Celebrating our tribal mothers

Written by Leanne Esposito

The famous African proverb, it takes a village to raise a child, still rings as true to this day.

Modern western societies where individuality is revered are not theoretically considered as collective as their eastern counterparts. The view is that the western mother gets on with raising her baby inside a small family unit with or without the assistance a partner. Whereas the more tribal cultures have a leaning towards shared mothering of children where the baby is passed around from bosom to hand.

It’s an idea or myth worthy of debunking, considering, in my own personal experience, the many wonderful women who’ve been there to either raise me or help me raise my own children. It’s a reminder to mothers that we are never alone. Help is only a message, telephone call, or that brief smile away. It’s in that stranger who reaches out to say hello in the shopping centre to ask how old is your baby. They are saying they care. You’re doing a great job. Or perhaps it’s the strange Scottish man who crossed my son’s palm, all those years ago, with silver (albeit a twenty cent piece) saying that the frugality of a Scotsman is notorious, so having done this deed, my son would never be poor.

Babies bring out the best in us all.

In celebrating my own tribe I’d like to pay tribute to the many wonderful women and men who helped me to cultivate and raise my own healthy children. All the midwives and maternal health care nurses, doctors, paediatricians and ancillary staff were vital. As an only daughter with no sisters on which to rely it was important for me to have the support of some beautiful women like my maternal grandmother, my mother, ex mother-in-law, sisters in law, and girlfriends, all with whom I spent endless hours sharing knowledge and anecdotes in domestic situations surrounded by babies, toddlers and infant paraphernalia. Living, learning and laughing alongside these women are still my fondest memories. I couldn’t have survived and neither could my children without their loving wisdom and support. These days I am overjoyed to be sharing that knowledge with my daughter and daughter in law who are now mothers.

One of the most pivotal women in my life, is someone completely unlikely. I call her my other mother, who was as close to me as my own mother. Yes, two mothers raised me. In fact, this woman was so pivotal in my life that she is the protagonist of a story for which I have devoted an entire manuscript.

You see back in the sixties, when women were to stay at home and bake cakes, my own mother, Dawn Mckean, had a career. I am eternally proud of her efforts. She had a profession to which she was devoted. So I was fortunate that my care was handed over to a most beautiful motherly soul. A woman who had grown up in an eastern European culture. A woman who had survived the horrors of a war in her own country and was grateful to resettle in a new country, but who forever missed the black baltic soil of her own beloved Ukraine.

Sixty years later I devote this question to her. What if women ruled the world – would there be wars?
I’m not sure I’m qualified to judge. I’m no philosopher, social commentator, anthropological academic or forensic psychologist. I am fairly certain, that this is as divisive question as you can get.

However, there is one thing I know as a mother, and that is – I wouldn’t want my or anyone else’s child to risk their lives to fight in a war, any war, and especially one which was politically motivated.

I say, let the politicians fight their own battles. If they have a beef with a neighbouring country the leader should lead and go into battle first. Then their families should stand right beside them. This approach may well change their ideas of war.

Mary Elizabeth Lease, an American suffragette is but one orator who was quite pointed on men who shed blood by putting the knife to the throat of a brother. She wanted them all demoted as rulers for their self-evident insufficiency.

What she wanted was to turn the management of affairs over to the mothers who would temper their justice with love.

The current war in Ukraine has highlighted the horror of war and caused me to reflect on the manuscript which is devoted to my other mother.

Her name is Paula OIexienko. She died on the 14th of April 2017. She was 91. We were neighbours for 12 years. I met her when I was a baby and we had a lifelong connection. She came to Australia, with her husband and three young children, as a displaced person under the World War II Global Mass Resettlement Scheme in which Australia participated. Paula went on give birth to another four children and care for so many more. She worked tirelessly in and out of the home to make ends meet. Her family was her life and sadly she only went home once to see the family she left behind in Ukraine.

That she is not alive to see what is now happening in her beloved country today is a blessing.

A fictional account of her retelling a story of enduring bombing raids in Germany during World War 2 can be read on this link following this article.