Sunday Reflections: When There is No Village
What if I wrote a Sunday Reflections, but on a Wednesday? What if I couldn’t wait until Sunday to share my heart with you? Today is that day.
Summer is coming. It doesn’t quite have the ring to it as Winter is Coming, but it’s true. And with the winding down of the school year comes all the end of year pageantry that schools can muster. End of year concerts, field days, field trips, awards ceremonies and more.
And somewhere in your community is a child who doesn’t have a special adult that can come and support them. Their single mom or dad can’t get off work to go watch them receive that math student of the year certificate. They have no grandparent to take in for Grandparents Day. There is no aunt or uncle or older sibling. They will walk across that stage to receive an award and there will be no one there to take a picture, clap, and beam with pride. On this day, this child or teen will be reminded of how alone they are in the universe.
Recently someone tweeted about how no matter what, your family will always have your back. But this is patently untrue for millions of kids all over this world. Some families are toxic, abusive. Some are broken. Some are isolated. Some are alienated. Some are just barely surviving. Some are struggling with sickness or grief. There are tons of reasons, but the the results are the same – many kids don’t have a village. Some kids don’t even have a person.
In 2011 my family moved from the state of Ohio to Texas in order to have a job so we could afford to feed our kids. Food and shelter is important, but our kids continue to struggle with the lack of emotional bonds that many families take for granted. As I write this I am praying every day that my husband will be able to find a job in one of two other states where we do have family so that my kids can finally learn what it’s like to go to grandma’s house or to have that aunt who will take them to a movie on a Saturday night. My family is beautiful and blessed, but we are also isolated and alone. And my phone is not the exception, I see it all around us.
The truth is, it doesn’t have to be a blood relative. Any adult who can honestly love and mentor a kid will do.
Our kids are desperate for it. And when I say our kids, I don’t mean mine, I mean our nations. Because as a parent I finally understand what it means when we say it takes a village, though I fear that we are losing our villages. Everybody works too much to barely survive, social media has taken out of our in real life communities and we bond with strangers who can’t help us out in a pinch with childcare, and our kids don’t have anyone to sit on an uncomfortable school bleacher while they win an award or blow a whistle on a hot, dusty field day.
But we, the adults of this world, can change that. We can make the conscious decision to be mentors. To be “aunts” and “uncles” or “grandmas” and “grandpas” to kids that we are in no way related by blood. But make no mistake, it has to be a long term commitment. Changing your mind somewhere along the lines can often be more damaging than having never said yes. Abandonment, betrayal, and just plain being let down can have far more lasting impacts than feeling alone.
The village is dying. Each person is looking out for themselves. We’re debating whether or not sick children deserve health insurance (they do), whether poor children deserve free lunches (again, they do), or whether we want to pay to support education (we should), in part because we are losing ability to care for someone other than ourselves and those we relate to by birth. We are for me and mine, but the neighbor across the street has to fend for themselves. We are moving away from being communities and the impact is devastating.
There are communal benefits to raising our neighbors out of poverty and supporting education, to name just a few of the issues on the table. Strong, healthy communities are supportive, nurturing, and work together to meet common goals. There is safety, advancement, and an overall wellness in healthy communities. Poverty and disenfranchisement can be linked to decreased health (which increases health care costs for all), increased crime, and things like decreased property values.
But it’s more than that, children who grow up with a lot of stress, poverty and trauma – their brains are literally remapped. There are long term consequences for the individual and society when our communities fall apart. Lonely, unhappy, unsupported, and hungry children aren’t just inhumane, they are bad for society.
I work in public libraries with teenagers and I have the distinct honor of being a mentor to many teens. But I also have made the conscious effort to try and be a part of and build community outside of my job. And I would like to ask you to do the same. “Adopt” a kid in your church or neighborhood. Choose to be that adult mentor that a kid or teen can ask to come and blow that whistle on field day or clap as they walk across the stage to win an award. Sometimes it’s because their parents literally can’t as they work to try and put food on the table, other times it’s because, in all honesty, kids need more than one or two adults in their lives who value them. We don’t all have networks of healthy, connected extended families that meet together on Sunday nights for family dinner to help nurture a child’s soul. Geography, toxicity, death – these are just a few of the reasons. But the reason doesn’t really matter, what matters is the love. People need love and nurture and support. They need a village. Choose to be a village.
Filed under: Sunday Reflections
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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