You’re probably familiar with the old African proverb: “It takes a village to raise a child.”
But what does this actually mean? Does it mean that parents can think: Phew, gets me off the hook! Or does it mean it’s okay to leave the majority of your childcare to your relatives/friends/neighbours? Does it mean it’s okay to leave them in the ‘safe’ arms of the virtual world, whether that be X-Box/YouTube/a smartphone or tablet? Does it mean we can leave it to the Sunday school teachers and youth leaders?
When thinking through such important questions, we Christians must always ask: Where does the Bible lay the ultimate responsibility?
Sadly, in schemes we often see that the main job of raising children is left to Grandma. This is the case for a variety of reasons—it could be that the Mum is a child themselves and isn’t able to take on the responsibility of being a Mum; or that she’s an addict of some kind and therefore unable to cope; or maybe she needs to work in order to provide for the child; or that she just can’t be bothered with being ‘tied down’—that is, she just wants to go off and do whatever she did before this baby interrupted her life! Any and all of these cases are tragic, both for the child and the Mum.
The problem with Grandmas raising kids in the schemes is that, quite often, Grandma is either the drug dealer, has a job herself, or is struggling with ill health. But they do it because they think they are helping their daughter out. Let me be clear: there is absolutely nothing wrong with Grandparents playing an active role in the lives of their grandchildren. It’s a good thing for them to be involved. But it must also be said that ultimately, they aren’t the parents. Grandparents have a supporting role, I believe, in being an influence in the lives of their grandchildren, but it must not be the primary role.
If we think back to Bible times, families used to all live under one roof, or they at least lived next to each other. So, the extended family would have been in and out of each other’s lives, including the children. So it was much easier for Grandparents, Aunts, and Uncles to have an influence. They played a big part in the lives of the next generation.
In today’s society—at least in certain parts of it—families often live miles apart, which makes it more difficult to cultivate close relationships within the wider family unit. This isn’t the case for people in schemes. Very rarely will someone move out to another area. Thus, in the schemes, you will find lots of extended families living just a few streets away from one another. Many live on the same street! This is why the job of raising children is so often shared out between the family members.
In this sense, then, schemes operate similarly to communities all those years ago. The book of Deuteronomy has various verses that talk about the importance of teaching our children and bringing them up in the ways of the Lord—the most obvious being Deuteronomy 6:1–9. The emphasis is on the parents doing the teaching, not hoping someone else will do it.
As Christian parents, we have been entrusted with the lives of our children until we go to be with the Lord, and it matters what we do with that time. It matters what we teach them. It matters how we live our lives before them. The greatest thing we can do for our children is teach the eternal truths of God’s Word. That is much more important than them knowing their times tables or being able to smash the newest Tik-Tok dance! We are to instil into them the riches of the gospel, praying that it would shape their worldview, rather than being shaped by whatever the latest vlogger/YouTuber is telling them. Remember, the children we have are God’s gift to us. We are to steward these gifts with great care.
Going back to the original quote, the premise behind it was that parents can’t actually teach a child absolutely everything. There will be some things that they aren’t equipped to do. For example, my knowledge of maths and science are minimal at best! So when the girls were coming back from school with homework in these subjects, I needed to point them to someone else who would be able to provide them with the help they needed. There will also be things outwith our own personal Christian experience, and that is where the local church comes in.
There will be people in our churches who have gone through things that we haven’t. There will be people who understand the Bible, doctrine, and theology better than we do. All of these things are invaluable in the lives of our children. It has been so helpful to me, as a Mum, to be able to point my daughters to other Christian women who are closer in age to them and who have gone through certain struggles that I personally haven’t had experience of. It has helped me to talk to these other women and get their perspective on an issue when I have been finding it hard to understand. They have given me some valuable perspective and insight.
In this sense, I agree with the above quote. As well as God giving us children, He has given us the church for our encouragement, growth, and mutual support. When you read passages about the church in the Scriptures, it presupposes that you will actually be spending time together, talking openly and honestly with each other. The church isn’t just a bunch of random strangers who get together once a week. We are meant to know each other deeply, otherwise we won’t be much good to one another.
Ultimately, parents are responsible for bringing their children up, but the church and other believers have an important part to play in their lives too, regardless of their age and marital status. The church should support what is already being taught at home and not be the only time that children hear anything about God or the Bible.