a monkey. At our local grocery store, there are carts for children to push around. While I love the idea of the carts, they can be troublesome so I try to avoid this particular store. My oldest is great with the cart, but the little one is determined to do his own thing. I would love to keep him riding in the cart, but he has learned how to undo the buckle — which can be dangerous when you’re reaching for a gallon of milk and he decides to climb down. Keeping him seated has become too risky; nowadays he walks beside me.

On this day, our “safe” store was too long of a drive to fit into our schedule. We were lucky to make it through the mini-cart store with minimal drama, but while checking out, the little one decided to take off. I was trapped behind my own cart, a little cart, a bagger, and two patrons with carts full of groceries. My youngest son took his cart and zoomed past seven checkout lines, the customer service desk, and straight out two sliding double doors — into the parking lot. Not one single person tried to stop him. He ran by multiple cashiers, the customer service counter with people waiting in line, an employee rounding up carts, and multiple shoppers. And not one person attempted to stop the tiny little 2-year-old with his mini-cart. Thankfully, my oldest is used to his brother’s antics and immediately jumped into action and chased after him. By the time I got unstuck and could catch up, he was dragging his (kicking and screaming) brother back in from the parking lot.

I looked around in disappointment at the people surrounding me. Where has the village gone? Where were all of the villagers? Why didn’t they help? Why did they just stand there? My child could have been severely hurt. If I saw a child running into a parking lot, I would at least attempt to stop them. Maybe it’s my former teacher mentality, but my instinct would be to stop the child so they wouldn’t get hurt. He was in close range to multiple people; some were less than an arm’s length away. Yet nobody moved.

Now a lot of you reading this may be judging me. Why didn’t she leave her kids at home with a babysitter? Why doesn’t she have control of her children? How has her child gotten to be so out of control? Let me tell you that I do my best, and my children are safe (and well-behaved 90% of the time). But things happen sometimes that are out of our control. My youngest is fiercely independent, and sometimes he is too quick for me.

I have spent countless hours since this event trying to understand why the village is disappearing. We live in a world where people are afraid of offending each other. Where people spend hours staring at their phones instead of the world around them. Where everyone is watching their own back and afraid someone may harm their child. The world is a more dangerous place (even if it was just as dangerous back then, it wasn’t being reported as widely as it is today, adding to our anxiety). Life is different. I understand that.

But please, if you see a child in a precarious situation, don’t just stand there. Step in. Even if the parent gets mad at you, it’s better that the child is safe. Please help bring the villagers back to the village. A village is a lonely place without them.