I have two grown-up kids (my daughter is 21, my son is 20) of whom I’m very proud. They were born only 13 months apart, which means the first years were quite exhausting for us parents. I think I was a rather strict mother, educating my children according to principles that I believed in at the time, especially when it came to food: no sweets before mealtimes, we would all eat together at the same table, no running around and no TV during meals and the kids had to taste at least one bite of everything that was served to find out whether they liked it or not. I tried not to spoil them with material things (and yet they ended up with heaps of toys and furry animals…) but never held back with cuddles and kisses. When they hurt themselves or were sad about something, I tried to comfort them with a hug, maybe a little song and a band aid if there was a wound. I tried not to give sweets or other gifts to avoid creating a reflex that would stick.
Before we closed the resort, our dive manager’s wife and their two small children were invited to join us on Pulau Pef and remain here during the lockdown. It’s great to have the two little ones here, not only for them but also for all of us, because they are full of life and remind us to look towards the future and see the positive side of things, instead of sulking about all the negative aspects of the current crisis. And Aisyah and her little brother Samudra utterly enjoy having so many «aunties» and «uncles» around who love to cuddle and play with them!
Indonesians are very fond of children - men and women alike. Back home, men tend to only play with older children unless it’s their own baby. Samudra only just turned 1, but our male employees cuddle and play with him just as often as the female ones. Whenever he waddles around, still a little unstable as he just learned how to walk about three weeks ago, our staff literally competes to pick him up and cover him with kisses. When the kids first got here, I felt like telling our employees to give the poor little fellow a break, but Samudra didn’t seem to mind. He seems used to it because this is just the way he grew up. I’m pretty sure, in Switzerland almost every parent would try to prevent people from grabbing their one-year-old out of their arms without even asking! But here, the parents don't seem to mind.
Almost every day, I see Aisyah run around with some kind of lollipop, chocolate bar or other sweet just before mealtimes. In the beginning, I secretly rolled my eyes every time I saw that and was on the verge of telling the «aunties» or her parents not to feed her sweets so often. But I didn’t, because it’s not up to me to educate these kids. During mealtimes, neither of the kids ever sit at the table. They constantly run around playing and having fun while their parents follow behind, trying to feed them. I was told this is completely normal here, no little child is asked to sit quietly at the table and eat with the grown-ups.
Was I wrong to ask my kids to do that? They would have loved to run around and only come back to the table occasionally to grab some food. Maybe, they would have developed a much more passionate approach to food if they were allowed to eat where and how they liked – I don’t know. I just think that it must be rather stressful for the parents to keep running after their kids with the food. The parents never seem to be able to eat at the same time, let alone have a conversation at the table. But then again, Indonesians don’t seem to attach such a big importance to mealtimes as a social gathering as we do.
Indonesian children probably grow up in a much more relaxed way than Swiss kids do. Is it better for their development? Or is the Swiss way preparing children better to adapt to adult life with its conventions and regulations later on? I have no idea. The only thing I know is that I would choose more or less the same principles again with my kids if I had to start all over. I may have made many mistakes – sorry Annina and Jascha! – but I believed I was doing the right thing. And even though my kids always told me that I was the «only mom who doesn’t allow this», I hope I did ok. It was my style and therefore it was the correct style for my kids and me. And the Indonesian style is the correct one for them. This is how it should be – perfect just for them and nobody else.
I never even dreamt of working on a remote island in Indonesia, but life has a way of taking care of itself…