Spring Reflections Part II: Seeking Caring Villages in Urban Settings

Written by: Yusur Al-Salman, Redefining Traditional Project Lead

Image of a person

The proverbial phrase “it takes a village to raise a child” has been resonating with me recently whenever I encounter the challenging experiences of parents in higher education. The proverb’s origins trace back to Africa, but the message it conveys has travelled across the globe which attests how relevant it is for children and parents who rely on extensive networks for support to meet the care needs of their families. For those of us who seek the warmth of a village while raising a child in the city, where can we find it a busy life and competing demands?  

Memories of a Caring Village 

3 Hands touching a heart

The importance of a caring village was evident in one of the first memories I had in my early years in this world was, when I was three years old. On a chilly morning in either spring or fall, I remember dashing through the long cement driveway in a failed attempt to catch up with my mother, who was being picked up by a friend to go to work. I remember the anxiety of separating from my mother was only soothed by my grandmother’s arms holding me while I cried as my mother got into the car. Looking back, I realize now those were the first days of her employment after a hiatus she has taken since she had me and my brother. 

The caregiving extended by other family members is an unacknowledged but crucial part of my mother’s career success story. Starting her now 28-year-career in the nonprofit sector would have been impossible without the support of the village of family friends, uncles, aunts, and grandparents that I had access to while she laid roots in her work. Her successful career was the reason why I had the quality education and living standards that I had while I was growing up. Not only did the family and friends’ presence help her alleviate the guilt from not being present in every moment, but it helped me forge important memories with my loved ones and allowed my mother and I the luxury of focusing on quality time whenever we could without a cost to our finances or socioemotional needs.  

3 icons of a person surrounded by a heart

Expanding the Meaning of a Village 

Nonetheless, what I had growing up was a luxury I cannot rely on when I have my own children. I’m a first-generation immigrant who was always on the move in pursuit of higher education and better employment, and these transnational relocations have moved away from existing support systems and into unfamiliar places that I don’t feel I belong to yet. This story is not unique to me, as even relocating within home countries requires parents to seek creative and flexible childcare solutions. My mother’s reliance on friends and family meant that she did not have financial costs to bear in mind, and it also meant that she could rely on these networks of support to be flexible and accommodating of her work or health emergencies.  

The village that supports raising children is, after all, a metaphor, that suggests that raising children is not an individual but a societal responsibility. Having a supportive village means knowing where to go when you need help, and that you have a system you can count on. Without an established network of support in Canada, I will rely on different systems of caregiving as I plan my parenting future ahead.  

Social Supports in the modern-day village 

The reality of urban living means that any concept of a caring village must include support beyond family. It includes creating social support through seeking and investing in friendships, and growing relations with neighbors. It is not always possible for parents to investment in social relations when competing responsibilities already take up their day-to-day activities, but it is an important node in the process especially when thinking of flexible and accommodating care arrangements that cannot be anticipated. 

In March, we highlighted the importance of friendship-making for parents which is one-way parents can create networks of support around them. Their modern-day village can start in social media platforms, in parks, in workplaces or in child-friendly spaces where they can feel a sense belonging and relatedness. It is a costly investment for busy parents to take time to establish friendships and create a community around them, but the social and emotional rewards reaped will be priceless. 

Institutional support in the modern-day village 

The concept of a caring village in urban settings must include institutional support, such as community centers and childcare centers. Negotiating parenting and work responsibilities is an already guilt-filled process for parents and especially mothers, which can be further complicated with the absence of free or affordable resources like daycare centers.  

The rising costs of childcare can not only add to the detriment of the family’s financial well-being, but also their social and emotional well-being. This individualization of the care responsibilities, work responsibilities and emotional stressors on parents has profound consequences on their success in their career, their ability to forge bonds and spend quality time with their children, as well as children’s future trajectories. Accessible and affordable daycare in urban settings continues to be a major challenge for parents, especially with rising costs of living and precarious employment.  

Light at the end of the tunnel 

Blue Heart

Regardless of the caregiving arrangements parents have, governmental support is paramount. With regards to that, I want to acknowledge the burst of light that appeared at the end of the tunnel recently in Canada. Recently, the Ontario provincial government finally reached a deal with the Canadian federal government to reduce daycare costs by investing $10.2 billion to Ontario over a five-year period. The final aim is reducing the cost of a single child-care spot down to $10 per day in 2025. The consequences of his policy are immense. A study by the Centre for Future Work found that universal childcare is expected to contribute to job creation and increase women’s labour participation leading to a revenue of $29 billion a year in tax revenues and can lead to an $100 billion dollar increase in Canada’s GDP.  

In terms of immediate social benefits, this policy means a lot for both soon-to-be and current parents who are concerned with meeting the economic needs of their families as well as their emotional well-being. It means existing funds that normally go to childcare can be saved for children’s future education, or spent on family trips, additional daycare for date-nights or meeting with friends, as well as for parents to spend caring for their own needs and selves. The warmth of a supportive caregiving environment, symbolized by a village, can be attained even amid the city, and accessing affordable childcare is one key solution. 

I realize that this development in childcare policy is still far from attainable in other places in the world. Many other governments still fall short of providing adequate support for parents and parents-to-be, but the initiative of the Canadian government can encourage others to acknowledge the continuous evidence attests to the positive impact of childcare centers on the short-term and long-term economic and social well-being 

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