The Smith family sits behind us at church. They have six kids or eight kids… you know, I’m not sure exactly how many children they have, but it’s a lot. What I do know is that their youngest is 13, almost the same age as our oldest. Each Sunday our youngest, Aspen, who happens to be our feral, off-the-handle, run up to the pulpit and try to scream into the microphone wild child, sits with them. This mom has all the treats, gadgets, and tricks in her bag of a mother who had raised a bunch of children. And their children pitch in too. Aspen sits there like she might as well be part of their family.
At first, I felt guilty about this. I felt like I was asking someone else to handle our child while we attended church. But as I got to know this family, particularly the mother, I started to realize that this is just who they are. They love children, and having Aspen sit with them isn’t a burden; rather, it’s something they look forward to.
Now, in contrast, when I sit with Aspen, it’s a burden. I mean, I love that kid. I love her a lot. But wow, she is a handful 24/7, so to have a family willing to care for her during church is huge.
There’s another woman who lives down the street from us who’s named Susan. We live in rural Oregon, miles and miles away from our families in Utah and Idaho, which means we don’t have the luxury of dropping our kids off with Grandma for a date or to go to the store or whatever. But we do have Susan. She’s in her late fifties, just a few years younger than our parents, with grey hair and a warm smile. Her grown children are a little younger than me and my wife, and she has two grandchildren, but they all live far away.
I don’t know how it happened exactly. I don’t know what it was about our kids, or us, or any of it, but Susan basically took us into her fold. When my wife was finishing her degree a few years ago, Susan watched our youngest three days a week so Mel could attend class. When we go on a date, we call Susan first. She attends our children’s soccer games, and she shows up to their birthday parties. Every time she comes to the house, she brings some crafty something or other for the kids. She knows that my son is into Harry Potter, and my daughters are into My Little Pony, and it’s not uncommon for her to pop in with a few gifts she found on sale.
She is, more or less, their pseudo-grandmother, and in so many ways she has become a part of our family. I know there are a lot of people who have their own family they lean on, and that’s wonderful. But the reality is, we don’t. And it’s only when you find yourself geographically isolated from the ones you love that you begin to really wonder how you will make it all work.
Then there are people, good people in the world, who treat your child as if they were their own, and that makes all the difference.
This is the wonderful thing about a village. Not everyone is like Susan and the Smith family. Not everyone is willing to care for your children with no obligation, or payment, or just for the simple fact that they like to hang with little kids, even if they are a wild child handful of a human. I think this is what makes these people so incredibly special, and speaking as a father of three, the saints among us who are willing to care for your children can sometimes mean the difference from being a good parent and a burnt-out parent.
You know who these people are. Chances are, you might just have one or more in your life right now. They might be coaches, neighbors, adults who volunteer with kids even though their own kids are grown, teachers, church members, YMCA workers, and so on. Whoever they are, these people are amazing, and they deserve a huge shout-out.
It can be pretty easy to focus on the negative aspects of raising children. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy complaining about my children just as much as the next parent. But right now I’d like for us all to think about the people in our lives who love our children with no obligation, because right there, that’s where you will find the village. These are the people who just want to help. At times, when you feel all alone, in a place far away from family, or perhaps your family isn’t all that interested in helping out, or perhaps it’s dysfunctional or just not all that engaged, these people make it manageable.
These are the people that can really show you and your family what honest love looks like.
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