It Takes a Village

And Other Lessons Children Teach Us

by Hillary Rodham Clinton

Hardcover, 331 pages, Simon & Schuster, List Price: $25 | purchase

Purchase Featured Book

Title
It Takes a Village
Subtitle
And Other Lessons Children Teach Us
Author
Hillary Rodham Clinton

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?

Book Summary

The former First Lady-turned-U.S. senator shares her observations on the needs of children and families in the modern, fragmented, fast-paced world and explores diverse ways in which we can improve family and community life, in a special anniversary edition of the best-selling study. 250,000 first printing.

Read an excerpt of this book

Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: It Takes A Village

Introduction

When I wrote It Takes a Village ten years ago, I was living in the White House, three years into Bill's first term, doing my best to navigate the role of First Lady while continuing my lifelong advocacy for women and children. Bill was preparing to run for a second term as president, and our daughter Chelsea, a lively teenager, was engaged with school, church, ballet, and friends. Now Chelsea is a woman with a career and a life of her own, and Bill is a private citizen who, through his foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative, is tackling some of the world's most urgent challenges. And I am a senator from New York, still working to improve the lives and opportunities of children, including efforts to strengthen national security and ensure economic growth, also crucial to raising a new generation.

Even though our lives have changed, we still rely on each other as a family. I once thought we couldn't possibly be any more time-challenged than when we lived in the White House — but I was wrong. Luckily, Chelsea lives and works in New York, so we all get to see each other frequently. My eighty-seven-year-old mother is still going strong and living with us. Bill and I make time on weekends and holidays to see as many movies as possible, to take long walks, and continue the conversation we started thirty-five years ago. We all love eating together as much as ever, even if our kitchen table is often a booth at one of our favorite restaurants.

Now that Chelsea is grown up, I look back and see more clearly than ever how much we benefited from the village every step of the way — and how much better off she is for having not just two parents, but other caring adults in her corner. And I have yet to meet a parent who didn't feel the same way.

The African proverb "It takes a village to raise a child" summed up for me the commonsense conclusion that, like it or not, we are living in an interdependent world where what our children hear, see, feel, and learn will affect how they grow up and who they turn out to be. The five years since 9/11 have reinforced one of my main points: How children are raised anywhere can impact our lives and our children's futures.

At the core of this book is my own experience as a mother and my conviction that parents are the most important influences on the lives of their children. But decades of work on behalf of children have taught me that no family exists in a vacuum, many parents need support to become the best parents they can be, and sadly, not every child has a parent as a champion.

In this book and my autobiography, Living History, I wrote about my own mother's difficult childhood. Abandoned by her teenage parents, mistreated by her grandparents, she was forced to go to work as a mother's helper when she was thirteen years old. Caring for another family's younger children while attending high school may sound harsh, but the experience of living in a strong, loving family gave my mother the tools she would need later when caring for her own home and children.

Learning about my mother's childhood sparked my strong conviction that every child deserves a chance to live up to her God-given potential and that we should never quit on any child.

We all depend on other adults whom we know — from teachers to doctors to neighbors to pastors — and on those whom we may not — from police to firefighters to employers to media producers to political leaders — to help us inform, support, or protect our children. In the last ten years, science has proven how resilient children can be despite great obstacles. And that's where other adults may step in, to help nurture children and to provide positive role models.

This small book with the bright, whimsical jacket provided endless opportunities for headline writers, who have come up with such variations as "It Takes a Village to Have a Parade!," "It Takes a Village to Build a Zero Waste Community," and, my all-time favorite, "It Takes a Village to Raise a Pig." More significantly, the book helped initiate conversations about how parents and the greater community — the village — all shape the lives of children. People took its message to heart. During my travels as First Lady, several people told me that their PTA had adopted "It takes a village" as a slogan to encourage more community involvement. At a children's hospital, I saw staff wearing buttons that said: "This is the village that takes care of children." I got off a plane in Asmara, Eritrea, on an official trip to Africa and was greeted by a large group of women with a colorful painted sign: YES, IT REALLY DOES TAKE A VILLAGE.

