The children in our communities and immediate surroundings are a collective responsibility. It takes a village to raise a child, and the individualistic approach to parenting and childcare deprives many children of the resources and support that they so desperately need.
It used to be (and still is in many places) customary for mothers to take care of their children’s children for a few months after they are born. This practice took the burden off new mothers, gave them a trusted support system in their first few months of coping with motherhood, and gave them a crash course in need-to-know childcare tips that they’d never come across before. The new mothers can relax knowing that they and their children are in the good hands of experienced people with their best interests at heart. This responsibility of community child rearing should not be reserved for women and family members alone.
No one comes fully equipped to parent a child, and even where they prepare to the best of their ability, sometimes life happens. Look at the state of the Nigerian economy, for example. A family that was comfortable last year could be struggling this year. Same income, maybe even more, but the money has less value. Food, fuel, and school fees are all more expensive, and no amount of planning can save a person from an income of dwindling value in a time of inflation in a failing economy.
In the same vein, women don’t come with motherhood manuals embedded into their DNA, contrary to popular belief. Childcare is not solely women’s business, and men should participate equally in the care of their children. With time and effort, men can contribute more to the care of their homes and children. They’re not “helping out” or babysitting their children, and they’re certainly not special for doing regular parent things. It should be normal, not a laudable feat when men are hands-on fathers and husbands. What class is your child in in school? What is their teacher’s name? What are their allergies? Both parents should know their children well and show up to meet their needs outside of financial support.
We are socialised to see certain things as women’s work and others as men’s work. Women are taught from when they’re young that their duty is to nurture. To care for a home, husband and children. Men are to make money, and the other things are not their business or problem.
Considering the fact that those dichotomies are not only foolish but also oppressive since women work, earn and contribute to the household, the housekeeping, cooking and childcare as well! Women shouldn’t have to work all day and then do laundry, cook, and care for the children alone, simply because they are women.
Children are hard work, and there are too many parenting fails in the world. People neglect, abuse, scar and traumatise their children, sometimes unwittingly. Parents may think they’re doing their best, and sometimes they are but too often, it does not always translate, and they end up harming or driving their children away.
Children are a marginalised demographic. Mistreated, misunderstood, and not seen as worthy of respect and bodily autonomy. Their concerns are often trivialised, they’re forced to do things that they don’t want that are not absolutely necessary just because their parents said so.
They’re just learning life and are ill-equipped to share their thoughts and feelings appropriately unless raised in an environment that fosters that level of openness and vulnerability. Can they tell their parents about the things that bother them without fear of punishment or being shunned? Do they feel comfortable enough to share the big and small things?
Even as childless people, we must be kind to the children we come in contact with, be patient with them, and give them grace. If adults can’t moderate their emotions appropriately, how much more children who don’t have the experience, emotional regularity, mental bandwidth or vocabulary?
There are children who need things all around us, and if we’re equipped to meet their needs, we should. Doing so could be instrumental in that child’s life. I believe that all children are redeemable, even seemingly badly behaved-ones. Unlike adults, children are less stuck in their ways, more impressionable, and more pliable. Male children are socialised into misogyny from a young age, and we can prevent our brothers, cousins, nephews and so on from going down that path. Purity culture and patriarchal expectations are pushed onto female children, and we can be the catalysts in their unlearning process. We should aspire to be the kind of parent/adult we wish we’d had in our lives as children; the cool aunt that they look up to with starry eyes.
Looking back at our childhoods, I’m sure there are things you wished the people around you had done differently. We all know how we wish we were treated in certain situations as children, and now, we can do and be better to and for the children around us. If you had experiences where the adults around you really came through for you, then pay it forward. There’s always something that’s within our capacity to do.
This is especially the case for underprivileged children. Saying poor people should not procreate is classist and inhumane. Having children is not a must, but class should not be the determinant of who should or shouldn’t have children. There should be resources in place set aside by the government to cater to all children up until a certain age. Not charitable interventions or NGO efforts, but the government itself should prioritise assistance for parents and children.
No man is an island, and life is richer when we have people we can rely on for support. Parents need this support system, mothers especially, as the burden is placed disproportionately on them. We need to begin to see children as group projects in the sense that we must do what we can to make their lives better because they did not ask to be born, and we must minimise their suffering in this cold, hard world.
Childhood is a precious thing, and before life begins to happen to them as it happens to us all, they deserve a childhood that they can look back on fondly.
We also need to look beyond the traditional notions of what a family should be; father, mother, and children. Children can find as much love and support in unconventional family systems. Chosen and blended families can be just as enriching.
There are too many out-of-school children, children who are being neglected, abused and exploited, and we see them every day. Ignoring the lapses of a society that has so many children struggling and suffering and a government that does nothing for the majority of its citizens; as individuals, we can play a role in bettering the lives of the children around us — our friends and siblings children, neighbours and children we randomly see in the street.
It is not necessary to birth children of your own. The attachment to biological children is understandable, but people should also realise and consider that there is no owning anyone, even your own child. You can give the love and resources you have to share to already existing children who desperately need it and don’t have parents or family to support them.
It doesn’t take grand gestures or actively intruding into the child or their family’s life. You can simply be a friendly face, the person who genuinely inquires as to their wellbeing and listens without judgement. You can be the person they know they can call when they’re scared or in trouble, or you can help the parents around you to babysit occasionally foot a bill, buy toys and books for their children. The children will remember that fun aunt who was there for them, and your presence could be just what they need and run to in a time of need, and their parents will undoubtedly be grateful to have people that they can rely on. It’s always good to know that you can share your problems and you’re not alone in the world.