Why Can’t You Just Be a Parent?
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Why Can’t You Just Be a Parent?

Today’s parents are pioneering a generation of childhood with a village that spans an entire world.

We’ve heard these words, all of us new parents juggling armfuls of little ones, smiled at us by kindly grandmothers in grocery stores, blinking out from late-night-feeding phone screens, passed over coffee by our sisters, our fathers, our trusted friends. We’ve heard them from well meaning passers by as our four-year-old dissolves into a puddle of righteous anger on the shopping mall floor, heard them in the “Hey lady, you dropped this!” from the teenager who runs after us on the sidewalk to return a well-loved teddy bear. We’ve heard them in our every day interactions with teachers, caretakers, doctors, shop owners, neighbors, costumed characters, and Daniel Tiger. It takes a village to raise a child. It takes a village.

I think, sometimes, about the village. I think of dusty daytime village streets, the children who have known each other, and only each other, from birth, drawing in the dust with sticks, singing songs, climbing skirts or limbs or riding on backs as their parents go about the work of the day. I think about neighbors watching from kitchen windows as the neighborhood kids they know by name gather on the street for an evening game of kickball. I think of the village – a small, intimate space, a world contained, a world where my daughters’ access to information would begin and end at the edge of our block.

Sometimes I long for that village. Sometimes, I find ours a little overwhelming.

Today’s parents are pioneering a generation of childhood with a village that spans an entire world. By the time she was three, my daughter could pull the phone from my pocket and watch another three year old, on the other side of the planet, opening a toy she got for her birthday. She has understood, from her earliest understanding, that the answer to any question she can ask about life, or the universe, or love, or friendship, can be typed into a Google search bar to produce a long, satisfying list of answers. She lives in a world where she can witness an event happening literally anywhere, in real time, on a screen she can hold in her hand. Her village is boundless, and borderless, and virtually unlimited – it’s a wild, and powerful, and beautiful, and frightening thing.

Sometimes I look at this new village and long for the limits of the old one. How will it change her, this world that is revealed so quickly? How much simpler would it be to navigate our village if it were predictable, and limited, and small?

But we are pioneers guiding a new generation of childhood. I’ve seen the way those who have parented before us can scoff at change, heard the snarl in a voice that says “Why can’t you just parent your kid? Why, when I was raising my babies, I just paid more attention.” And I look down from judgmental gazes to see my daughter placing her palm on a touch screen holiday display that will make a thousand snowflakes appear at her fingertips.

The change is inevitable, and it’s all around us. We are pioneering a new village.

But you and I, we are a people of invention. We will raise our wide-eyed children in a wide open world, and we will work together to create new sidewalks, new fences, new windows and neighbors and tools for our great big global village. And it will be different. And it will be new. It will be apps that watch over those earnest questioning Google searches like our neighbors once watched over after-dinner kickball. It will be services that help us work smarter, not harder, and virtual communities that tie us to each other. It will be a network of resourceful villagers, a team of parent pioneers, and grace for each other like an umbrella over all of it.

And when they ask us why we need all the new tools and ties and networks we’ve created, we will smile wide open neighbor smiles and answer with the one thing we all know for sure:

Because it takes a village. Welcome to ours.

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