Today's electronic village has certainly complicated the always difficult challenge of parenting and raising the next generation. When It Takes a Village was published, the Internet was largely the province of scientists; no one owned an iPod or a PSP; and cell phones weighed as much as bricks. Innovations are now coming at an exponentially faster pace, and media saturates our kids' lives as never before. Many of these changes are for the good: when I was in college, a phone call home was rare and a flight home, a once-a-year luxury. Now I know traveling parents who see and speak to their kids every day by computer and video hookups, and I think how much Bill would have loved that while he was campaigning, or how much joy that kind of contact would have given my parents, who didn't live nearby when Chelsea was born. But knowing that one-third of kids under six have televisions in their rooms, that the fashion industry is marketing its latest styles to preteen girls, and that predators stalk our children through the World Wide Web makes me thankful to have raised Chelsea in a less media-saturated time.

Young children as well as teenagers have phones, computers, and televisions in their rooms, and cell phones and iPods in their backpacks. These new technologies make it more difficult for parents to monitor what their children are watching or hearing, unless they're prepared to supervise every minute of computer time or listen to every song in the iPod. A decade of new research confirms that heavy exposure to violent and sexually explicit media triggers unhealthy responses from boys and girls alike, but we don't yet know the full effects of all this technology on our kids. CAMRA, the Children and Media Research Advancement Act, which I introduced in the Senate, would coordinate and fund new research into the effects of viewing and using electronic media, including television, computers, video games, and the Internet on children's cognitive, social, physical, and psychological development.

In the last decade, we've also learned much more about our children's earliest development. Scientists now say that the foundation for intelligence — and emotional development — comes very early on and above all from the steady, dependable love and attention of one or two key people. They confirm that at least some of the capacity to learn grows out of the capacity for emotional attachment. Our genes interact with the environment to make us who we are; nature and nurture work hand in hand in children's development.

We know that, across the board, parents want to spend more time with their kids: mothers are spending less time on themselves so they can be with their children more, and an increasing number of fathers say their families come first. Men under forty are more likely to say they would give up pay to spend time with their families. What's more, according to new research, the time married fathers spend caring for their children has doubled since 1965. This is a great change for the better.

Yet economic and time pressures throw up new obstacles to putting our families first. As family incomes stagnate, parents work longer hours to pay for the material things their kids need and to keep up with the rising cost of health care, education, housing, and other basic services. It is harder and harder for one parent to stay home during the early years — even for those who desperately want to. And as we learn more about the kind of intensive child care that gives our kids the best start, parents worry that their kids' care doesn't measure up. Our tax policies do not reflect the costs of raising children, which is why we should expand the child tax credit for the first year of a child's life to help parents stay home and give lower-income parents who receive government support for child care the option to use the subsidies to cover the costs of staying home and caring for their own children. And I want to see the Family and Medical Leave Act expanded so that all families who need it can use it without fear of losing their jobs. It is past time for our national politics to do more than just talk about family values. We need to value families by helping them raise resilient, productive children. Not just for their own sakes, but for all of us.

Two stark threats intrude on our children's daily lives much more than they did ten years ago. Even very young children today live with the fear of terrorism and the knowledge of war. I met with many of the families who were victims of 9/11, and their lives and the lives of millions were changed by the events of that day and what has followed. My generation — which grew up with the Cold War and Viet Nam — had hoped we would never face those fears again. When we think about what kind of world we're leaving our children, we need to consider actions that stop the spread of terror not only by strengthening our military and safeguarding our homeland, but also by leading with our values and developing our alliances with other countries and cultures.

Even more than adults, children are aware of the threats posed by global climate change, catastrophic environmental events, and the spread of deadly diseases that know no national boundaries. We can sustain our kids' future by investing in alternative energy: reducing the pollution that causes climate change, cleaning up the environment, creating new American jobs. But our ability to address these and other challenges is imperiled by a federal debt that has grown by $3 trillion in the last five years, placing a birth tax of $28,000 on the tiny shoulders of each child born today.

