Why we should let the village raise the child

It takes a village to raise a child? Or so the African proverb tells us.  Whilst this may still be the case in many parts of the world, it is something that seems to be embraced less and less in Western society. Maybe this is something that could be argued as detriment to the well being of our children and ourselves. This past week, I witnessed first hand the many positive aspects of communal family living.

Last Sunday, my husband, myself and our 5 children, along with 6 other couples and their families, set off on a week long holiday down the coast to celebrate the 40thbirthday milestones of my husband and his mates  (years ago they conjured up a dream trip to Las Vegas minus the family, however renovations, babies, work commitments and visions of  ‘The Hangover 3’  saw the trip somewhat change in nature to a family beach holiday less than an hour down the road). Fourteen adults and seventeen kids descended on accommodation reminiscent of school camp. A huge long hallway with bedrooms either side that housed bunk bed upon bunk bed, communal male and female toilets, large kitchen, dining and lounge area and a room out the back for the kids to run wild, became our abode for 7 nights.

A fabulous time was had by all, but here are a few aspects of this type of living that stood out to me as having a great impact on parent and child well being and certainly aspects of which should be adapted to everyday family life.

Sharing the Load: For us this meant that each couple had a night where they took care of dinner and bought and cooked the food for the rest of the gang. Now whilst there was a bit of an effort put in on your night, give me one night a week to cook and still ensure that my kids get healthy meals all week and I’m as happy as Larry! Aside from the cooking, there were many adults to share in the cleaning, the supervision of kids in the pool, the washing and hanging out of wet towels and bathers and the holding of the baby. I probably got the most out of this shared parenting thing, as having the most kids, my load felt substantially lighter. I don’t think I ever walked down the hallway without having a parent or older child offer to take the baby for a cuddle.

Being part of a larger group: these days many households are smaller in number, and thus kids are not required to get in and help as much. It is often seen by parents as quicker and easier to do things themselves. Going back to this idea of large families requiring help and input from members of all ages provides a great grounding for kids to learn to work as a whole and do things for the greater good of the group. Children learn that they are part of a larger community and sometimes decisions need to be made that benefit the group as a whole rather than the desires of the individuals. They all still felt loved and secure I am sure, and certainly all had a great time, but without being so individually indulged.

No chance to be lonely:  With that many kids (and adults), there was always someone to play with, have a chat with, laugh with or go about solving the problems of the world. And for those times when you needed some space, there were enough rooms to slink away to and enough parents around to watch your kids should you feel the need for a walk to the shops and a dose of caffeine.

Exposure to other parenting styles and personalities:Whilst I would say the expectations of the parents and similarly the behaviours of the children were all pretty much on par, exposing our kids (and ourselves) to all sorts of personalities and styles of parenting need not be a bad thing. Whilst this can often be where it goes pear shaped for many families when they holiday together, I think it is also OK that our kids must get used to dealing with other styles and personalities. Afterall, when they enter the adult world, they are going to be subjected to a myriad of different personality traits from bosses, work colleagues and the like.

So whilst I realise that this is not really a feasible way for us to parent our families on a daily basis, what we can take from these experiences is the importance of exposing our kids to the wider world outside our family home.

  • We need to include grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends in the lives of our kids. Allow them to have sleepovers, spend time with other families and go on weekends away with others.
  • Promote involvement in the wider community through sports activities, community and youth groups or theatre groups.
  •  And hand over some of the chores to other family members.

Whilst as parents we hold the greatest responsibility for our children and their upbringing, it is important to sometimes reach out and let the village take up the reigns.

Have you had experiences of extended family and friend holidays, either good or bad? Do you let other people play a part in your child’s upbringing?

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This Post Has 41 Comments

  1. For the last few years we have been taking our son on a family trip to Bright, Vic with his grandparents (our daughter is usually holidaying elsewhere). As we live a distance from them, this is the best opportunity they have had to be with him. It’s been a great experience all round and the communal evenings have been great.

    1. Thats great Jo, and its nice for them to have these family rituals that will create great memories.

  2. My husband and two sisters (and their families) go on a holiday every year and it is exactly as you described it. It’s good fun.

