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Parents Are Struggling To Care For Their Own Health, But My Husband And I Have A Rule

Exercise before family time? Parents' health should be a non-negotiable.

New research out on Tuesday from the National Families Working Report shows that two thirds of working parents and carers struggle to look after their own physical and mental health.

I am a working mum of two boys and as troubling as this statistic is, it is hardly surprising to me, as it won’t be for most parents. Getting the kids to put their shoes on and exit the house is challenging, then there’s all the daily chores like washing, shopping, cleaning and cooking to fit in around work hours.

Not to mention the mental load we carry.

It is no wonder that two thirds of working parents are struggling to look after themselves; daily life is busy and exhausting and it is hard to factor in seemingly frivolous ‘me time’.

Laura Jackel and her husband. Image: Supplied

Sometime after I emerged from the newborn fog with my second son Leo, I decided that exercise of any sort, was essential. It wasn’t about losing my baby weight, although I would be lying if I said vanity didn’t play a small role, but mostly it was about getting out of the house by myself to move.

My husband Jules an avid surfer, felt the same way, so we considered how we could logistically factor time for exercise into our lives. But as Leo got older and I started back at work, it became more challenging and some days we can’t always fit everything in and something has to give. Usually it’s the washing!

Once we started prioritising our own mental and physical health, it benefited the whole family. Our current daily routine, which I understand wouldn’t suit everyone, starts early.

Jules sets his alarm for just after 5am and heads out of the house to go for a surf and have a coffee. He is home by 7.30am by which stage the boys and I are up and eating breakfast. We both get ourselves and the kids ready and go off to school, daycare or work.

Laura Jackel

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Later that day, I might sneak in a run or a gym session before picking the kids up, otherwise it will be in the early evening and occasionally after the whole dinner and bedtime horror show is done.

Sometimes if I am just too damn knackered, I stick my earphones in to listen to a podcast and go for a 30-minute walk around the neighbourhood. It gets me out in the fresh air and away from the chaos.

The Parents at Work report also states: "Two thirds reported feeling too emotionally or physically drained when they got home from work to contribute to their family."

I know that feeling well. Going directly from the stress of work, to the stress of young children and their ever-present demands, is hard.

Laura and her husband prioritise their health with means they sometimes have to solo parent. Image: Supplied

If I can bridge the two stresses with a 30-minute jog in the sunshine or a quick dip in the pool, I feel infinitely better when I walk in the door. This means my kids and husband get a better and less stressed version of me.

It is not always about Jules and I either. My eldest son Toby has twice weekly extra-curricular activities we need to fit in and Leo sometimes just wants to play at the park or hang out at home.

As a family we all try and take equal billing. No one’s exercise or hobby is more important than anyone else’s. I actually like the fact our kids see us enjoying physical activities without them; they know we have needs and interests too.

The downside of our approach is that we don’t always get to operate as a parental duo. While one of us is out exercising, the other one is under the pump packing lunches, getting the kids ready or putting them to bed.

Laura Jackel

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The mornings and evenings are therefore very busy, but if one of us is out getting those endorphins going, at least when they come home, they have the energy to power the other one along until coffee or wine-time.

While we almost always eat together as a family of four, we probably don’t get as much ‘family time’ as some. I understand that for some people, this might be non-negotiable, not the individual exercise.

I appreciate that we are extremely fortunate to be able to make choices about when we exercise. We have two adults in our home but for those juggling life as a single parent or with a partner that works away, I can see how finding time to look after themselves is almost impossible.

Our approach is not for everyone, yet exercise and time away from the home and our kids is non-negotiable for us, even if it means the washing piles up and family time is limited.

The troubling statistics show that many more families could benefit from finding ways to look after mum and dad’s mental and physical requirements too. Happy, healthy parents surely benefit the whole family?

Featured image: Supplied