What 'The Village' Is And Is NOT

by Sa'iyda Shabazz
Originally Published: 

We often hear about the concept of “the village” without truly understand what exactly the village is. For some people, this concept may seem archaic — in today’s world, why do we still need to rely on others to make parenting easier? While we may believe we’ve evolved past the need of external support, we are constantly proven otherwise.

Some could argue that in this world where everything is more readily available, we need the village even more than ever. Many of us are overextending ourselves regularly — we have kids with a dozen extracurricular activities, we’re forced to work 60 hours a week to make ends meet. There are simply not enough hours in the day to get it all done.

And as we move throughout the world, often away from our families, we don’t have the support of our families. And then sometimes even when they do live close by, they still don’t help. One of the best things about the village is that we have the power to create our own. If we can’t (or don’t want to) rely on our families for support, we can find people who will.

But even after all that, the concept of the village is still muddy. Somehow, people have come to think that being a part of the village gives them carte blanche to say or do whatever they think. This means, offering unsolicited advice that isn’t helpful, or using others for their own gain with no reciprocation.

Newsflash: that’s literally not how it works. Having a village is supposed to be a positive experience.

This is what the village is:

1. Support.

Being a parent is so hard and often thankless. Many of us feel like we’re failing pretty much all the time. How nice would it be to know that someone has our backs on those hard days? Knowing that you have someone to reach out to when everything is going wrong changes literally everything. Support doesn’t mean that you agree 100% with someone else, but being there as a sympathetic ear when they just need to get it all out. And offering advice if asked, but if not, giving them the boost they need to keep going.

2. Empathy.

This should go without saying, but it needs to be said. Think before you speak. Even if you know someone well, you may not really know exactly what’s happening in their life. We must understand that everyone has a different lived experience. So, just because something works for you, it will not work for everyone. That doesn’t mean they’re not trying. When someone is struggling, realize that your words carry weight. What you may believe to be “not a big deal” could be a big freaking deal. Take that into consideration before you offer any sort of advice, even if someone asks you explicitly for it. Understanding that they are walking a very different path than you is imperative.

3. Compassion.

Similar to empathy, but taking it a step further. If you see someone struggling, do something to help them instead of just saying sorry. For example, if your friend has a baby, don’t just visit. Offer to help them around the house — it doesn’t have to be scrubbing their toilets, but maybe doing dishes or taking out their recycling. When someone loses a parent, instead of just saying sorry or sending a card, ask if there’s a way you can help. Bring them a meal, or order them takeout.

4. Showing up.

It doesn’t have to be some huge thing, but even returning a text when someone reaches out to you is showing up for them. Don’t offer something you can’t follow up on. Honestly, there’s nothing worse than saying, “call me if you need something,” and then not following through. You may think you’re being nice, but that person may need you, and if you’re not willing to be there for them in that moment, you can be making things infinitely harder for them.

5. Looking out for each other.

That is the fundamental purpose of the village. Creating relationships with those around you so that you have people to lean on. Notice one of your kid’s friends looking a little down? Why not invite them over for dinner, or just offer an ear. Keeping an eye on a kid at the playground while their mom runs to the bathroom or to get snacks. It doesn’t have to be big, but it’ll make a difference.

And this is what the village isn’t:

1. Judgment.

Again, it feels like this shouldn’t have to be said. And yet, here we are. As humans, we’re bound to disagree about things. That’s only normal. But if you disagree with someone, for the love of all that which is holy, keep it to yourself. Even if you don’t mean to, judgment is easily readable. If your friend shares something that’s affecting them negatively with you, chances are they’re feeling vulnerable. To then turn around and judge them for any reason literally makes you the worst.

2. Shaming.

This is judgment’s evil cousin. Just because people are living their lives differently than you are doesn’t mean you have the right to make them feel bad. You don’t let your kids have more than 20 minutes of screen time a day? Well good for you, Susan. But someone else does, so why don’t you just STFU about it? If it doesn’t have any bearing on how you live your life, leave it alone. This goes double for people you barely know. Little Timmy has holes in his shoes? Don’t shame his mother for not buying new ones, practice some fucking empathy.

3. Taking advantage.

Sometimes this isn’t intentional, but it’s something to be aware of. Has Susie’s mom hosted the last three playdates and you’ve hosted one? Time to take stock in that. Are you always asking your friend to babysit and just expecting them to always show? That’s taking advantage of the concept of the village. It’s supposed to be beneficial for everyone, not just a few.

4. Butting in where you don’t need to.

You need to know when to back off, or when to step in. Like, if you see kids playing at the playground and climbing up the slide, you don’t need to say something to the kid. Or if you see a kid playing to looks like they may be alone, don’t take it upon yourself to be “concerned,” chances are their adult knows where they are. They may even be watching from a distance. Just because you wouldn’t allow your kids to play alone doesn’t mean everyone adheres to the same rules.

5. Being that mom.

This is for you, experienced moms. Yes, you have already lived through this stage, but your kid isn’t someone else’s kid. So if a mom is like, “no, I can handle this, but thanks,” don’t follow it up with, “I’m just worried that…” Because guess what? You sound like a self righteous asshole. Kindly keep your “concern” to yourself, especially if it’s unsolicited.

The village isn’t something that will just always be there. It takes cultivating and nurturing, just like any other relationship. Understanding your place in it and then showing up for the people who are depending on you is crucial. Because then you know that when you need them, the village will be there to support you in the ways you need to. If you can’t make that kind of commitment, be honest. People may surprise you.

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