    Love & stuff
    Mrs M

    1. We are lucky to have extended family who have kids similiar to my kids in age which is great for them and always ensures they have lots of fun.

  3. That sounds like such a great holiday! I am a big believer in larger families. I’m one of four girls, and it’s just so nice. Family holidays are lots of work- but that sharing the load thing really is wonderful. My Mum and sisters have a huge part in our lives- and I love watching my girl with her cousins. She just seems to belong so well. It’s nice having a tribe. Love this post 🙂

    1. Yes, a tribe is so nice. And yes holidays with lots of people can be a lot of work in the preparation but always worth it in the end.

  4. That sounds like so much fun!! I love hanging out with my family where there are other people to help look after the kids, lol!!

    1. There is nothing wrong with taking the help when it is offered!

  5. We haven’t done a holiday like that since I was a kid – and I loved it then and hope to get to do it with my kids when they’re a little older (something like you’re holiday with 8x 2 and 3yos plus 3 newborns is not my idea of a break – perhaps when theyre 6 and 7 and thereabouts).

    We do encourage our families to take part in looking after our kids though. My sister lived with us for 15 months last year and into early this year and the extra set of hands made things so much easier with us both working full time. In the past 3 months we have let the kids have sleep overs at my in-laws. Hard to let go at first and not worry the whole time, but the 2nd one was after we’d been out to a Wedding so having an un-interrupted night and then sleep in was bliss! I think we all need a break every now and then to 1. make us appreciate out kids (I missed them like crazy even though I did relish the break) and 2. give them the opportunity to bond with other family members as well.

    1. Yes it is definately easier having at least some of the kids that little bit older. We had a few 8 to 11 year olds and they can actually be a real help. Especially some of the little girls who just loved having a baby around!

  6. Great post. And very true. I think in many ways we have made our lives harder by somewhat isolating ourselves from the extended family. Sounds like you had a great holiday. I can’t think of anything better than the kids entertaining themselves with the other kids and being able to share the load whilst on holidays. I’ve had family holidays before and the only down side is that we found everyone tended to assume that someone else was watching the kids. We had to constantly make sure that one of us was taking responsibility, rather than assuming!

    1. Yes you do have to be careful about assuming each other are looking after the kids. I did find I was constantly asking for the whereabouts of the 2 year old but usually it was fine as they were often playing in an enclosed area. And thanks it was a great holiday.

  7. I remember not long after I had moved house, and my new baby was only 4 weeks old posting a status update onto twitter apologising for my ‘needy’ status updates & baby questions. I thought I was being boring & I am sure that I was to some of my friends. I had a reply from a lovely lady telling me to ask all the questions I needed as it takes a village to raise a child & although I was the only one that could implement the advice to continue asking for help & advice from as many sources as possible.
    I think your family holiday sounds lovely – what a great opportunity for you & hubby to get some time with others helping out.

    1. Thanks Sara, I think it is so true that if you are wanting the information then you should always ask. It is like anything I guess, you seek out the information you need and then apply that which you think fits your situation.:)

  8. I’ve never experienced this with my family. I had some of this as a kid because there are lots of relatives on my dad’s side but they are overseas. My own family is interstate so we don’t get that here either. And I don’t have many friends with kids. It is sad we can get so isolated nowadays. appreciated your insights.

    1. Thanks Veronica, I am sure as the kids get older you will start to socialise with more families with kids and thus have greater opportunities to ‘share the load’. It is hard when families are overseas though. 🙂

  9. I love these big sorts of holidays.

    I’ll admit thought that I also love when we get home and get to do things our way again. I think community is important, but I also believe strongly in parents having the most influence, because they need to shape values and beliefs. But I guess that’s where you make friends with people who have the same ideals as you.

    Great post, thanks for linking 🙂

    1. Thanks Jess, yes like anything it is also nice to be in control again. We were lucky that our friends all seemed to have pretty similiar values and beliefs about family and parenting so that definately made things easier.

  10. Sounds like lots of fun! We have 2 couples we have been on holidays with. They are old friends (from pre-children days) and I wouldn’t say our parenting styles are exactly the same (though the fundamentals are the same), but we just have such a blast catching up on old times. I think it is nice for our kids to see their parents having fun with their friends, and being inviting towards other people too.

