Today, I sincerely wish I could do it all myself: run errands, kiss booboos, help one of my kids with his Lego robot for an upcoming competition, push one of my teens to excel at a particular challenge confronting he/she is facing, reprimand another of my teens and apply the appropriate punishment, take a nap with my toddlers, reward another kiddo for going over and above and blessing his/her sibling, go to park day with friends, put the new plants I got for my birthday several days ago in their pots, read a book to my toddlers, prepare a meal, then another, and another, change diapers, take toddlers to the bathroom, pay bills, grade schoolwork, fill out the room design form for an upcoming moms group meeting, choose the fonts for shirts that I am having embroidered for a friend and I when we teach a moms group together, type a blog post, and drop teens off at church. Can we be real for a moment, ladies? Real honest? We can’t do it all.
Years ago, I was the joyfully optimistic mom to a 9-year-old, 3 y ear old, 2-year-old, and a newborn. I remember how hard I pushed myself to get it all done. I cleaned the house, washed and put away all of our clothes, ironed my husband’s work shirts, ran all the errands, balanced the checkbook, changed all the diapers (I’m not even kidding here. I had 3 in diapers at the time. That’s a lot of diapers every day!), homeschooled my 9 year old, led a homeschool group, and taught a bible study to a group of women. I honestly thought that all of this was my job. And, in a sense, it was. Until a mom friend a decade ahead of me casually commented: Darlene, it takes a village.
At the time, I cringed.
My mind rejected her statement. Surely, this wasn’t true. The village didn’t know what my husband, my children needed. My suspicious mind screamed that the village would lead them astray. Reflecting back to my own childhood, it was the village that caused me to make the rotten choices I did as a teen and young adult. I had the best, all-American parents! We hunted, camped, fished together. My siblings and I were taught to say yes, ma’am, no, ma’am, yes, sir and no, sir.. My dad treated my mom like a queen. My mom taught us to respect my dad, to value and honor the long hours he worked to provide for our family. Within the safety of family, we kids learned to love each other in spite of our different personalities and, eventually, different adult life styles.
It was the village that presented the problems during my teen and young adult years: an extended family member planted the idea that my parents were too strict with comments like, “Are you grounded again? I’m sorry your parents are so strict, Darlene.” After a recent move, I went on a drive with new friends and soon realized that I had just seen drugs and money exchange hands. A teacher in my high school let me leave campus during last period if I brought him food or sodas back with me, then gave me a failing grade for that class because I smarted off and refused to bring him anything one afternoon. An adult that I respected gave marijuana to a group of friends and I in celebration of the last football game of my senior year. After hanging out at friends’ houses on weekend nights, their parents let me drive home drunk after the routine question, “Are you ok to drive?” What teenager actually confesses that they aren’t? I got pregnant before marriage. Twice. I ended up in a violently abusive marriage in my early 20s.
I was determined to protect my children from these hurts if I could. My parents had done a great job of protecting their family. It was the village that caused the hurts. I aimed to accomplish what my parents had, plus up the ante and protect my kids from the outside world. All of our friends either went to church with us or were in the same homeschool group we were. We were careful about which movies we watched and only listened to christian music. Alcohol was not allowed in my home. Although my oldest son spent his early childhood in daycare and public school, I resolved to stay home and keep my remaining children away from that environment. After all, I reasoned, they would be in the world soon enough. Why rush it?
Surprised, I noticed that my toddlers made the same mistakes as their older brother had a decade earlier, in spite of the fact that they had never been in daycare like he was and I was no longer a working mom. My kids weren’t always naturally nice to each other. By the time they could walk, my littlest ones hit each other and bit each other to get their way. Older children were insensitive, impatient, and flat out mean to the younger siblings. Staying home with my children all day caused my house to MESSIER than it was back when I worked, which led to me being more stressed out, more yelling at the kids, and more tv time because we were all exhausted. It slowly began to occur to me that it wasn’t the village’s fault. I began to realize that it wasn’t the village’s fault that my kids sinned, that I sinned.
