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It Takes a Church to Raise a Child

It Takes a Church to Raise a Child


Mar 15 2013
How my community taught me the true cost of parenthood.

To any young professionals who have wondered if one day they'd have to choose between having a career or having kids: I've been there. When my husband and I considered what it would take for me to get a Ph.D., I agonized about whether I could be a good mom and a successful scholar at the same time. My husband, always the practical one, told me to take a cue from our church family.

At our Spanish-speaking immigrant church, people don't have the luxury to think too hard about what it costs to raise their kids. Most have children (it probably never occurred to them not to) and keep busy making ends meet. The kids in my church don't have Baby Mozart albums, parents who attend every school function, or a neighborhood in a top school district. Yet, they seem to be doing just as well as kids who have it all.

Why? Because their moms and dads love them exorbitantly, and everyone in the church parents them as well. My church, though not perfect, does better job than most of living up to the proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child." An older empty-nest couple, for example, used to take care of a younger couple's two daughters. The pastor's wife goes out of her way to pick up children for Sunday school when their parents can't come. We treat each other like family, and we treat all the children in the church as our own.

When I look at my church, I realize that my husband and I aren't the only ones who will take care of our kids. Our church will, our extended family will, and our community will too. Our children will probably be better off for these other examples in their lives. This takes the pressure off of me and my husband to be their sole caretakers and frees us to pursue vocations outside the home without feeling guilty for not "always being there."

Besides modeling a more communal way of parenting, the families in my church (like many immigrant families) challenge me to think twice about what it means to give our kids "the very best." Our desire to keep up with the Joneses (whether that's Earth Mother Jones or Tiger Mom Jones) too often skews our perception of what kids actually "need," leading us to lose sight of what really makes a difference to a child's long-term well-being.

Does giving our kids the best mean the best clothes and toys, the best neighborhood, or even the best educational opportunities? Is it necessary, or even helpful, for parents to try to make their children's paths as smooth as possible? A recent study out of Johns Hopkins University shows clearly that the answer is no. First-generation immigrant children do better than their native-born counterparts in academic achievement and school engagement, even with obstacles such as attending an underperforming school.

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