Does it Take a Village? Thoughts on Community Parenting

by Tanya Cromartie-Twaddle

Some of us are ‘hood’ mommas and papas. You know, we’re positively nosey…constantly in other families’ business. It’s natural for us. I look out for and after my neighbors’ children and expect them to do the same for mine. I’m quick to inquire and to reprimand. And yeah, if I see it, I’m going to tell it! My teenage neighbors know this all too well. I’m sure I inherited this guardian attitude from my ancestors. I grew up in a small town full of nosey neighbors. You’ve heard the saying… “dippin’ and dappin’ and don’t know what’s happening.” Actually, they did know what was happening. My momma knew the dirt we did on the way home from school before we hit the doorstep. There were hood parents everywhere, just waiting for one of us to do something wrong. We knew we were being “watched” and understood that we had better respect and mind any adult telling us right from wrong. We had to answer to them, also. There was no such thing as “you ain’t my momma, you can’t tell me what to do!” We didn’t realize it at the time, but this system helped us feel safe and connected. We were cared for. Sure, we got sick of being told what to do and what not to do, but we knew who we could turn to in a time of need. Hungry? Locked out of the house? Miss Doretha would give you a pb&j sandwich and let you wait on her porch until someone came home to let you in. My momma managed to keep the six of us out of jail, off the streets, and in school despite our poor socio-economic condition. She didn’t do it by herself. She did it with the helping hands, eyes, and ears of this natural block watch. Being a hood parent does come with problems. One boy threw rocks at my window after my husband and I asked him and his friends to stop cursing in front of our children. My husband’s truck was vandalized after he told a group of teenage boys to stop getting high behind our garage. I have to deal with being known as a helping hand (bus fare, sugar, ride to grocery store) and a tattle tale that doesn’t hesitate to call the police. While I can appreciate the adult who feels out of line reprimanding someone else’s child, I hope the same adult would at least inform the parents of harmful behavior. Of course, one must feel safe enough to approach the parents in the first place. I have found that it is easier to approach someone if I have occasionally greeted them and made polite, neighborly small talk all along. I try my best to meet and greet. If a situation does arise, I am not a stranger. But, I must confess, fear got the best of me two weeks ago. I was sitting outside with my friend and our children. A group of young teens were walking down the street toward us. A girl threw a glass bottle, shattering it in the alley. I looked in their direction, intent on asking her what her problem was and how she could be so inconsiderate. Heck, any other time I would have asked the perpetrator to clean it up. But I could not find my voice. Headlines of the tragic mob beating flashed before me. The news clips raced through my head and I was frozen. I looked away and let them pass. I was afraid, too afraid of making her mad. Would she sass me? Threaten me? Or just ignore me? Was it any of my business? After all, Milwaukee isn’t that small town I was raised in. There isn’t this culture of what I call “hood parenting” here. There are only a few of us. I think the majority of families cope by keeping to themselves, especially those living next door to known drug houses or intimidating “thugs.” I can understand and respect that. It isn’t always possible to get to know someone else’s child and have them listen to redirection. Many of the parents don’t want the next door neighbor knocking at their door to complain about their child in the first place. We do have to be cautious. But we must stay involved and aware. Each member of our community affects our quality of life. That child across the street might be the nursing assistant that has to look after me or you in sixty years. Know what I mean? Caring is the smartest investment. There are no simple answers to the problems of our youth. I am not naive enough to think that every child is going to listen to and respect me…or be “saved from the streets” because I’m all up in their business. I do believe that it does take a village to raise a child. I’ve seen community parenting work in real life. There’s a little bit of it going on right here on my block. To all the neighborhood mommas and papas…don’t stop. Stay safe. Riverwest Currents – Volume 1 – Issue 10 – November 2002