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The complications of “it takes a village”



What kind of villagers will help me raise my kids?

The complications of disciplining others kids


The origin of the phrase “It takes a village” has been traced to several African cultures, but it came to prominence here when Hillary Clinton used it as the title of her 1996 bestselling book, which focuses on the impact individuals and groups outside a family have, for better or worse, on a child's well-being.

Writing for The Good Men Project, former stay-at-home-dad and social worker Ben Martin entertainingly takes on the occasional awkwardness of this concept. He offers some helpful insight into how parents can deal with, as he puts it, Other People’s Kids, especially when these children might be causing trouble.

Even with Covid-19, children are going to play and interact. Other adults are going to be responsible for your child, and you are going to be responsible for someone else’s child. The likelihood of ruffled feathers and violated boundaries is high. No doubt you’ve experienced some unpleasant situations, as have I.

When my son was a toddler, I picked him up from a play date to learn that his friend’s mom had “washed his mouth out with soap.” He’d uttered an “obscenity” (no doubt learned from his mother or me), and she’d placed a bar of soap on his tongue for a few seconds. This was their “house rule” for four-letter-words uttered by kids (I’m guessing not adults, though).

I was furious, and the mom and I had words. She was contrite, and my son has no memory of it today, but we never went back to that house in our “village.”

READ MORE: Break it up, or let ‘em fight it out?

Ben Martin describes watching his daughter engage in a plastic sword fight with an aggressive kid. He wonders if he should intervene, but only does so when the kid makes off with his daughter’s sword, thinking he “won it.” Martin takes it back.

He writes: “If there’s a word for slightly confused and slightly crestfallen at the same time, then that’s what he looked like. And I looked like the word that describes someone who feels like they just took a toy from someone else’s kid on the playground. Sheepish? Ashamed? Embarrassed? Furtive? 

Interactions with Other People’s Kids are always so awkward. I wanted to tell him he needed to cool it down a bit, but I didn’t. Look, I’m just telling you what I did, not saying it was the right thing to do…” (I think it was appropriate.)

Like so many aspects of parenting, you hope it’s the right thing to do in both the short and long term. The thing is, regarding parenting one’s own kid, and other people’s, doing the right thing, often as not, feels awkward in the moment.

It takes a village, sure, but that doesn’t mean things are less complicated, and less uncomfortable. Accepting that, and trusting your gut, can make things marginally smoother, and you can look back with the knowledge you did your best.



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