I began to realize that it wasn’t the village’s fault that my kids sinned, that I sinned.
Friends, sin isn’t looking for an opportunity to strike. It is inherently part of us. In James 1:14 (NIV) we are told that each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Sin is why we need a Savior. It is impossible to protect ourselves, from ourselves. In spire of providing a protected environment, our children struggle with their own temptation to do wrong, just like we do. In spite of our best efforts, we sin against our husbands and kids, too. (Ouch…)
Looking back at high school, I could have chosen to obey my parents’ rules and come home on time after hanging out with friends, avoiding the ensuing restriction. I should have walked away from the “friends” that bought the drugs, instead of insisting on hanging out with them for the next 3 years. I could have said no to the pot when offered it by my adult role model. I should never have left campus in high school when I knew it was against the rules. I should never have driven when I had been drinking. I knew the risk I was taking, especially after falling asleep on the road several times and being in two separate car accidents with tipsy friends. Sex before marriage had been my choice. When family expressed concern that my future husband was in my space too much, was asking too many questions about my activities and felt a little too strongly about silly things like the fact that I had lunch with a friend that day, I could have chosen to listen and paid closer attention to the signs, instead of getting defensive and emotionally walking away from them.
Do you know what else? Friends, we need the village. My friend was so wise! She saw an overworked, idealistic mom trying to do the best for her family headed for a meltdown and a rude awakening. I did end up crashing (remember my posts about anxiety and panic attacks?). In spite of my selfish pride, I finally figured out that I needed the village and the village needed me.
I needed the village and the village needed me.
We need help loving our kids. We need help teaching them manners. We need help modeling how to interact with less-than-easy-to-get-along-with people. As a baby, we teach them not to hit or bite whoever is holding them. The village needs to feel comfortable enough to tell them a firm “No-no. No biting,” too. We need grandparents and close friends to give our kiddos that “Atta-Boy!” and pat on the back for a job well done. One of my oldest son’s earliest memories is of his PawPaw picking him and his cousin up from daycare and stopping by the convenience store on the way home. My dad bought both toddler boys a Big Red soda and Cheetos to snack on during the drive. Have you seen what Big Red and Cheetos do to the energy level of toddlers???!!! Looking back, I am so glad that my overly protective self didn’t put a stop to that practice. That 15 minute drive provided precious bonding time and a filling of their love tank that I couldn’t do myself. Even if I had done the exact same things my dad did with them, it wouldn’t have filled their love tanks the way he did!
We are the village, too. In this age of social media, it’s easy to keep up with what is going on in friend’s lives. Send a message checking on a friend going through a tough situation. Pat a mom on the back. Praise a dad. Hug a grandparent, even if it isn’t your own. Pause to listen to a child, a teenager, a friend. Be a listening ear, quick to listen, but slow to speak. Carefully consider your words, making sure that they are encouraging and lift people up, instead of passively criticizing. Acknowledge that a situation is tough, but speak encouraging words about the future. Don’t be afraid to encourage a child or teen to make the right decision. Love them even if they don’t.
If you know a friend’s children are going to be at the same event that yours are, offer to give them a ride, giving mom or dad a few moments to pause and unwind. Stuck waiting for your kids to get finished with an event, entertain the cranky toddler that belongs to the mom sitting next to you. If you’re going grocery shopping, offer to pick up a few things for a friend that would appreciate one less errand. Bring a treat home for your kids. Drop a favorite drink off for a friend on your way home, letting them know you were thinking about them. Buy someone flowers to brighten their day. Stop by your local law enforcement office or fire station with cookies or donuts. Keep a candy jar stocked for them, stopping by weekly to refill it. Send cards thanking your politicians, local business owners, even your parents. Drop off a few bags of groceries to a financially struggling family. Offer to take an empty cart back to the cart return if you pass someone who just finished loading their groceries as you are walking into the store. Be the village to a world that needs you.