They say that it takes a village to raise a child, and I’m inclined to agree. Mostly because it’s impossible to prevent other people from having a hand in the education and development of your children.
Unless you home school and keep your kids sequestered in the bedroom and forbid all access to the news and pop culture and the internet and don’t let them have any friends and so forth – in short, unless the village you live in is M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village – there’s no way your kids won’t be influenced by the outside world.
Most of us leave our kids in the hand of other people on a regular basis. whether it’s extended family or a nanny or a babysitter or the teachers at daycare and preschool and elementary school or even a neighbor for a few hours, there are countless other people involved in not only keeping our kids safe, but in their education, incidentally or not.
It definitely takes a village. But can you trust your village?
There are a million things you need to let go of when you have children, including, but not limited to: sleep, fun, free time, sex, money, vacation, silence, relaxation, swearing, violent movies, football.
But the number one thing you have to let go off? CONTROL.
The amount of things you need to worry about when you have a child is off the charts. Half the struggle of being a parent – at least, half the struggle of maintaining your sanity and retaining some semblance of the person you used to be before you had a kid – is learning how to limit your stress. And that means letting go of some of that worry. It’s not easy, but it can be done. It just takes practice. It’s not unlike driving.
Consider all the variables that are out of your control when you’re driving, e.g., how much depends on the hundreds of other drivers you encounter; how much depends on the quality of the roads; how much depends on the weather; how much depends on the traffic lights working; how much depends on the quality of the other cars on the road; how much depends on how the kid in the backseat of the minivan three intersections away is behaving and how distracted that does or doesn’t make the mom driving that minivan; etc.
If you thought about that every time you got in your car you’d never start the damn thing up. The fear would be paralyzing. But you don’t think about that all the time. It might cross your mind, but you compartmentalize it, you ignore it, you do what you have to do to make sure you can reach that job interview on time.
The same goes with kids. There are 18 billions things to worry about when you have a kid, from SIDS to SARS, from drunk drivers and kidnappers, GMOs and MRSA, from bullies to concussions to college admissions to barenaked ladies, not to mention the Barenaked Ladies. But you can’t worry about that or it would drive you mad, and in turn you would drive your kids mad, and pretty soon they’d want you to show them all the blueprints, show them all the blueprints, show them all the blueprints.
Of course, there are other, more abstract things to worry about besides your kids’ physical health and safety. Like what they’re learning, and from whom. One of my worries upon moving to North Carolina, exacerbated when we quickly discovered that every daycare for kids my son’s age is affiliated with a church, was that my son would be exposed to ideas that I don’t necessarily want him exposed to. It’s why I’ve told him that the Chick-fil-a cows he sees on billboards aren’t nice cows, because they don’t treat everyone equally and also because they’re not open on Sundays and that’s when I’m hung-over those idiots!
And then I discover that while in school, he’s learned to sing “Jesus Loves Me” and that while with other parents he’s been fed homophobic chicken sandwiches. And then I wonder what else my son is learning when I’m not around. And then I panic that he’s going to come home with dip in his mouth and a Dale Earnhardt sticker on his backpack. And then I take a deep breath.
We’ve been through this many times: kids emulate the people around them. Everyone in their orbit becomes a role model, whether they like it or not. With children as young as my son is, that pressure usually falls on the parents, since that’s who kids spend most of their time with, but already my son is being thrust out in the world among all sorts of different people with their divergent viewpoints and unique perspectives and camouflage pickup trucks and confederate flags and concealed weapons and croakies.
The world is the world, and in my opinion, sheltering kids from it is the wrong way to teach them about it. So we pick our battles. We realize that we can’t control everything my son is exposed to, and we make it our responsibility to raise him with a solid foundation of values so that he is strong enough to make up his own mind and resist the examples that don’t sit right with him. And we do our due diligence. We check the sexual predator database, monitor the Scientology rolls, and make sure the people we’re choosing to expose him to are generally suitable, regardless of the stray personality trait that turns us off or the bizarre hobby that turns them on. Like “My Little Pony”. Or hentai.
Ultimately, I have to teach my son that there are few personality traits as repugnant as intolerance. (Like listening to Insane Clown Posse. Or playing lacrosse.) And then I have to trust him.
Besides, if I rule out every preschool that sings bible songs, or forbid the kid from hanging out with Yankees fans, we’ll have no choice but to home-school him, and we don’t want to do that.
Everyone knows home-schoolers are weirdos.