    1. Absolutely kids should see their parents having fun and also realising that holidays are not always just based around things for the kids! Our kids certrainly saw all their parents having fun on this holiday!

  11. sounds like a fun holiday! I love going to friends with all the kids, we each have 3-5 each so its always a lot of fun family event, everyone gets in and helps!

  12. I would love an experience like that for my daughter. Need to find ourselves a willing tribe 🙂

    1. I’m sure as your daughter gets older and you begin to socialise with school friends etc, you will have more opportunities. 🙂

  13. I haven’t been on holiday with another family yet. We are planning one in a couple of years time with my best friend, her husband and her three children.
    But, my mother is about to move to town and I am so pleased because I often feel that my kids need more than me (not that I am a bad mother, but just that sometimes they need someone other than Mum to spend some time with).
    At first I resisted the idea of my kids going to stay over anywhere for a night without me. And in actual fact for the first year of Roo’s life I only allowed her to be babysat ONCE for a couple of hours, so my husband and I could go and catch a late movie while she slept. And even though she slept the whole time, I felt so guilty about it!!!
    I’ve obviously changed my attitude and can’t wait for my three to take turns having sleep overs at Grandmas!

    1. It is alwasys difficult the first time to let kids stay overnight or for an extended period of time, but it is certainly part of our role as a good mother to let our kids experience guidance from those other than ourselves, and it offers us a well earned break.

  14. I see part of my role as a parent to help my daughter build relationships with others, so I’m really keen for her to spend time with grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins, friends, our friends, whoever. It’s so great for them to learn how to interact with others outside the immediate family unit.

    Sounds like a great holiday!

    1. Absolutely Megan, it is part of our role to give them those opportunities. 🙂

  15. When we go on camps with other home educating families a few times a year the vibe is very communal. Bigger kids keep their eye on the smaller ones, group meals are shared & there is always a willing set of arms to cuddle a baby. My kids are included in games & activities with the teens as well as the babies.
    When a baby is born many women out of this group will cook meals & offer to do housework or help with bigger kids.

    I love the community 🙂

    1. Yes my baby was definately the most sought after child for the others to look after! It is also great for kids to hang out with other kids different in age to that of their own siblings.

  16. What really stood out for me in this post was the part about sharing the load and having kids help out as well. Im sure Im not the only one who is constantly ‘micro-managing’ and resisting having the kids help out, even when they want to because it seems easier at the time. *important reminder for me*

    We used to have lots of large family gatherings and holidays together as kids and they really were the best times ever. Its so different now, with family living all over the country and in other countries. I do have a sister close and my girls love nothing more than playing with their cousins and having mutual sleep-overs.

    Great post Martine!

  17. Completely agree. Parenting in isolation, as a single parent or as part of a nuclear family is an evolutionarily unnatural state IMO. In this day and age, where the ‘village’ no longer exists, we need to create our own village wherever we can find it 🙂

  18. I love, love, love this idea. How awesome for the parents and for the kids. I totally love the idea of a village raising a child, the more help we can get the better I say! N x

  19. I grew up in a very small town and was lucky to be raised by the whole town, basically. It was the kind of place where, if you did something you shouldn’t, your parents would know about it before you got home. It took a while to adjust to the anonymity of cities. In a larger city I think a religious community, a tight-knit circle of family friends, and youth organizations can go a long way toward creating that kind of village for a child.

  20. I recall last Boxing Day being at the Botanical Garden in Melbourne where my Dad’s old Uni friends, kids and grandkids were having a big picnic catch-up … I haven’t seen most of these people for many years but I grew up going on camping holdays with them all. I remember a moment when I was juggling eating lunch, holding my then 4 week old baby and managing Miss 3 and her lunch. Someone next to me said “I can hold the baby if you like?” … and I remember saying “no”. Not because I didn’t want them to … simply because I was “managing”. I thought about this later and realised how automatic my response was … I am so used to managing alone. However, it taught me to be more mindful of accepting any help offered in future 🙂

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