Years ago, I heard of a high school principal who shared with a room of educators an experience from her personal life.
While speaking with her neighbor one day, she mentioned how her daughter was interested in art. The next day, her neighbor appeared on her doorstep with an unexpected gift: paint, paint brushes, and art supplies so her daughter could get started.
Obviously, this principal was moved. She couldn’t believe what her neighbor had done for her daughter. Her message to the room of educators was this: That is what it means to be an educator – to make a personal investment in someone else’s child.”
I love this story because it applies to parenting, too. It’s what “the village” is all about. After parenting for 14 years, I’ve learned how the best gift you can give any parent is to genuinely love their child. This means caring about their well-being, recognizing what makes them special, and sharing your time, talent, or treasure.
While speaking to young moms at my church recently, I sensed a village camaraderie. I could tell it was in force as they laughed and bounced babies on their laps. I encouraged them to keep it up, because as kids grow older, the village tends to shift. The “we’re in this together” mentality that helps moms survive the toddler years can unexpectedly weaken as parents get competitive and start seeing other people’s kids as threats or competition.
After all, loving a baby or snaggle-toothed child is easy – but loving a teenager who may be more talented, successful, or celebrated than your child isn’t always the natural response.
In regards to my village, it differs a little from child to child. While some faces are constant, like family members and close friends, each daughter also has certain adults who have a soft spot for them.
In many cases, it’s the moms of their close friends, women who know them and have a relationship with them.They know my kids’ strengths and weaknesses, yet they wouldn’t hold a weakness against them. They won’t think poorly of my child if I share a problem or struggle we’re having.
If anything, they point out the good when I complain. They say things like, “But she’s such a great kid, you know? I really love that girl.” In these moments, I’m reminded that I can trust them. I know they’re in our corner truly rooting for my children.
One thing I’ve come to accept as my girls grow older is how my husband and I can’t meet all their needs. They need additional adults in their lives who believe in them and build them up. Once kids start to realize how mom and dad have to say nice things, they long for external validation. They want someone with credibility – and impartial opinions – to notice them and see their potential.
This is where the extended village comes in. This is where teachers, coaches, mentors, youth leaders, and others can make a life-changing impact. While it’s great for me to compliment my daughter’s cheer skills, the praise from her cheer coach carries far more weight than mine. While I can certainly commend her writing, it won’t put a big smile on her face like an email from her English teacher applauding her latest essay.
The mindset behind any village can be summed up by four words from my friend Joelle. Joelle and I had a texting spree one night as my daughter with food allergies developed a few mystery hives at her house. They were minor and cleared up with Benadryl, yet Joelle was thorough and patient in helping me dig for answers.
When I thanked her for helping me (and acting as if she had all the time in the world to do so) she wrote this:
“Your treasure is my treasure.”
What a beautiful concept. What a wonderful approach in caring for someone else’s child.
Your treasure is my treasure.
Your child is precious to you, so she’s precious to me too.
I see your child’s value – and I’ll treat her accordingly.
My challenge to any parent reading this is to consider these questions: Whose child have I encouraged lately? What young life have I invested in above and beyond the norm?
It doesn’t take money or grand gestures to invest in someone’s child, because true relationships don’t need a big show. Instead, we can look for small opportunities to show the kids in our environment that we notice them and care.
We can congratulate them on their accomplishments. Show up in times of grief. Encourage them with handwritten notes. Point out their gifts and abilities. Treat them to yogurt or ice cream. Ask about their hopes and dreams. Help make their dreams come true.
We parents all have gifts to offer that other kids and families need. We all have a role to play in promoting community over competition. Although we live in an age of child-centered parenting – where an obsessive focus on our kids can blind us to the needs and desires of other kids – we can buck the trends that lead to self-absorption and teach our kids instead to think beyond themselves.
Making a difference in the life of a child is a parent’s ultimate legacy. And while investing in our own kids is a given, investing in someone else’s child is a gift – a gift that can profoundly impact the future and keep the village alive.
This post originally appeared at KariKampakis.com.