Do you automatically conflate the phrase ‘family health’ with your kids’ wellbeing? Don’t fall into the trap of neglecting your own needs, right now, and especially as you get older.
Children are a miracle that we accept without question – conceiving them, carrying them, giving birth to them, and then looking after them for the rest of our lives … or does it just seem that way? A time may come when the roles are reversed. If we’re lucky to have them with us that long, we get to take care of our elderly parents – and that’s only right.
If you think about it, all health issues are “family health” issues. When my 85-year-old mother underwent minor surgery last week, I was glad I was back home and able to be there for her. As expats, that’s not something we take for granted!
At the other end of the spectrum, we’ve just got the call from Australia to say that the third grandchild is on his way. (I know, I know! … it hardly seems possible, what with me still being only 29 years old.) Meanwhile, seven-year-old Mia has lost both front teeth just in time for Christmas; and her parents have been advised to start saving up for the orthodontic treatment she’ll probably need in due course.
Closer to home, the blood pressure of one of us (the grumpy, bearded one, not me) has shot up a bit worryingly. He also has a painful knee that was recently diagnosed as osteoarthritic and probably in need of replacement. He says he’s falling apart.
So it’s not surprising that I’m preoccupied with health right now. More specifically, I’ve also been thinking about the pivotal role that women play in the health of those around them.
In most households, it’s still the case that the woman is the primary carer – whether or not she manages to have a career of her own. It’s mostly Mum who deals with daily health issues as they arise, from feeding and caring for her new-born, all the way through the slings and arrows of growing pains, chickenpox, playground bumps and scrapes to decisions about orthodontic treatment, advice on period pains and the misery of teenage acne.
My mother did it; so did most of the women of my own generation; and when you look at young parents today it may seem that not much has really changed. Or has it? I think it has, and in two important areas. For one, health related research seems to make new (albeit conflicting) discoveries every day, and staying up-to-date with the latest ideas and findings is a challenge in itself.
Then there’s the information explosion. Gratifyingly, the internet can make you an instant expert on infant thumb sucking, how to extract a length of crayon from a toddler’s sinus cavity, or the lowest acceptable amount to spend on children’s party gifts.
More challengingly, it means that today’s young parents are having to think about health issues that their parents didn’t have to deal with. For example, how much screen time is unhealthy? Is organic food really neccasary? Or how can I protect my kids from online bullying?
Nurturing others is all fine and good, as long it’s not to the detriment of your own health. And once a woman has slid too far down that sacrificial see-saw, it can be hard for her to claw her way back to a healthy balance. Here’s a real-life example.
A dear friend of mine – let’s call her Joan – works with her husband in their family business. In between work and household commitments, she spends a lot of time ferrying three teenagers to and from school, rugby, horse-riding, swimming, synchro, ballet, drama rehearsals, music lessons, birthday parties and sleepovers. You name it, they do it, and Mum always manages to be there. (It’s like watching someone herding cats.)
Her youngsters are of course delightful. They’re athletic, intelligent, accomplished and well brought up. They’re even grateful – as much as you can expect teenagers to show gratitude.
Darling husband is grateful too. But he’s a veteran surfer and golfer who’s therefore less involved in the hectic weekend schedules of his over-achieving offspring. What’s more, during the past ten or 15 years he’s undergone a string of stressful surgeries, including open-heart. You can imagine the stress burden on Joan, too.
All this is now taking a predictable toll on her health. Last year, she underwent a hysterectomy that “solved a lot of her problems”, she says. That may be so, but it also opened the door to various other ones, including a worrying lower back pain. True to form, she can’t find space in her day for Pilates or yoga to rehabilitate her damaged core. Sitting for hours behind the wheel of Mum’s Taxi isn’t helping, either.
Evangelist Joyce Meyer once said, “I believe that the greatest gift you can give yourself and your family is a healthy you.” So here’s the message: While you’re looking after others, remember to nurture your own body, mind and spirit. Take or make time for sustaining old friendships and building new ones, for reading, for meditation, for Zumba, for tennis or for belly-dancing.
If that occasionally means saying a gentle “No”, or “Not now, darling” to the people you love most in the world, so be it. Love yourself, too.
Related: 3 Exercises to do while you travel