It Takes A Whole Village To Raise A Child (Does It?)

This Igbo and Yoruba (Nigeria) proverb exists in different forms in many African languages. The basic meaning is that child upbringing is a communal effort. The responsibility for raising a child is shared with the larger family (sometimes called the extended family). Everyone in the family participates especially the older children, aunts and uncles, grandparents, and even cousins. It is not unusual for African children to stay for long periods with their grandparents or aunts or uncles. Even the wider community gets involved such as neighbors and friends. Children are considered a blessing from God for the whole community. This communal responsibility in raising children is also seen in the Sukuma (Tanzania) proverb “One knee does not bring up a child” and in the Swahili (East and Central Africa) proverb “One hand does not nurse a child.” Read more here

I have been wanting to write about this for a while now. More than wanting to share my own perspective, I am rather looking to hearing from you parents. It takes a whole village to raise a child. Does that mean that raising a child is difficult and you need all the help you can? Or does that mean that your child will benefit from being raised by many people? And what if they don’t see eye to eye with you? What if they don’t share your parenting convictions? Will it affect your child? Or will your child benefit from different “parenting styles”?

I always try to do what I think is right for my child. It may not be the best in the eyes of others, but it is what is best in my heart. I find it very draining to have to justify my choices. Whether it is family or friends and don’t know better, or just people in general, I still don’t understand why some people seem to think that they have better parenting skills than you do, and that they should share their opinions with you. Just like people who always ask if I am cold when I am wearing a skirt. If I was cold, I would probably not wear one.  And even if  I was, it is my body, my choice. Would you let me borrow your jeans? Probably not. So just keep it to yourself. Thank you. (Sorry for the lousy comparison.)

On the other hand, I have found sharing parenting rewards and challenges with some parents very resourceful. Being a first-time mum away from home, I felt pretty clueless sometimes (look at me using the past tense…Sixtine is only 6 months and I think I know it all already…haha. No. I actually need some help in the feeding solid department. Struggling with what I read, what I know, what I was told, and what I am told…). Feeling connected to other mums in real life, but also virtually has been a life saver. So in that perspective, I totally get the “it takes a village” part.

Now tell me. How do you deal with all that? How does this proverb apply to you? How do you just tell someone that they don’t know what they are saying and to just leave you alone? How did you grow your confidence in the mum/dad department? How do you do it? Please help a first time mum in need who’s refraining herself from telling some people to politely take a hike? I am all ears.



  1. To me, it’s all of the things you mentioned. Raising kids is challenging, and the challenges become more enjoyable when they’re shared with others who are facing, or have faced, them. There’s also the merit of getting guidance (or funny stories) from people who have already finished raising their children, the joy of hearing the stories of “when you all were small, we did it thusly,” and the benefit of extra pairs of arms to give hugs to both the small people and YOU.

    Kids also need time with people who are NOT their parents, so they learn to play well with other children and take direction from authority figures who are not Mommy and Daddy.

    That said, I’ve told more than a few people to take long walks off short piers when their advice is either unhelpful or downright dangerous (at least, in my eyes), or when, after I’ve explained why my husband and I do certain things in certain ways, they’ve persisted in criticizing our parenting IN FRONT OF OUR CHILDREN. That’s not acceptable. While everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, there are appropriate times and places to air those opinions. If a person is unable to respect those time and place boundaries, then their input is neither required nor desired, because that very lack of respect teaches out children a lesson we’d rather they did not learn.

    Good luck! –Kelly

    • I didn’t know that expression: “to take long walks off short piers” and I am picturing the scene in my head, and it makes me smile. 🙂 I agree – there is a fine line. I will have to find the balance…Thank you Kelly !

  2. I just smile and nod and try and stay away from the annoying people with strong views I don’t believe in. I’ve had to ‘drop’ lots of ‘friends’ who always felt the need to comment on my parenting styles. I don’t comment on theirs, why do they think they can comment on mine? Oh and offering their advice, which I don’t agree with at all. Might sound harsh, but makes life easier and more pleasant for me to be able to get on with what I know is right for my kids, and spend time with more like-minded people. And even the like-minded people have stuff they do I don’t agree with, so I stay away from those topics of conversation!

    And for help with the solids, you have to come back and hang out on the baby led weaning forum! Seriously, everyone is so helpful and reassuring there. Not eating much? Don’t worry! Not putting on weight? Don’t worry and don’t weigh her! Seems happy and healthy and meeting milestones? Then she’s fine! That’s the basic jist for newbies! Don’t mean it to sound flippant, but it was (and still is at 2 and 4) true for my kids.

