With their bare feet on the earthy ground, they chatted and laughed as they were swinging their toddler back and forth between them.
The swing was made from rope and some branches of wood, hanging down from a natural, simple roof, covering the small hut in the rainforest . The toddler giggled and held his tiny hands tight to the two ropes that the swing was hung up on. The young indigenous couple from a tribe in Sumatra, Indonesia was joyfully engaging with their offspring. There was no hype or over excitement. It was a happy and grounded situation and the parents seemed to enjoy it with the same timelessness which little children experience, fully present in every moment. There was a sharing of this moment with other family members, who were all engaged in chatter and laughter, while going about their daily business, an elder just sitting there and watching everyone with a sense of peace and accomplishment.
A few minutes later, the father took the child out of the swing and went on to playfully talk with him in a natural and endearing way, displaying a kind of interaction we are used to seeing from a grandmother towards her grandchild.
Mum went off to do something else and dad, whilst carrying the toddler, came to the visitors who were doing a documentary and sat first the child down and then himself, and began talking with them about how in their community, raising children was shared equally between the parents, and that the whole tribe was involved in the activities. Including looking after and modelling the ways to the children. Always.
Something didn’t let me go after having gotten a glimpse of this everyday situation with the tribe. There was something that resonated deep inside me with what I had seen, but it took me a while to understand what it was that touched me so profoundly. Suddenly, a few days later, it dawned on me. I realised that what I had witnessed was a genuine and authentic way of being around and with children. Two parents engaging in equal ways and in complete absence of tension- it touched me, because I have never seen anything like it before. Not on such a level.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There are many engaging and also loving fathers around and we see it, usually on the weekends. Also we like to see it. It is sweet to have fathers doing things with their kids. We sigh when we see a man holding his child in a supermarket, we are moved when we see fathers doing sports with their kids on the weekends and we are particularly touched when a father is nurturing in his behaviour towards a child, in short, we love to see fathers communicating in endearing ways with their children and it seems rare enough that we consider it something special. When Mothers on the other hand engage with their children, it appears normal, it is expected and doesn’t generally make anyone look up. We are used to the picture of Mothers caring for kids, dropping them off, picking them up, pushing them in a pram, carry them around. And, unless the Mother appears helpless because her child throws a tantrum in a supermarket or the kid is out of control somewhere in a public place, she won’t receive any reaction. Now the reaction she gets is likely one where people will watch and judge, either Mother or child, or both. Let her be a single mum and the story is all set- she probably can’t cope. There is pity, but no guidance or help.
So, I have a question: where are the men?
Where are the fathers when a child throws a tantrum? Where are the men in those many hundred situations in a child’s life, where stress is being handled, where boundaries need to be placed or where things are out of control? Where is that uncle to calm down the situation, the laid back grandfather, who’s presence itself has a calming effect on a child, where is the engaging friend of the family, who takes genuine interest in the upbringing of this child, even if only on the sidelines? Where are the men in all of those daily situations where women are trying to handle everything and are constantly pushing their limits, as there is never enough time, often not enough support to feel balance, as the males are working or elsewhere and the other females are running on reserve themselves.
Our society is flawed. The whole way we are set up is to put most of the child care on the back of the mothers, whilst most of the providing is put on the back of the fathers. The larger family live often far apart, many women find themselves without a network when they become mothers, and as this african saying goes: “It takes a village to raise a child.” True, but what if there is no village?
In the daily routine mothers are often alone with the kids, handling everything without the father. Of course usually also without grandfather, uncle, big brother or any other male influence which would be so beneficial in a child’s life- any child, male or female...
And this is where our crisis, our human crisis begins. We grow up without appropriate male role models and our female ones often are exhausted or burned out due to lack of male support. We are collectively so hungry for healthy masculine presence, true presence, that we act and react from places of deficiency, alongside a sense of need or even greed.
I might be completely wrong but in my eyes, this is where the destruction of the world begins. Here another significant african proverb comes in: “The child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel it’s warmth.”
And so the whole situation we face worldwide, the hatred, the ignorance, the entitlement, the exploitation of resources, women, third world countries- perhaps it all comes back to our collective wound of not knowing what it feels like to be in the presence of healthy masculinity, fiercely looking after the tribe, the home and those placed in his care with true interest, willingness and love. Are we burning down the village because deep down we cannot shake off the feeling of being lost and cold?
Stories from the edge
Uta Verena is a Mother, a Yoga,-and Healing Practitioner, She deeply cares about Earth and is passionate about the restoration of inner and outer balance.