Being a Villager

Now maybe somebody has a better term for this, but here goes: I am inventing a new meaning for the term “Villager,” which comes from the proverbial “It takes a village to raise a child.” I define it as “One who, rather than having his or her own child, satisfies his or her nurturing impulse through assisting, to whatever degree, in the raising of other people’s children.” I think that the future that I want for myself may lay in being a villager.

I’m already doing a little bit of “villaging,” for lack of a better term, dedicating about four hours a week to tutoring my first cousin once removed Kamyia in mathematics and generally attempting to help her enjoy learning and challenging herself. It’s never easy to know how much help one has been to a child, but for my part I’ve enjoyed working with and supporting Kamyia. This is a powerful argument in favor of being a villager.

Another argument comes from the ethical perspective. Having a child in a world short on resources and full of unwanted children is an inherently selfish act. I’ve heard the argument that overpopulation is more of an issue in developing countries than in first-world countries like ours, but taken to its logical conclusion this is more of an argument for adopting a child from a developing country than for having a child of one’s own.

An argument against villaging is that one loses out on some mind-altering experience of parenthood. I can believe the case that the experience of having and raising one’s own child is incomparable to any amount of working with the children of others. However, I could argue that life is full of experiences that one can’t possibly understand until one has had them, and to attempt to have all such experiences is a fruitless endeavor. Therefore, we must prioritize our lives, and decide what experiences we are willing to work for and what experiences we can bring ourselves to miss out on. Parenting is a massive opportunity cost, and there is some disagreement to the common assumption that the joy it provides is enough to make up for the loss of freedom.

My goal is to experience the most rewarding parts of having a child while minimizing the least rewarding parts. I consider rewards of parenthood to be watching and helping a child grow emotionally as well as physically as well as the relationship that also grows and matures with the child, possibly well into adulthood. Besides the incredible financial and opportunity cost, the least rewarding parts include lots of gross cleaning activities the experience of which I do not mind missing out on at all.

In other words, I want something of the “Grandpa” experience (showing up every once in a while to spoil your grandkids rotten), which generally it seems like people assume must be earned by going through the father experience, but I don’t think that’s the case. Why shouldn’t I go for just the best parts of raising a child, especially since, by being a “villager” who aims to teach and help the children grow rather than just spoiling them it can hardly be argued that I’m doing anything but good?


3 thoughts on “Being a Villager”

  1. I like your term “villager.” I think you could also use the term “mentor” which can be applied to helping both adults and children. Mentors (as The Writer’s Journey will tell you) are very important, both in narratives and life itself. I think it’s good work you’re doing. I am not going to touch the selfishness issue. Your argument holds water, but I have heard other people say that the choice NOT to have children is selfish. I think this is one of those ‘darned if you do, darned if you don’t’ type choices. None of us would be able to debate it without parents, but there are also so many orphaned children who need homes.

  2. Perhaps I should be upset because you stealing my chance at the cushy job called “grandparent,” but I heartily endorse your choice, Sam. It strikes me as very well thought-out and principled. I like “villager,” because it actually can encompass “mentor,” “foster-parent,” “favorite uncle,” and “adoptive parent.”


  3. I love this blog entry. All weekend I have been looking at children and trying to figure out which ones I can “village.” I miss having children directly in my life but there surely are plenty of children around.

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