You may have heard the expression, “It takes a village to raise a child.” It is said to be an African proverb, though sources can’t quite pinpoint where it originated. The sentiment is easy to understand, though, when you think about traditional societies, and how children were raised even just a couple centuries ago. Families lived close to their extended families, and grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins helped take turns watching one’s children. In small, close-knit villages, friends and neighbors got in on the act, as well, since everyone knew everyone else’s kids, and helped keep an eye on them. The technical name for this is alloparenting.
In her article, Meet the Alloparents, Sarah Blaffer Hrdy (not a typo!) discusses the potential origins of this parenting type, and the advantages received by both parents and offspring. Across the animal kingdom, this is not a particularly popular strategy. This is surprising when you consider that by cooperating with childcare duties, mothers are better rested, more nourished, and safer, all of which gives the young a greater chance of survival.
Now think of it in human terms. Parents which allow others to babysit have a chance to gather or raise more food or otherwise earn a living. They also have a chance to accomplish other chores, or just have a night out. Jared Diamond writes in Newsweek that “allo-parents are also psychologically important, as additional social influences and models beyond the parents themselves.” By interacting with many different adults, children develop socially, learning to trust many different people and having the opportunity to learn from others with talents, knowledge, and attitudes different from their parents.
This was the norm for generations, but in the last century or so people have moved away from this model. Families have spread across the country in the process of looking for education or work, so care from grandparents and others is often limited to short visits, rather than regular weekly or daily care. In families where both parents are working, a common solution is to turn to daycare.
Don’t be discouraged if you hadn’t planned on using daycare. Daycare is a very practical solution, and the care can be very high quality. Assess your needs, and consider a few hours buffer to take care of things like laundry or grocery shopping. Do research into each program, and ask for references. If you can, also observe (with or without your child) the classroom for a while, to see if the facility and caregivers would be a good match for your child.
Beyond daycare, what else can today’s parents do to increase their village? The Illinois Early Childhood Collaboration recommends looking into FFN (Family, Friends, and Neighbors) Care. If you have good friends or neighbors with kids (and you trust their care!), consider swapping care once or twice a week. Very likely, your friend will have things she can do with the free time as well, and it will give your child a chance to interact with other children and form a bond with another adult. You could also try holding weekly get-togethers or meals with several families. This also increases the number of playmates and important adults in your child’s life.
Sometimes you need to be creative, but in this hectic world, it’s still possible to raise your child with a village. It just may look a little nontraditional!
For more information:
Hrdy, Sarah Blaffer (2009). Meet the Alloparents. Natural History Magazine. Retrieved May 13, 2013, from http://www.naturalhistorymag.com/features/09270/meet-the-alloparents.
Diamond, Jared (2012). Best Practices for Raising Kids? Look to Hunter-Gatherers. Newsweek Magazine. Retrieved May 13, 2013, from http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2012/12/16/best-practices-for-raising-kids-look-to-hunter-gatherers.html.
Eltis, Alison. Creative and Flexible Child Care Solutions. Working Mother. Retrieved May 9, 2013, from http://www.workingmother.com/family-time/flexible-child-care-solutions.
Meyerhoff, Michael. Understanding Family Structures and Dynamics: The Extended Family. Discovery Channel. Retrieved May 9, 2013, from http://health.howstuffworks.com/pregnancy-and-parenting/understanding-family-structures-and-dynamics-ga2.htm.
Illinois Early Childhood Collaboration. Supporting FFN Care Guidebook. Retrieved May 9, 2013, from http://www.ilearlychildhoodcollab.org/oth/supportfamilyoth.html.