Are mums to blame?

By Joline Samawi 

Busy Mum

Working mums are being unfairly blamed for the childhood obesity epidemic. Photo: Trevor E. Cowan

Working mothers can’t catch a break! It seems working mums are constantly in the firing line in the media. They are blamed for misbehaving kids, not paying enough attention to their children or not supporting them emotionally and what’s the crime this time?

With the childhood obesity epidemic rising in Australia everyone is jumping to blame anyone or anything and the perpetrator is, drum roll please… mum.

I work all night, I work all day, to pay the bills I have to pay

Today’s modern women are returning to work much sooner after the birth of their children. According to the Australian Nursing Federation, The Maternity, Paternity and Parental Leave survey revealed a staggering 68% of respondents returned to work for financial reasons, including the end of their paid leave.

With the added pressures of financial constraints for new families mothers are popping out the babies, taking off their breast pumps and zooming back to work as quick as they can. With this comes the proverbial backlash from others who see these new breed of mothers as simply not spending enough time looking after their child’s physical needs and health. How can we forget radio hosts Jackie O’s haste return to work and the spark of ridicule she faced for going back far too soon after the birth of her child. Visions of working mothers are now interpreted with a tired and haggard mum holding a briefcase in one hand and a bouncing chubby baby boy with chocolate all over his face in the other. The fact is, although many working mothers want to spend more time with their kids they can’t for financial necessity. Their haste return to work is then boiled down to bad parenting but maybe this is a product of our failed system of support for working mothers and the difficulties they face in returning to work.

Pointing the finger at mum

According to The Better Health Channel the number of overweight children in Australia has doubled in recent years, with a quarter of children considered overweight or obese. Statistical data concludes that “Around 25 per cent of Australian children and adolescents were overweight or obese as of 2011, compared to 5 per cent in the 1960s.”

As a result of the rising childhood obesity rates mums can’t escape the constant media hype about their contribution to the issue. A report listed under the Economics and Human Biology Journal reveals mums with full-time jobs spend roughly three-and-half fewer hours per day on these and other chores related to their children’s diet and exercise compared to stay-at-home and unemployed mothers.

The constant drumming and media hype about their lack of diligence has created an internalised guilt complex that working mothers continue to feel. Professor Lesley Campbell, of the Garvan Institute said “We seem to blame mothers whenever there’s any sort of health problem we don’t have answers for,” she said. “Mothers were once to blame for schizophrenia and autism and now its obesity.”

Walking down struggle street

Working mums face many difficulties that prevent them from returning to work later than they would like too to take care of their children. More support is also needed for mothers and their choices to return to work. Despite the increasing number of Australian mums returning to work, access to affordable child care, standards of workplace and Government support are still well behind them.

The 2011 Child Care and Workforce Participation Survey reveals the cost of child care is still increasing with 25% of parents paying between $200 and $300 per week in child care. Many Aussie parents feel that Australia’s childcare system is failing them.  United Voice assistant national secretary Sue Lines said “This massive fee increase is more evidence the childcare funding system is failing and is placing children, parents and educators under severe strain.”

The survey also revealed that Mums were unhappy with the Statutory Paid Parental Leave scheme with “10% of the working mums who didn’t take any maternity leave the last time they were pregnant; 28% took under 6 months; 45% took six months to a year and 17% took over a year.” The issue of paid paternity leave and flexible working conditions for males is still a hot issue that needs to be addressed as women are often left to complete the child care drop offs and pick up’s.

Treasurer Wayne’s recent budget cuts will also leave single parents high and dry with the Newstart allowance decreasing to $529.80 a fortnight. This tough love approach will only mean more pressure for working mothers who are already struggling and are in fear or threat of losing work.

Help is on its way

To help support the gradual return to work many women are open to flexible working arrangements including job share and split shifts. An employee who is a parent or who has responsibility for the care of a child, may request a change in their working arrangements to assist the employee to care for the child. This may include reduced hours, changes in pattern of work or change in location i.e. working from home or closer to home.

For mothers who can’t find the right childcare to suit their financial needs there are many online services and “nannies” who offer their support for affordable prices including AuPairCare. Many mothers can often benefit from teaming up with other families and splitting their time and efforts to raise their children. Similarly family day cares are also more affordable and operate out of the owner’s house.


Blaming working mothers is a major problem that we as a society face. It is clear working mothers’ hasty return to work due to financial pressures is something necessary for their income yet is stigmatized and labelled as bad parenting. As a result many working mothers are held responsible for the rising childhood obesity epidemic. Much more support is needed for mothers and their choices to return to work. In saying that, mothers need much more flexible working conditions, affordable day care and government support to maintain a healthy work life balance. Rest assured mums even if you were to leave work today it will not simultaneously solve childhood obesity!

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