    • I will give it another try. It is just that people who have baby-led or are baby-leading tell me: ‘just give her what you eat’ but they probably think that I am the best of cook and eat super healthy and all…you know what I had for supper? Milk and cereal…So I really need concrete ideas of what to give her.

      I agree with the “like-minded” suggestion though. I have two friends – we are not super close but I appreciate them a lot – and they are very eco-baby oriented and I couldn’t thank them enough for all their help. Thank you Rachel !

  3. With my parents, grandparents, 3 brothers, 9 cousins and 1 cousin-in-law just on my side of the family, baby Eli is certainly being raised by a village.

    To me that means varied input, a balance of worldviews and ideas, and never lacking in a play mate. I have a constant source of advice and support.

    There is an understanding in our “village”, you may add your 2 cents, but please respect our decisions as parents.

    For example, I bf. I am the first in at least 3 generations to bf. Everyone was very supportive. Then he started nursing past a year… he’s nursing at 2. There have been comments about it being time to stop. But there is a respect (or at least pretend respect to my face ;)) at my decision for extended bf.

    The respect for the parts played in the village are necessary for success.

  4. First off, adorable picture.

    How do I deal with the tons of tips, tricks, or criticizm from people? I thank them and file it away. Sometimes I use the tips, other times I don’t. I grasped the mommy thing pretty well, and call on friends/family when things get tough or I have no clue what to do about something…and I don’t stress if it doesn’t work because every child is different, so just because it worked for your kid doesn’t mean it’ll work for mine, but sometimes it’s worth a shot.

    I do get super offended when people butt-in when they really should just keep to themselves. My motto – if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. so if what you want to say back to them is not nice, then just nod, or thank them and walk away. As mommies we have enough to deal with already, we don’t need to add frusteration or irritation to our list of emotions for the day!

  5. mymyblue says:

    Love the pic, and love this phrase : it takes a whole village to raise a child! Hmmm
    Very hard topic. It’s all a question of balance….
    Mothers mean well when they give us advice and tell us what to do, they don’t always realise they are being too pushy. Try explaining to relatives and friends, in a nice way, that you know what’s best and you are Sixtine’s mother after all.
    I have been in your shoes : I know, being and expat mom, it’s hard when we are with family because we are with them all day long for a long period of time and we easily get overwhelmed by their everlasting presence!
    Try focusing on the positive side, that it’s helping you DPPwise and that when you go home alone, just you 3, you will actually be happy! (happy to go to your home and do things your way too, 😉

  6. rebeccaesimmons says:

    I love this topic and have thought about writing about it before. For me the village is more about the support I get from my friends than for actually raising my children. Which in turn comes full circle. All our family is at least three hours a way. But honestly, I would be more lost without my close friends being down the street than I would be saved by having grandparents around to babysit and give advise I don’t want to practice. My friends are almost like a holistic bubble for me. We are in this together. And I lean on them for all different reasons. Nurse questions, tech questions for my website, conversations about the difficulties of motherhood, working, not working and what that means, sharing recipes and I know just whose door to knock on when I need an evening walk while I let my husband handle the kids. This varied support grounds me and makes me a better mother. Our kids are growing up together. We gather, we eat, we drink, we be merry and we cry together. We share life. We make meals for each other when we have sick kids or new babies. We watch each others dogs and pick up each others kids from school. That’s my village and I can not imagine mothering without them.

  7. Great post topic. Children don’t come with instruction manuals – they boot you out of the hospital say “Thank you” and you’re on your own… (pretty much) We’ve all dealt with the spectrum of advice from well intentioned to passive aggressive to downright mean – but at the end of the day you are exactly right. You have to do what YOU and your husband think best. Its great if there are extra hands to help out, as long as those hands follow the guidelines set down by Mom and Dad – the chiefs of the village. And Kelly’s point about criticism is spot on. Criticizing a parent in front of their child teaches them a lesson in respect (or lack thereof) they shouldn’t ever learn.

  8. N. U. Child says:

    Having read a bit about the difference between European and African property rights I recall that fatherhood of a child in African villages was often questionable (because women stayed close to the home and fields and men hunted away in the forests). Since property was held in common there were no problems with maternal or paternal inheritance of real estate, contrary to the European practice of primogeniture, where the entire estate went to the oldest legitimate son. Thus an African child was free to eat from any pot in the village, since his father might also be the parent who brought food to that home.

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