What does family life in Aotearoa look like in the 21st century? Jonathan Cotton examines the results from the Southern Cross Healthy Futures Report 2020 to find out.
Being a parent is really hard. From managing the financial burden of extra mouths to feed and bodies to clothe, to working out how much screen time is healthy, raising a family is a constant challenge to understand how to do best for the future of the next generation.
The Southern Cross Healthy Futures Report 2020 gives insight into the physical and emotional pressures on New Zealand parents as they navigate their children’s health and happiness and work out how to create a safe and positive environment for their family. The 3,000 person survey, conducted by Colmar Brunton, is a sweeping examination of New Zealanders’ wellbeing – looking at nutrition, exercise, sleep, relationships, stress, travel, work-life balance and social connection.
The biggest concern for all New Zealanders is their ability to put food on the table and a roof over their heads. According to the survey, 86% of New Zealanders are worried about the cost of living; 57% are concerned about not having enough money to support themselves or their family. And 79% say they are worried about not having access to good, affordable healthcare.
That’s a confronting portrait of Kiwi families’ perceptions of their basic ability to thrive in New Zealand, says Dr Stephen Child, chief medical officer with Southern Cross’ Health Insurance.
“One in five Kiwis say that cost is a barrier to accessing their GP, and for others even the cost of prescriptions is a challenge. That’s a massive concern.”
After resources, one of the biggest concerns for respondents was having enough time to invest in their families. Two thirds of New Zealand parents are spending just 11 hours of quality time a week with their children.
“A lot of families are now double income, and so it’s understandable that they’re worried about how much family time they’re missing out on,” says Child. “Time has become a valuable commodity – it’s something that we’re all trying to get more of.”
As expectations clash with the reality of raising children, almost two thirds of parents with young children said that they are worried that they’re not good enough parents. That’s captured in concerns about the effects of the modern world on children. The survey found 61% of New Zealand parents are worried about the impact of devices on children’s health. More broadly, 76% of parents worry about the impact of technology on children’s health.
That tension represents a modern wellbeing crisis in New Zealand. Ensuring parents invest in their own mental health as well as their physical health is an essential priority, says Child.
“We have anxiety and worry that we want our children to be happier or have better wellbeing than they do. As providers, we’re far more critical on ourselves than we are on others. We create a lot of our own anxieties by worrying about our expectations,” he says.
“We may be improving smoking rates. We may be improving blood pressure. We may be improving cholesterol levels. But mental health issues, anxiety and depression are all increasing. These things have to become priorities.”
How do we stop worrying so much, claw back some work/life balance, and find the time we want to invest in our family and lives? Small lifestyle changes can make big differences, says Dr Kris Fernando, chief of clinical services and neuropsychologist at Active+, a Southern Cross Healthcare joint venture. Start simple and start small.
“It is so easy to get overwhelmed. There is the temptation to look at everything that’s wrong and think, ‘oh, it’s all too much’. But it doesn’t have to be,” she says.
“Why not just start with going for a walk with the kids after dinner? That’s a small change in behaviour that’s easy to begin and you can build on it over time. Little changes are what you should be aiming for, like getting a good night’s sleep, getting enough physical exercise, active relaxation, and those sorts of things.”
Creating connections with others is also a crucial part of building mental resilience, says Fernando. The Healthy Futures Report found 38% of those surveyed described themselves as lonely. And young people were just as vulnerable – sometimes more vulnerable – to feelings of isolation than their older peers. Before 2020’s lockdowns, 58% of surveyed university students said they were concerned about being lonely. Compare that to just 27% of retirees. (Reported feelings of loneliness decreased for both groups over lockdown.)
“Connecting with other people, feeling close to other people, feeling valued by them – these things are really important, so we need to put an emphasis on developing and maintaining our relationships,” Fernando says.
For families looking to do just that, limiting technology usage can be a good place to start finding balance, she says. Parents can start by actively modelling good device use, and establishing device-free zones around the house – by negotiation.
“Kids very much want their parents involved and in their lives, so that means paying attention, having alternative activities to keep kids engaged, and actually making the time yourself to be with them.”
This message – that more mindful living can have a significant impact on wellbeing – is what a new programme is teaching young people to help them gain a better understanding of their mind health and what defines it. Southern Cross has joined forces with Pause Breathe Smile, a preventive mind health programme which aims to improve wellbeing, reduce stress, boost conflict resolution skills and enhance self-awareness. The programme is available without cost to any primary or intermediate school in New Zealand.
“The programme is very effective because it’s actually getting in at an early stage and really helping kids to manage their emotions, focusing on the moment, not being judgmental about themselves and others and learning how to relax,” says Fernando.
Pause Breathe Smile workshop facilitators train teachers to implement the eight-week mind health programme in their classrooms.
“It’s a good lesson for all New Zealanders: stay in the present. Don’t worry about the past, don’t fear the future, and just practise self-compassion and self-acceptance,” says Fernando.
“It’s about establishing some simple things you can build on over time.”
Great resources for families looking for wellbeing support and advice:
- Pause Breathe Smile
- 5 Ways to Wellbeing
- Parenting Place
- All Right?
- Sparklers at Home
- Kiwi Families
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