Parenting Alone in the Suburbs: I Left My Village in the Bronx
Hillary Clinton’s popular phrase “It Takes a Village to Raise a Child” became an instant reminder of the power of family and community in raising children. But to us, Latinos, that was as barely something new.
In our countries of origin, there is a strong sense of community-as-parent. The child is embraced by both the extended family and the local community. A child is as likely to be fed, scolded, or instructed by a close neighbor, as he is by his parents. The family unit does not end at home — it expands beyond and into the community. Similarly, grandparents, tias y tios, primos y primas, madrinas y padrinos, commonly have a parenting role in the lives of children.
There is a beautiful phrase used in the Dominican Republic to refer to a child that has been raised “unofficially” or without official adoption papers, by a family. These children are referred to as “hijos de crianza.” No fancy, formal term, just “hijos de crianza…” I love the fact that it emphasizes the parenting part, not the “adoption.”
My oldest daughter had the fortune of being parented and cared by my extended family. I was in graduate school when she was born. For the first three years of her life, I depended heavily on my mother, my sister and my brother for their help with childcare. It was with their help and support that I was able to complete my dissertation and the long hours of clinical training. It felt so natural to have them care for my child. They knew her well, and she was happy with them. My sister was like my daughter’s second mother, and they had a beautiful and close relationship.
Unfortunately, as I continued to move up north from the Bronx, I kept leaving my family behind — my village.
Today, I have no extended family members where I live. I don’t have a neighbor’s name to write down as an emergency contact on my children’s school contact card. It’s just us — my husband and myself. Oh, yes, and the expensive babysitters we hire to take care of our kids when we need them.
I left my village in the Bronx and, boy, do I miss it. I miss visiting my sister and having dinner all together. I miss going to the park — all 14 of us. I miss the ability to drop off the kids to run an errand, and not worry about how they’ll be cared for. I miss my mother passing on cultural values to my kids, and the invaluable gifts of growing up with a large, extended family.
These days, when I run out of milk I have no choice but to get everyone in the car and drive down to the supermarket (2 miles over). The streets are quite and lonely. No village around here. It’s 38 miles down the road…
Have you moved far from your village? Your gente?
Angelica Perez-Litwin, founder and writer of ModernFamilia, is a Certified Professional Life Coach and has a Family Life Coaching practice. She has a PhD in Clinical Psychology and over 15 years of clinical experience as a psychotherapist and counselor. Her latest project is New Latina.