It’s so common that it’s actually become a cliché: mums put themselves last.
Even though Western society is far more equal than it used to be, some things haven’t changed that much. The statistics speak volumes. Women spend nearly twice as long in unpaid work like domestic chores and childcare than men, and more women than men say they feel rushed or pressed for time. The reasons cited for the latter include trying to balance work and family responsibilities and having too many demands placed upon them. And 15 per cent of women surveyed said their life rarely or never feels in balance.
There have been plenty of women’s magazine and website surveys that have confirmed these findings. In one survey from New Zealand, 40 per cent said they felt guilty for having ‘me time’ and 77 per cent said they spend a lot of time making everyone else happy. In a survey from the US, women were found to manage the family’s healthcare in the following order: children, pets, elderly relatives, significant other, and themselves last.
O’Neill Kinesiology College Director Tania O’Neill McGowan said this is a common scenario at the college. Whether it’s women considering a career in Kinesiology, attending classes regularly or keeping up with coursework, there are often family-related reasons why they can’t.
“It’s sad and maybe it’s a generalisation, but the mother’s career tends to take a back seat. I’ve seen it happen many times over the years. In a partnership, both the mum and the dad need to have their needs met — not just one parent or the ‘breadwinner’,” she said.
Perhaps it’s because women are nurturers by nature or society expects it of them. Or, for some, that’s just their belief of what a ‘good’ mother does. It’s a very broad and complex issue with no simple answer, but what we do know is that women need to start putting themselves higher on the pecking order.
We think we’re doing the best by our children and family by making sure their needs are taken care of. Especially if small children are involved. The trouble is, we are presenting an image of motherhood, and parenthood in general, that could have a not-so-favourable impact on the next generation. Children subconsciously learn how to function in the world by looking at their parents. It’s crucial to teach them that it’s okay to put themselves first. Much like you’d put on your own oxygen mask in an aeroplane before attending to anyone else, if you’re not in a happy, healthy and fulfilled place, everyone else will suffer too.
“Kids learn by what we do rather than what we say. I would feel guilty about working, but then I remember that I’m a role model. Most parents want their children to grow up and live lives that make them happy, yet we’re setting an example that isn’t going to lead to that,” Tania said.
This is especially important when it comes to health. In that American survey, 78 per cent of respondents said they put off taking care of themselves or making health appointments because they were too busy taking care of other family members’ wellbeing.
It’s hard, but you have to lead by example, Tania said. She found this out the hard way recently, when she became stressed, depressed and unhealthy. Find out how she fought her way back to a good place in this article.
Visit a Kinesiologist at O’Neill Kinesiology College, or try your first session in our Student Clinic for free, to get help managing stress and to lead a more balanced life. Go to www.oneillcollege.com.au or call us on (08) 9330 7443.