Maybe It Does Take a Village.

Mary C. Tillotson - Village


I’ve been paging through Hillary Clinton’s It Takes a Village, and, to my surprise, agreeing with much of it. I’ve heard so many of my friends rail against Clinton’s “village” idea, saying “it takes a family” and “I do not need a village to raise my children.” Clinton advocates government solutions more than I think necessary, but she has a good sense of the importance of strong families. I picked the book up in part because I’m starting to think that maybe motherhood was never meant to be a one-woman show, and raising children was never meant to be one family’s job.

My employment right now consists of coming into five different homes and, effectively, facilitating motherhood. In one family, I’m helping a dyslexic high school student read her history book. Her mom told me it was easy work that she’d do herself, but she has eight other kids and the toddlers need more mom time. Another family has three boys, ages 11, 9, and 2. The homeschooling is either a two-person job or a one-person-and-one-TV job, so the mom hired me. Another family has three boys, two with severe developmental delays (ages 7 and 5, can’t talk, not potty trained). The third boy is developmentally fine, but he’s two, and like most two-year-olds, he thinks he’s in charge and can’t fathom why mom won’t nurse him all the time.

I wasn’t hired because the parents don’t want to be real parents and would rather dump their kids in daycare. I wasn’t hired because dad ran off after his girlfriend got pregnant. Every one of these families is devoutly Catholic, with parents married to each other and a stay-at-home mom. I was hired because raising children is a big job, and these moms can’t do it on their own.

Parents, of course, bear the primary responsibility  to raise their children. But “primary” and “only” are not the same thing. That’s why we have schools and hospitals and babysitters and homeschool groups – and amazing men like Pope John Paul II writing letters to families: “Parents by themselves are not capable of satisfying every requirement of the whole process of raising children, especially in matters concerning their schooling and the entire gamut of socialization.” (section 16) We do need a village.

When I was in fourth grade, a friend moved away and I cried my eyes out. Now everybody moves away all the time, and it’s hard to establish relationships before neighbors are transferred out of state. We build relationships primarily by spending time together, and it’s frustrating when you have to start over entirely every couple years. And, from everything I can tell, it’s even more frustrating when you have to pack up a handful of squirrelly children to go to a women’s group where you don’t know anyone, hoping for the kind of friendship you just don’t get from one or two meetings. You can’t spill your heart out to someone you just met, and you can’t leave a clingy two-year-old with a stranger.

Women need adult women friends. Men need adult man friends. Children – especially those without same-sex siblings close in age – need friends to do boy things and girl things with. Children need other examples of adults living holy lives – maybe that’s the godparents’ job, but by the time the kid is old enough to know what godparents are, they’ll probably have moved far away.

Tim Kreider wrote a beautiful piece for The New York Times on aging and death. He writes:

“Segregating the old and the sick enables a fantasy … of youth and health as eternal, in which old age can seem to be an inexplicably bad lifestyle choice, like eating junk food or buying a minivan, that you can avoid if you’re well-educated or hip enough. So that when through absolutely no fault of your own your eyesight begins to blur and you can no longer eat whatever you want without consequence and the hangovers start lasting for days, you feel somehow ripped off, lied to. Aging feels grotesquely unfair. As if there ought to be someone to sue.”

Those of us who grew up shoveling the driveway for the elderly couple across the street and watching our parents care for their aging parents don’t live in this fantasy. We’re better prepared to face our post-golden years and our deaths, and it’s obvious to us that euthanasia is an assault on human dignity. I wonder how I will teach my children this lesson if their grandparents are far away and the elderly couples don’t live across the street.

We do need a village to raise children. Phone and internet are great for keeping in contact with friends now miles away, but those friends aren’t available to babysit, or to hug you when you feel like life is falling apart. Their kids can’t come over to play with yours. We need each other, to grow in holiness, keep our sanity, and raise our children. How can we Catholics – parents and otherwise – pull together to build that village?

It can be as drastic as lending your house for a month or as simple as bringing a meal over when a new baby is born – and stopping by a while later with cookies to chat with the new mom again. It could be taking the youth group to visit a nursing home, or do work for an elderly couple in town. Anything to reach out, make connections, and establish relationships, especially with those who can’t get out of their homes as easily.

We need a village. So let’s make one.

© Mary C. Tillotson. All Rights Reserved.

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12 thoughts on “Maybe It Does Take a Village.”

