It takes a village …


… to raise a child, or so they say. It’s an African saying, according to good ole Wikipedia, and usually evokes images of benevolent pie-baking granny types, cheek-chucking aplenty, neighbourly interest and the communal good. But what if your village is …da da daaaaaah … the village of the damned?

Yes, indeed. What if the advice is unwelcome, the comment judgemental, the interest intrusive? What then? Cue the spooky violins as camera zooms in on pregnant woman clutching small child by hand as she tries to outrun malevolent hoardes of shuffling zombies brandishing copies of ‘The Contented Little Baby’ and attempting to thrust poisoned dummies in her child’s mouth.

All right, all right. So I got a bit carried away. But you must know what I mean. It’s all those strangers stroking your pregnant tum without invitation. It’s the scowls you get if you’re spotted drinking a glass of wine. It’s being told that you should have started solids by now! It’s the tutting that your child is too warmly dressed – or not dressed warmly enough (cos it’s always one or the other, sometimes both). It’s the man in the queue in M’n’S who told me, robustly, that I should bite my baby son good and hard because he’d just bitten his twin sister. ‘Go on! Hurry up and do it now! Quick or he won’t understand. Do it so it hurts, mind!’

I’m pretty sure you all know what I’m talking about, but if you want to read a truly brilliant post on the subject, let me direct you towards my good friend Mom-101 for her take on The Village.

And then I’d like to hear your experiences of this kind of thing and, more importantly, your comebacks. (Lurkers, delurk! Yes, that’s you I’m talking to!) Cos, y’know, I never did think of the right thing to say to that stupid biting man. Maybe that makes me the village idiot…

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13 thoughts on “It takes a village …

  1. Yes, you’re talking to me — I’m such a lurker. Lurk lurk lurk.

    This is actually a real issue. I do think it takes a village. I think one of the real problems with modern parenthood is that we are so isolated and community helps — even a neighbor that you wouldn’t otherwise be friends with.

    Perhaps the trade-off for the support of community is being visited by the interfering old biddies. My personal jury is still out on whether it’s worth it. A born-and-bred city girl, I appreciate my anonymity, my respected and respecting isolation, but I pay a price for that too.

    I sometimes miss now that I am not always lugging a baby around that instant community a baby provokes, the interactions with strangers, the smiles on the bus, the softening of a person’s face. I am happy to trade that for a smaller bag and less poo however.

    Once, Daniel had a cold and I did too and yet we needed a battery for something essential (although what I do not remember) and out we went to the store for the battery. He brought a sippy cup with him and sipped it instead of screaming, for which I was abjectly grateful. We staggered back down the street when I was stopped by an old lady. “That” she said, pointing at Daniel, “does not look very nice.”
    “What doesn’t look nice?” I said.
    “That. Him drinking as he goes along. Not very nice.”
    I was close to the end of my tether, but that was pretty much my permanent state when D was a toddler.

    “Making you happy,” I said to the woman, “is about the last thing on my list of priorities right now.”

    She looked affronted. I walked away.

    Yet I would still welcome a village, even one with that woman in it. Parenting alone is too hard.

  2. When I was pregnant with my first I actually had a woman follow me into an elevator to tell me that she “just knew I was having twins” because I was so fucking fat (not her exact words, but could have been.)

    I’m beginning to think I know what mace was invented for.

  3. hello gals nice to see you both again. yeah – interesting one this. i absolutely agree that raising children is far too big of a job for one person. and helpful, thoughtful, considerate advice and comment is so fantastic. heck, the odd compliment thrown in doesn’t go amiss either – cos generally you get so little positive feedback as a parent. but it’s just very strange the way some people treat you and your children as public property and feel free to comment in an extremely personal way they never would otherwise. ‘twins’ indeed! mace would have been handy. it’s all part of the extreme shift in identity that women in particular experience when making the transition from self-contained, self-determining, self-confident professional to mother. quite a shock to the system … but that’s a post for another day!

  4. Oooh, MMs, I’m sooo with you on this one.

    My mil kept telling me my husband and his brothers never had a dirty nappy. Apparently the regime in the late fifties, early sixties was to hold a baby over a potty as soon as you’d fed him. Gina wotsit probably advocates it too. (Actually the baby book of calm really gets my goat. Why should we be lectured to by someone who’s NEVER had a baby????)

