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Every Child Is My Child: Being The Village

We've all heard that it takes a village to raise a child. While this proverb does not express a Biblical view of parenting, it is reminiscent of the high value that Christ and the earliest Church leadership put on community. Caring for our children is the most important work we do as a community. This week we are looking at how we raise the village children.

My deepest passion is telling the world that children are our most vital investment and asset. I know without hesitation that children are worthy of our time, attention, focus, and energy. I honestly believe, and lean in to this belief, that children are more important than adults. The needs of our children must be prioritized over the needs of the adults. I live my life by this declaration: every child is my child. Each child matters to me.

How children are treated and regarded in any society is the most clear and obvious bellwether of its humanity and character. Cultures that set children aside, shunt them off to low quality educational institutions, diminish their worth or consider them a nuisance are cultures that are in grave danger of disintegration. When the worth of a child is lessened, the value of all humanity is diminished. Our young matter.

One of my favorite anecdotes about very early human history is a quote that is typically attributed to the late Dr. Margaret Mead, a noted cultural anthropologist. The story goes like this: a student asked Dr. Mead what was the earliest sign of human civilization. To the student's great surprise, the scholar responded by saying, "the first healed femur bone".

Dr. Mead went on to explain that in the animal kingdom, a broken leg means certain death. No longer able to walk, the wounded animal can not defend or feed themselves. They are helpless, and death is imminent. When humans were able to heal from such an injury, it meant that at least one healthy individual took care of the weak or helpless one. Civilization began at that moment. It began with compassion and care for the most vulnerable.

Our children are our most weak and helpless community members. They lack a respected voice, they have not yet learned to articulate their needs, and they are often either overly pampered or neglected. Both of these indicate parenting by convenience. Children deserve to be lifted above the little boxes our culture puts them in and to be given an excellent education that prepares them for independence, and true social awareness.

Teaching compassionate behavior to our children begins with treating them with compassion. In addition, we invite our children to observe us treating others well, and we verbalize clearly to them that kindness and sensitivity toward one another is an important character trait. We give them opportunities to be kind and compassionate and praise them when they do. We place ourselves in the community rather than cocooning away in our private zones constantly. We turn off the screens and get out in the woods. We point out the vulnerable ones of the earth: plants, animals, waterways, other humans.

In short, we teach our children. We teach with energy, conviction, passion. We work towards a goal of raising good, honorable, virtuous adults. Raising children, whether your own or those of the community, is an active and important work. It demands focus and thought.

Let's get down to the concrete things that we can do or say that will facilitate creating a village of well raised children. It is fine to declare with words what we believe to be right and true, but unless these words are accompanied by actions supporting the words, we speak in vain. Here are a few simple things you can do differently today:

  1. Notice the children around you. I can still see in my mind's eye the little cub scout holding the church door for the people coming to the event that evening. A few people thanked him, but most did not. Two older men coming in together completely ignored the child. Not a glance, not a grunt, not any acknowledgment that the child existed let alone had opened a door that was three times his height and twice his weight so that those men could enter. I was quite irritated because I knew that those men were upper level administrators in the local school system. They are in the child raising business and couldn't be bothered with the child. Speak to, nod at, and greet with a smile children that you encounter. Just as you would adults. Be friendly, polite and kind. Children are people. They deserved to be noticed.

  2. Encourage the children around you. Children make a lot of mistakes as they learn how to move through the world. They are loud when quiet voices are expected. They run when they should walk. They drop things that they should not have picked up. They hit or kick when they are frustrated. Many adults tend to respond to these missteps with anger, but there is a better way to respond. A way that encourages children to see more mature alternative behaviors. When children are behaving like, well, children, it is important to express clearly, firmly, kindly what the expectation is. Express this in terms of the positive rather than negative actions. For example: replace the phrase "Stop running!" with " We walk in the halls." State clearly what you expect. In addition, refrain from upspeak, which makes your statements sound like questions. Always avoid using the very confusing "Okay?" following every instruction. It is confusing to a child. They honestly don't know if you meant what you said when you ask "Okay?" when you give an instruction. If you want clarification from the child you might ask, "Did you understand what I said?" or if the situation calls for a more serious tone you can reiterate by saying, "I mean it. I expect you to walk." Asking "Okay?" is counterproductive. Remove this phrase from your speech pattern.

  3. Intention is everything. Raising up our children is important and worthy of being done with intentionality. This means we need goals and planning and thought and reflection and purpose and more. There are skills that successful adults hone: organization, emotional regulation, stamina, perseverance, positivity, hopefulness, and others as needed. When we drop the ball we pick it up again. We are not perfect. We do, however, have the obligation to set the best example possible. We can treat our children with respect and kindness while simultaneously keeping our eyes on the overarching goal of raising strong, faithful, virtuous, honorable adults. Nothing else matters more than this. In fact, if we get child raising wrong as we move through life, it honestly doesn't matter what else we may get right. It is that important.

Raising humans that will sit with and serve the most vulnerable community member until a broken femur heals will be the way that our civilization experiences a rebirth of commitment to the concept of community. The reality is that we adults have civilization and its future in our hands. What will we do with the children God has placed in our midst? Underestimate their value? Or will we embrace with joy the people that they are? There are children in your community. Take your eyes off yourself and focus on raising the village.

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