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  • Writer's pictureKirsten Kyllingstad

It Takes a Village

I grew up in the United States hearing the phrase “It takes a village to raise a child.” Never did I understand that phrase more than after having my own child. But it is also seemingly a very un-American way of thinking, even though we say the phrase a lot.

Often attributed to an old African Proverb, the saying means that an entire community of people must interact with children for those children to grow in a safe and healthy environment. This looks at the society approach for rearing a well-rounded individual. Everyone within the community will have an impact on this child and therefore must strive to be good role models for the next generation even if they don’t, themselves, have a child.

But let’s look at a very specific, personal, use for this idiom. When my son was first born, my husband and I were both acting in shows. There were two weeks with overlapping rehearsals and neither one of us could be home. There are no “flex hours,” or “working from home,” when you are in a play. There is no “bring your son to work” allowance when you are up on stage singing and dancing. We had people we pulled out from the woodwork to help! My mom helped. My stepson’s mother helped. A friend from work helped. Friends from previous shows helped. Our personal trainer from the gym helped! We literally could not have done it without them.

People continue to help our family with our different “lifestyle careers.” I now work as a full-time Flight Attendant and my job takes me out of state, overnight, frequently. This leaves my husband to take care of both kids by himself. Taking them to and from schools across town, cooking for them, playing with them, coordinating their various after school activities and taking them, making sure homework is done. Sometimes things come up for both boys that happen at the same time and it is impossible for my husband to be in both places at the same time. My mom often steps in and handles one-half of the puzzle.

Without the help from our “village,” we could not live the way we do. Everyone had to buy in to my new career. We knew it wasn’t possible to just do on our own. I couldn’t just get a new job. I needed the support from my husband. He knew what my job would ask of him. He was all in. He was actually the one who initially encouraged me to follow my dream! My mom knew we would likely be asking for her help from time to time. (My son had just turned 1 when I started applying and had just turned 2 when I started training.) She was all in. She was excited for me. She encouraged me to apply, adding she would do whatever she could to help at home while I was gone. And she even offered to buy me new work shoes if I got hired!

I have never looked at the help I (we) have needed from other people as a failure of myself as a parent. I truly buy into that saying of “It takes a village to raise a child.” I fully expect to be and am excited about being a “village” for my sister with her young son. I have helped our neighbor, who just had a baby a few weeks ago, with some dinners or treats from Hawaii. Being a parent is hard! Being a new parent is extremely hard! My mom came over for months after my son was born to watch him while she folded my laundry so I could nap when my husband was at work. It was a godsend.

We have such an individualistic way of thinking in the US. We try to do everything ourselves. We feel shame when we ask for help or accept help that has been offered. We feel like we should have been able to do it ourselves. But we are one of the only cultures in the world that does this. So many other cultures know that community is important. And being a member of a community means helping the community. I help you with your needs and you help me with mine. They might be different needs. You might need some help watching your child. I might need help weeding. A neighbor might need help with their car. Another neighbor might need help getting groceries. When we all work together, everyone’s life is better.

We can expand that phrase by also shortening it to merely “It takes a village.” Absolutely yes regarding child rearing. But also, just with life in general. If you need help, ask for it. If you see someone who you think could use some help, offer it. There is no shame in working together. Especially now as we seem to be coming out of the pandemic. Connect with one another. Check in. See how people are doing. Two years of isolation has been hard on everyone. How can we support each other? Check in on your village and see how you can help. If you are in need of something, reach out to your village and ask for help. Together we can make it better for everyone.

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