My husband and I have four sons. We've been lucky enough to work on schedules that allow us to have at least one parent home most of the time, and my mother-in-law generously fills in when we can't, to be helpful but also just because she likes the kids. This means our boys spend almost all of their non-school time with their mom, dad or grandma. We feel pretty self-sufficient.
Given all that time together, I like to think I know my kids fairly well. I'm pretty sure I could tell you each of their best subjects in school (gym, gym, gym and "everything"), their favorite foods (sushi, steak, mac 'n' cheese and apples) and their true gifts. We ask questions at dinner, and we listen to the answers; we talk a LOT in our family.
Still, why do I seem to learn more from others about my children than I can ever find out just by living with them? Here are 12 reasons I really do need a village to raise my kids:
1. Teachers ask them questions about me. These are often answered in ways that are instructive, even if they are not flattering!
2. Friends get information I didn't know I needed. My 4-year-old stopped racing cars with the playdate friend who was over. "Where you goin'?" his friend asked. "I have to run the dishwasher," my son replied. "Why?" asked the dumbfounded preschooler. "Oh! I think my Mom doesn't know how. She always asks me to do it."
3. Religious leaders think to question when I usually just make assumptions. We recently met with a possible bar mitzvah tutor for our eldest. This man turned to our son and asked, "So, do you believe in God?" My son looked at us, and then back at the instructor. "No," he answered. "I think there probably used to be God, but the bad things that happen to kids around the world make it pretty clear there isn't anymore."
4. Coaches are willing to say things others often won't. "He's not really so great at this sport. But he could be, if he was willing to work harder."
5. Strangers give my sons chances to make a good first impression.
6. Their classmates know things. There are a lot of kids at school who get to know our children pretty well. Driving carpool or hanging out at school pickup is a chance to learn a lot about how our kids are doing.
7. They are making a name for themselves online as well. With careful supervision, we are letting our kids venture into the world of online gaming. The feedback they get there has a lot to say about their skills, but something to say about their character, too.
8. Our librarian has taught me that books can help me reach my kids' depths. From the Berenstain Bears to The Hunger Games, asking one of my kids about a book he's read often teaches me something I didn't know about the way his brain works.
9. School staff may not be formal teachers, but they work with kids for a reason. I'll be forever grateful to the cafeteria staff member who took the time to tell us that our boys always stop and thank her for lunch.
10. Firefighters and paramedics have helped us keep our children safe. We haven't needed the police yet, but we're baking them cookies, too, because with this many kids, it might only be a matter of time...
11. Our own friends want to help, when we let them. A car accident a ways from our school at pickup time involved someone who was supposed to pick up our kids. Before I even had time to think of a plan, I'd received four texts and two calls from folks who saw or heard about it, and my boys were safely delivered home.
12. Neighbors help us teach our kids the traits we need them to develop. Shoveling a driveway, taking in someone's mail, making a meal for a family down the street. Without the opportunity to reach out to others who could use a hand, we could not involve our children in making the world a better place right in our own community.
It takes this whole group of people to raise our boys. We're not really self-sufficient at all. We may be able to get our kids fed and dressed on our own, but to raise the kind of people we want to raise? We need a lot of help.