"It takes a village" has never had more meaning as a concept than it does today. Beyond assembling the local support team it takes to raise a child well, we need to come together globally to create conditions that provide all children everywhere hope and opportunity.

We have a lot on our plate. I'm asked all the time whether I get discouraged by what's been done to reverse much of the progress our country enjoyed at home and abroad during my husband's administrations. I say, sure, but not defeated. What is remarkable about kids — their resilience — is also remarkable about our country. I believe we can come back and provide the next generation with a future that is brighter and better still.

I have been in the Senate for nearly six years now, and I have learned a lot on the job, sometimes the hard way. I've come to understand that one of the most useful questions I can ask when I consider a Senate vote is this: Is it good for our children? We lawmakers can sometimes disagree about what is good for our children, but the question is still the best bipartisan litmus test there is. My alliances in the Senate on issues relating to children are some of my strongest and most surprising. But I also believe that if lawmakers and citizens asked that question more frequently when they voted, our children's futures would be safer and brighter.

When I need inspiration, I still look to young people like Ruben Rafaelov from Queens, who, in the space of just a few months, raised more than a thousand dollars for tsunami relief and collected four hundred student signatures on a petition requesting more U.S. support for the fight against HIV/AIDS. Jelani Freeman, a former intern in my Senate office, lived in six different foster homes between the ages of eight and eighteen, but went on to get a master's degree and now works to bring opportunity to another generation of kids at risk. And there's Nicole Apollo, a model of tenacity and spirit in a very tough situation. Nicole's parents asked my Senate office to help them fight their insurance company to get Nicole the bone marrow transplant that might save her life. It was a successful battle, and when Nicole was in remission, her mother wrote to me: "It takes a village to cure a child of cancer."

One of my favorite chapters of It Takes a Village is the one titled "The Best Tool You Can Give a Child Is a Shovel." It is about giving our children the skills they need to overcome adversity and to "shovel their way out from under whatever life piles on." It's my father's metaphor. Whenever I got stuck, he would say, "Hillary, how are you going to dig yourself out of this one?" In the past five years, life has piled some serious challenges on this country, and we've also dug ourselves into some very big holes. Every citizen, regardless of political party, must become part of a renewed commitment to our children and to a brighter future for them. I believe Americans across the political spectrum want to do better, and I believe the idea of the village and its shared responsibility for our children is even more essential today than it was in 1996. There's no question in my mind that we can respond to these challenges and raise a generation that is strong, smart, and secure — in our own communities and internationally. In many ways, our kids already are leading us beyond our national borders into a more interconnected world, with their online access to everything and everybody, their rising interest in studying abroad and learning languages, and their natural curiosity.

For this anniversary edition of It Takes a Village, I have added a section of Notes (see p. 299) to update some studies and observations in the original text and have started a Web site to continue the conversation (www.ittakesavillagebook.com). New research in childhood development establishes that a child's environment affects everything from IQ to future behavior patterns. These studies confirm the importance of breast-feeding infants, of setting aside time for family meals, and of empowering parents to shield their children from predatory marketing and the violent and sexually explicit media that contribute to aggressive behavior, early sexual experimentation, obesity, and depression. The case for quality early childhood education and programs like Head Start is stronger than ever, and we should be expanding them. According to a study conducted by Federal Reserve economist Rob Grunewald and Nobel laureate economist James Heckman, high-quality preschool programs are among the most cost-effective public investments we make, lowering dependency and raising lifetime earnings.

The simple message of It Takes a Village is as relevant as ever: We are all in this together. As long as we face our challenges and never give up on our children, we can rebuild a world where justice and hope and peace can overcome the forces of terror and fear. We can restore our children's stake in the American Dream, and the promise that if you work hard and play by the rules, you can succeed in this country. But there is much work to do, and it will take every member of the village to get it done.