It Does Take a Village

Cara Achterberg essays

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We were picking crabs one night with friends on an unseasonably warm late spring evening. The sky threatened to ruin our evening, but other than a few sprinkles, it never made good on its promises.

Our friends’ teenager is my oldest son’s best friend and I affectionately call him my “other son.” He is the youngest of four incredibly smart, competent, and truly good kids. I’m in awe of this couple and what they’ve accomplished. My own kids seem like spoiled slackers in comparison. So I take every opportunity to hang out with them, hoping some of their wisdom will rub off on me.

When the crabs arrived, the other dad joined the kids at their end of the picnic table and launched into an enthusiastic lesson on how to properly pick crabs. He was patient and encouraging, and waded through their questions about “the gross yellow stuff” and the “squiggly white things” with good humor, calmly admonishing my youngest not to “bash” the crabs quite so hard with his hammer.

His wife and I watched and she laughed and said, “He’s good to have around. He always makes sure everyone is taken care of and having fun.”

I commented, “That probably makes him good to raise four kids with.”

She smiled and said, “That too.”

It’s important to have a partner when raising kids. In fact, it’s important to have several partners, whether they are spouses, uncles, aunts, grandparents, friends, or teachers. None of us have all the qualities of the perfect parent. None of us can teach our kids all they need to know. It may be cliché, but it certainly does take a village.

Every year at the end of summer when school begins to peek over the horizon, every conversation with other parents begins, “Which teacher did your child get?” Of course, there are a few I would prefer, but at this juncture in my experience, I have to say, it isn’t critical. My kids have had some wonderful teachers – people who lifted them up and brought out abilities in them I had never thought possible. And my kids have had some not so stellar teachers. It’s inevitable. Even teachers with a reputation for being excellent aren’t always a good match for a particular kid.

I remember an elementary school teacher my oldest son had years ago. She was difficult and unorganized and critical of my son. To his credit, he took it well. After sitting in for recess once again for a missing paper (that turned up in her stack on her second search), he came home and said, “I’ve figured her out.”

“Really?” I asked, curious to hear his observations.

“Yeah, Mrs. F is from a different planet than me. So I’ve just got to figure out what language she speaks on her planet.”  Not bitter, and with nothing else to add, he headed outside to play.

I was blown away once again by the wisdom of a child. And grateful for this teacher I had been lamenting. She was teaching my son a lesson it takes many of us years to learn. We all have to work with people who don’t “speak our language.” It’s part of life and figuring out how to play nicely with everyone is an important life skill critical to our success and survival.

My husband and I have very different parenting styles. He’s more of a take-no-prisoners kind of dad. He yells first and asks questions later. Generally his first answer is no, but the kids know he can be reasoned with. This may sound harsh, but it is a good counter-balance to my waffling-let-me-explain-why-I-think-you-should-do-this way of parenting. My kids have figured out when it comes to just about anything except what they eat and how much screen time they get, there is always wiggle room with me.

Some days I get frustrated with myself and the authority that seems to elude me not only with my children, but with my incorrigible dog. So it’s nice to have someone who isn’t afraid to be the bad guy.

My husband is the one who teaches them the technical stuff – math, tools, computers, and sports. My expertise is better suited to teaching them about relationships, social issues, personal health, and wondering. It helps when your spouse is such a perfect complement, even though our differences can also get in the way of presenting the unified front that good parents should have.

My mother-in-law is really good at teaching my children to be skeptical of the messages they hear from the media and their peers. My mom loves to indulge my children and in so doing teaches them it’s OK to enjoy forbidden fruits like Fluffanutter sandwiches and Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal every now and again (or whenever you visit Grammy).

The example my little brother has set by serving in the Air Force for 22 years has been a living object lesson in respect for our country and the fact that there are people who risk their lives for our freedom.

Countless coaches have molded my children. During baseball season one coach told my husband, “Your son is such a joy – so coachable and fun to have around.” When he relayed the coach’s comments, I teared up in gratitude and pride. It humbles me again and again that these men and women volunteer their time and energy (and patience!) to help my children learn not only how to play a sport, but how to be a sport.

The bad examples can sometimes teach our children important lessons too. Watching a confrontation in the Walmart parking lot, led to a discussion on respecting others. A snide comment about my bumper sticker from a person who disagreed with my electoral choice, gave us a chance to talk about political freedoms.

Unexpected teachers emerge on a near daily basis. Working at our church’s soup kitchen and encountering a mentally ill person, opened up a conversation on the challenges of caring for someone who can’t care for themselves and our society’s responsibility in such circumstances. We live in Amish country and the simple lifestyle of these solemnly dressed neighbors always arouses curiosity in my children. They wonder what it’s like to live with no electricity. How could you survive without a computer? But, my husband points out, they have cell phones.

Teachers, partners, healers, leaders, and prophets are scattered all through our lives. Appreciating this can help you to feel less alone as a parent.

I’ll say it again, it takes a village to raise good kids. None of us can do this alone and that is a relief! So on the days I don’t think I’m up to snuff on this parenting deal, I take comfort in the fact that many other people are investing in my kids. In the end it will be a cumulative effort. I won’t be able to take all the credit, nor all the blame. Whew!


About the Author

Cara Achterberg

I'm a blogger, freelance writer, occasional local columnist, and (hopefully) soon to be published YA author. You can find links to my blogs, news of my writing exploits, and inspiration for teen writers on my . In my spare time (ha) I teach workshops on Homemade Life, run our small organic farm, and on a good day spend an hour on the back of a horse.

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May 2015 – Better Together
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