    I can also remember dirty looks when I left no 2 screaming on the floor in the local shopping centre because I’d said she couldn’t have a lollipop – an old biddy came up and told me I should give it to her!

    I take the point about the wider community. I’m very lucky I live in a small town and I do have a fairly wide network of support (from like minded friends it has to be said) – but I didn’t really get that till my eldest started school. Mainly because for some wierd reason I couldn’t get along too well with people who insisted on singing the wheels of the bus at every opportunity…

    Talking of Village of the Damned… your picture reminded me of one we have strapped to our fridge of no2 and her best friend aged 4 – Spouse has always referred to them as the Midwich Cuckoos since!

  5. Ha. My favorite bad advice was from some old sadist who told me that when my poor innocent baby was comfortable in her tub, I should pour a glass of cold water on her. To exercise her lungs.
    Ooooookaaaay.

  6. When my husband’s stepmom graced us with her presence shortly after my daughter was born and was stunned by the fact that the child was still not sleeping through the night (because her children were writing their own symphonies and other b.s. by that time, I suppose), I told her I’d be happy to lock her in the house for a week so she could tough love my daughter into slumber. She hasn’t been back to visit us since…

  7. There is a lot of unwanted advice but to my mind, the village to raise a child thing is other things. Things like keeping an eye on kids in public, helping a little boy that’s gotten separated from his family, telling the four year old who is stealing candybars at the store to put them back, right now!, keeping an eye on the neighborhood kids if one them should fall off their bike and need their mum right away, helping them home with their sore knee. I think you get the idea.

    I get my share of helpful advice with my handicapped daughter but overall, people are kind to her and we rely on many people, unrelated to us, to care for her.

    It does take a village, but a kind village, not a critical village.

  8. A village I’m all for – neighbors watching out for all the kids, teachers & parents working together, moms & dads helping others out. Random strangers telling me what I *should* be doing I could do without.

    When I read your post, the first thing that popped into my mind was breastfeeding! That, by far, has drawn by far the largest number of unsolicited comments from random people I don’t know.

  9. hi jane my bete noire was ‘dingle dangle scarecrow’, but i put in the hours on ‘incy wincy spider’ at baby singing group. love that ‘no dirty nappies’ thing. you’re right – it was a real 50s obsession. mind you, if you had to do all the nappies by hand, you can see why!
    beck that’s unbelievable! did she have any children? maybe a son who ran a motel?
    paige who do you think would have cracked first? the kids or the step-mom-in-law?
    deb you’re quite right, of course. in its best manifestation a village (wherever it’s located) is a great way to support not just children but all members. but it’s just so strange the way people you’ve never even met feel quite justified in passing comment. i have a friend with restricted growth and both her children had inherited the syndrome. you just wouldn’t believe the things people say to her – and in front of the kids. or maybe you would. anyway, it shocked me to the core when i witnessed it. a village, yes, but a kind, respectful village, please!
    lm yeah – breastfeeding’s a good one, isn’t it? since i have twins, i used to get loads of attention – most of it nice. but i have a friend with trips – and people used to tell her how sorry they felt for her!

  10. well, technically I am not delurking as this is my first visit. (came via the comment at Baby on Bored).

    Instead of “It Takes a Village” I prefer ye old addage: “It Takes the Village People.” Gay men in fancy dress rarely trouble you in this way.

    Actually, a few months back when I was hugely pregnant and public property myself I posted on this topic: http://gingajoy.blogspot.com/2006/10/i-feel-like-woman.html

    (and yes, this is shameless self-promotion on my part, which much mean I am No Longer British).

    Glad to have found your site–very funny!

  11. Want to start your private office arms race right now?

    I just got my own USB rocket launcher 🙂 Awsome thing.

    Plug into your computer and you got a remote controlled office missile launcher with 360 degrees horizontal and 45 degree vertival rotation with a range of more than 6 meters – which gives you a coverage of 113 square meters round your workplace.
    You can get the gadget here: http://tinyurl.com/2qul3c

    Check out the video they have on the page.

    Cheers

    Marko Fando

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