  1. Dr. Siegfried Paul Posch

    I took me weeks to come to the conclusion: only Mark – ,–riepenhausen-franz-friedrich-1-lasset-die-kindlein-zu-mir-kom-2606970.htm – points out that Jesus takes children ‘UP IN HIS ARMS’. Luke and Matthew don’t say that! I have to explain this – why only Mark says that – in a precise way by reading the ‘OLD TESTAMENT’, because the WORDS OF JESUS are only about the ‘OLD TESTAMENT’. – My conversations with newspapers here in Graz in Styria in Austria – one of the them had published that science does have, now, a proof of the historicity of Jesus – led to the necessary, precise quotations.

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  3. I wasn’t hired because dad ran off after his girlfriend got pregnant.
    –Mary C. (Petrides) Tillotson

    Bigoted against men, much? That’s the only reason that comes to your mind that explains divorce? That’s what you think is the most common reason for divorce?

    Dearie, adultery by the husband is the reason for a tiny fraction of all divorces – less than 10%. (And adultery by the female is just as common.) The most commonplace divorces are female initiated on some kind of whim such as “I want to find myself”.

    Catholics are often disgusting in their habitual man-bashing. I see untruthful disparagement of men as a class in the Catholic press, Catholic radio, Catholic television, Catholic blogs, and Catholic pulpits. Priests are usually worse in their man-bashing and unjust man-blaming than even the most all-I-know-is-what-Oprah*-told-me female.

    I blame the bishops.

    *and before Oprah, there was Phil Donahue.

    1. Mary C. (Petrides) Tillotson

      Hi Micha,

      Thanks for your comment. I suspect I wasn’t as clear as I meant to be in that sentence. I was referring to unmarried couples conceiving children; often, the father leaves the mother to raise the child alone. This presents many difficulties for the mother. I wanted to show that even when people wait till they’re married (=committed) to conceive children, raising those children can still be difficult.

      I have been told that tensions over money and sex tend to be some of the top causes of divorce.

      I hope this clarifies my point, as I did not intend it to be anti-man at all. I do not think it is fair to accuse Catholics en masse of man-bashing. Many men contribute to the breakdown of families and communities, but so do many women. On the flipside, many men (my husband included) and women contribute to building up families and communities. Catholics believe in the dignity of all human life, from conception to natural death, and that includes men and women. It is not men that Catholics oppose, but sin, which both men and women commit.

      Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you back at CS!

  4. People are down on the “it takes a village” thing because, in practice, they wanted to remove parental authority— rather than promote a support structure.

    It’s like the difference between Obama’s “you didn’t build that” talk, which removes all praise from those who do things simply because other people were involved and important, and recognizing that while no-one can do everything, they are still responsible for what they do accomplish.

    We are–hopefully– recovering from at least one and maybe two generations of Catholics having their family support structure destroyed. My mom grew up with the parish being her social circle, for better or worse… it died out, to the point where yesterday I was asked after Mass if I was expecting “again” and it was mostly a launch-point for how quickly we’re having them. (a year between birth and the next conception)
    I don’t know how to rebuild it; I’m not very good with organizing people, and prefer to socialize online. I also hate to ask for help.

    The situation isn’t helped by how few people know others who have kids of the same age. Most of my classmates haven’t even gotten married, let alone started having kids. (not that I’d want to socialize with most of them anyways… sorting by age was a really horrible idea for my socialization!)

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  6. Very thoughtful article. And I love the fact that the building of your village requires the loving of neighbor. Some sort of willful, giving, concrete act. So simple, so biblical, but folks sure struggle with that. Me included. Thank you for a terrific reflection.

    1. Mary C. (Petrides) Tillotson

      Thanks for your comment! Yes, Christ’s words were simple: love God, love your neighbor. Everything is wrapped up in that. If we love – if we reach out for more people to love – then a good community will happen. But it is a struggle for all of us.

  7. How good of you to revisit this topic. It does take a village where families work together and look out for each other’s kids. Even big Catholic families need help from neighbors. Thanks fo the post.

    1. Mary C. (Petrides) Tillotson

      Thanks for your comment! I think it is especially important to reach out and make connections, because we never know who needs a friend but can’t reach out.

  8. What a great article and forwarding it to a friend who while in the hospital the other day saw a elderly man getting ready to leave and had to have a cab called for him as he didn’t have a car, no family or relatives, and she related that she saw a ministry for people like him. Your article might be the conformation she needs to maybe move ahead and see what can be done.

    1. Mary C. (Petrides) Tillotson

      That’s so great! I hope she does start a ministry for people like that gentleman. Even if she isn’t able to get an organized group together, nothing is preventing her from visiting a nursing home and befriending the residents, and offering them rides when they need them – or whatever else friends do. Or she could tell her priest, who can probably visit hospital patients more easily, and see if he’d be willing to connect her to people with this need. May God bless your friend!

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