Trusting the village.

Image“We’re driving down to Florida for Spring Break” – words that, I suspect, spark a frisson of apprehension  into the heart of many an American parent when uttered by their offspring, never mind an English parent!

Let me set this in context. My eldest son is currently studying at a university in the States, funded by his soccer (as we have learned to call football) prowess. He is in his second semester (as we have learned to call “terms”) and by all accounts is thriving. We, as a family, are proud of him, and if truth be told, a little in awe of his courage and determination.

It was during a regular Skype conversation that we heard those words, closely followed by “so can I have some of next month’s money (living allowance) early please?”

My first reaction was Whoa, back up a bit! Who is “we”? Where are you staying? How long are you going for? Whose car are you going in? Who is driving? – My only knowledge of spring break comes from coming of age films which portray wild parties and hedonistic activities. Not much different to teenage holidays to Ibiza and Majorca you might say.

In a very calm, feigned patience kind of way he answered all of my questions. It was all planned. There was very little I could say, except “be careful and make good choices!” Which were greeted, as always, with a “yes Mum!” (Again with exaggerated patience). He and I had watched Freaky Friday together when he was about eleven.  Jamie Lee Curtis’s character says “make good choices” to her offspring as she drops them at school each day. It became a standing joke that I would say it to him (in a terrible attempt at an American accent!). I said it now as an attempt to cover my apprehension while gently reminding him that I would worry – well that’s what I was aiming for.

I had to trust him, to trust that his “village” had equipped him with the skills and sense to “make good choices”. And I did, well sort of. Though that didn’t stop me wondering what he was up to on a daily basis for the ten days he was away, and yes, I’ll admit it – worry. My friends all told me he would be fine and commented on what a great experience he would be having. To keep myself sane I thought of his “village” – all of the people who have watched over him, helped to shape this confident and brave young man and given him the confidence to travel across the world to study and play football.

Ten days later I received a Facebook message. It began “hi Mumsie, sorry I didn’t send you a message for Mothers Day” and ended with “I’ll Skype tonight”. My overwhelming emotion? Relief – he was safely back on campus. Followed by a touch of self congratulation – he sent a message as soon as he got back!

He’d had a great time. And I’ve seen the photos on Facebook, and there was nothing too wild or embarrassing. Thank goodness!

The “village” done good (as my Grandpa would say!) Did I need to worry? Could I ever not worry?


It takes a whole village to raise a child – African Proverb


I went to watch my youngest play for his school football team on Friday. It was the quarter finals of the Schools National Cup so an important match! They won on penalties and are now in the semi-finals. There were a number of teachers and students supporting the lads, as well as parents. We all left feeling very proud of the boys and their achievements. It was great way to finish the week.

My son was one of the team who stepped up to take a penalty. Anyone who follows football knows that deciding a match by penalties is a difficult and stressful situation. Football is a team game. Yes individuals can shine, particularly those who score goals, but teams only win when they play well as a collective. The winning glory or losing shame reflects on them all. Taking penalties is another matter however. Each penalty taker is on their own, every eye on and around the pitch is on them. The result of their shot can be difference between winning and losing the match. When my son stepped up my heart nearly stopped and my stomach lurched. “Oh stop being over dramatic!” you might say. “It’s only a game!” and you are right, it is only a game. However, one of his team had missed his penalty. My son had been the first to go up and console him. That is typical of him, offering others his support. So when he stepped up my heart fluttered, not from fear necessarily but from pride. My son is a defender and defenders are not usually included in the team for their goal scoring abilities! I was proud that he wanted to push himself, to stand up and be counted, to lead by example.

After the match I watched as he interacted with the rest of his team and listened to how he spoke about the opposing team, commiserating with them and talking respectfully about them to his team coach. I enjoyed observing the warm relationship he has with the coach, obviously based on mutual respect.

Steve Biddulph is an Australian child development psychologist, who has written several books about bringing up children. I read his book Raising Boys about 14 years ago and found it very informative. In the book he states that “parents cannot raise teenage boys without getting the help of other adults”. So teachers, sports coaches, grandparents, uncles and aunts, friends’ parents, in fact any adults who care about them, can all be important mentors to your child. You can do the same for their children because, as Steve says, “teenagers are quite enjoyable when they are not your own!”

On Friday I had the opportunity to marvel at the self assured, brave young man that is my youngest son, to remember the timid child he was (who wouldn’t even go to a birthday party without his mother!) and to reflect on “how we got here”.

So how did we get here? Through the help and support of our “village”. My son has, through his life, been surrounded by some special people who have had a beneficial influence on him. Neighbours, teachers, friends, relations and his football coaches have all taken the time to talk to him, guide him and nurture his self belief and interests. Even transitory figures in his life, people he may have met only once have played their part, by taking an interest in him. One incident that comes to mind happened a few years ago as we were waiting for our order in a chip shop! The owner struck up a conversation and then complimented him on his patience and manners as we left.

I wonder how many of those people realise just what they have achieved. How they have helped to shape this young man into the kind, self assured person he is today. They have my heartfelt thanks.

How many of us think that our short interactions with the young people we come into contact with might make a significant difference to their lives?


Steve Biddulph (2010), Raising Boys. Harper Thorsons; ISBN-10: 0007153694, ISBN-13: 978-0007153695