It takes a village
The saying: “It takes a village to raise a child”, resonates deeply with us. No parent, no matter how attentive, capable and loving, can adequately raise a child on his or her own. Two parents can do better, but they will still fall short.
We’ve seen this in our own family. Our children need adults in their lives who can mentor and guide them, apart from we, their parents. It is especially the case in the teenage years when uncles and aunts, as well as the sport coach or youth worker, are powerful mediums through whom our children are formed.
Grandparent role models
In our children’s younger years, we found that grandparents were particularly prominent in the family ‘village’. Grandparents brought with them an abundance of attention – something we struggled to provide in a household of seven.
Each of the four grandparent figures brought different gifts to their relationship with our children, all valued and appreciated by their sleep-deprived parents. We were also deeply grateful for the practical support grandparents provided that brought relief to us personally and to our neglected marriage.
July 26 marks the feast day of Saints Joachim and Anna – the grandparents of Jesus and parents to Mary. They must have been an extraordinary couple to produce a child of such holiness.
The scriptures don’t refer to Joachim and Anna so what we know comes from the apocryphal gospel, the Protoevangelium of James. Dating from the 2nd century AD, this document claims that after years of childlessness, an angel appeared to Anna and Joachim announcing they would have a child.
Whatever the facts of their lives, we can assume that Mary was raised in a Jewish home faithful to God and to the religious traditions of her day. As such, Mary was led to respond wholeheartedly to God’s request of her: “Let it be done to me according to your will.” (Lk 1:38)
As one of the few couples canonised in the Catholic Church, Joachim and Anna have long been a model of married love. Ancient icons and art often depict them in a close embrace notable for its intimacy.
As relatively new grandparents ourselves, it has us thinking about the role we can play in the life of our children’s marriages. Without wanting to be nosey or interfering, we reckon that couples need a village just as much as children do.
Just as the village is a central part of our parenting, it is also central to the sustaining of our marriage.
We were blessed to be raised in homes where there was a deep commitment to the active nurturing of the marriage relationship. Both sets of parents were involved in marriage ministry at various stages and transmitted the value of active couple time to us.
They also backed it up with practical support, taking the children so that we could have a date–night or a weekend break together. These were precious opportunities to recharge our marital batteries and return to family responsibilities with renewed energy.
Without a doubt, our parents support for our marriage has been one of the most valuable gifts to us and to their grandchildren. We hope to do the same for the next generation.
The wider village
The village that supported our marriage wasn’t only made of parent figures. It included peers such as siblings and friends and for us, couples with whom we worked closely in ministry.
It’s the kind of village every marriage needs; a network of friends and family who call us out when we are neglecting our relationship and challenge us to strive for more when we settle.
It’s a village that recognises that a successful marriage is everyone’s business and to everyone’s benefit.
Pope Francis often talks about accompaniment, especially in the context of marital difficulties. He wants us to walk together in our difficulties, as brothers and sisters in faith, supporting each other as we share our burdens.
Too many couples are left to make their way in marriage alone. When things get tough, lacking the support and perspective of the village, they often flounder.
Being alone, they think their problems are unique, that no other couple is struggling like they are. Social media, with its bias towards the ‘highlights’ of life, reinforces this distorted perspective.
Yet, struggle and strife are common to every marriage. Honest friendships with other couples committed to living marriage authentically, is the village every one of us needs.
Let’s be the village for each other.