In ‘Mums of The World’, we ask mothers from other countries and cultures about their babies, parenting and unique traditions. This week we find out all about Australian mothers and their experiences in the land Down Under!
Motherhood is a Very Social Experience
Many new mothers are assigned to a group in their local area within the first few weeks after their baby is born. If you haven’t been assigned one, you can easily go online to find a local playgroup, or connect with other mums on social media forums. These gatherings usually start with sessions hosted in a community centre, and mums share stories or exchange advice about breastfeeding and daily motherhood. Later on, the group can arrange their own sessions which usually involve a stroll, either at a park or beach, or playdate excursions as the bubbas get older.
These social gatherings are crucial to Aussie mums as it keeps us sane through regular adult interaction and emotional support. It also helps promote the social development of our children. It’s also how we develop amazing, lifelong friendships with like-minded ladies.
“Once our mothers group was established, we were always together having coffee, sharing cake, breastfeeding. We also cook for each other. I found a lot of random neighbours and friends started turning up with food. Which was awesome!” says Kate A.
Li En W. also found joining a mum’s group to be an enriching experience. “The idea of weekly meetings with strangers you may have absolutely nothing in common with (except having a baby) was initially a daunting concept. But in the end it was a reassuring one! I’ve made friendships that have lasted over 3 years and on to our second babies now.”
Bubba’s First Vegemite is a Major Milestone
I don’t know any mum who doesn’t whip out a camera the moment our child takes a bite of his/her first Vegemite! Anita T says: “We send photo printouts to family and friends for several key occasions: when baby turns a month old, bubba’s annual photo with Santa, and to celebrate the first time baby had Vegemite toast”. This salty, dark spread made from brewer’s yeast, is such an iconic Australian snack many grew up on. Safe to say it’s a popular and regular lunchbox item.
Stroller, Bub and Pup
The average Australian lifestyle is generally quite healthy and outdoorsy. We are up at the crack of dawn for a run or yoga class. Weekends are spent outdoors at the park tossing a ball around, or hitting the beach for a swim or surf. So it isn’t an uncommon sight to see our local neighbourhood peppered with Lorna Jane-clad mums pushing bubs in Babyjogger strollers, with a pup on a leash. It’s also the best way for us to get our post-baby body back in shape – doing an activity that both mum and baby can enjoy. We are also spoilt for choice when it comes to fitness activities that take motherhood into consideration. There are plenty of gyms and public swimming pools that offer creche services. Boot camp sessions for new mums also usually have an on-site childminder, and many yoga studios offer Mum-and-Bub sessions.
Slip, Slop, Slap
Sun safety is serious business among Australian mums, thanks to our harsh sunny conditions and active, outdoor lifestyle. Children are also taught sun safety habits from a young age with a simple mantra of “Slip, Slop, Slap”. Slip on cool, loose-fitting clothing that covers as much skin as possible. Slop on SPF30 (or higher) sunscreen. Slap on a hat.’
Generous Parental Leave and Flexi-Career Options
Australians benefit from having employers that are generally very supportive of a good work-life balance.
“In comparison to other countries, Australia has pretty awesome maternity leave policies. Governments and employers offer quite generous paid parental leave options for both primary and secondary care givers,” says Preeya R.
On top of that, it is not uncommon for new mothers to go off on maternity for up to a year, on a combination of paid and unpaid leave. They still have a guaranteed position with the same employer for when they’re ready to return to work. The government offers up to 18-weeks of paid maternity leave at the minimum national wage, payable to primary carers via their employers. Employers also offer flexi-career options for mothers who opt to return to the workforce. They can work on a part-time basis instead of the regular five-day-work-week arrangement.
Bonds Zippies Rule!
As a midwife, Catriona D observes that the way different cultures dress their babies is different. “For example, I notice Asian newborns are always dressed in little wrap around tops held together with fabric ties on the inside, and mittens! Always mittens! Whereas the standard newborn ‘uniform’ for Aussie babies is the Bonds onesie.”
And most mums, including Misty H, would agree with this statement. “Surely there’s nothing more Australian than the ‘Wondersuit’? It’s ubiquitous!”
Messy Play and Going Barefoot
One thing that confounds tourists is seeing Aussie kids running around barefoot in various states of undress. Many go topless or are just in their nappies. As Vanessa L laughingly recalls: “My Malaysian mum was very bewildered when she visited me and saw small kids being out and about without shoes or wearing only nappies without pants.” Children are allowed (even encouraged) to get dirty without worrying about ruining their clothes.
Mums generally feel it’s healthier to be exposed to a bit of dirt than live in an over-sanitised environment. So don’t be surprised if you see babies happily having tummy time in a playground sandpit.
Play-based Learning and Child-Led Readiness for School
There is hardly any mum worried about her child getting ‘left behind’ in formal education or missing opportunities to get ahead of their peers. What’s more important is that the child is happy and ready to navigate the schooling environment confidently and independently. Holding a child back a year from attending primary school is not only acceptable practice. It’s considered a wise choice if it’s based on a child’s individual rate of development.
Kindergartens and day cares also tend to promote play-based learning. The general Aussie sentiment is that this is the best way for children to learn skills that will prepare them for school and life.
Swimming Starts Early
In Australia, 85% of the population live within 50km of the coast. Water activities have a very significant place in our lifestyle. According to Kate A, there is “massive pressure here for kids to learn how to swim.” Other mothers like Anna Y agree with this. “There’s a greater awareness of water and water safety. That’s because we have so many pools, and beaches that are so nice. I feel if a child doesn’t know how to swim here, they’re deprived.”
It is extremely rare to find an Australian pre-schooler who isn’t enrolled in a swim class. Some classes are even available to babies as young as 2 months old. As Michelle V puts it, “I’m always shocked when I hear people can’t swim. I feel like it’s embedded in Australian culture. We will always be around the ocean and you need to know how to swim from a young age.”
The Coffee Culture
Aussies have an awesome and famous love affair with (delicious) coffee. This coffee ritual is lovingly shared with our children in the form of Babycinos. They enjoy frothed milk sprinkled with drinking cocoa, served with two marshmallows!
Go to any playground or observe any mummy-child outing and you will notice that morning tea and lunch usually involves a picnic with a home-packed lunchbox. Buying food from a café is not only expensive, it can also be difficult to find healthy options for children. Day cares and schools also generally do not provide meals. So every Aussie mum is pretty much a lunchbox expert. The average lunchbox will usually consist of fresh fruit, raw veggie sticks, a sandwich or rice cakes, a milk or juice box, and a small treat like popcorn or a biccie (that acts as a reward once the kids finish their lunchbox).
By Alena Couzet
Alena Couzet is a coffee-guzzling, Ewok-loving beach junky and mother of two living in Queensland, Australia. Formerly in sales and marketing, she is now a stay-at-home mum trying to balance living a sustainable, eco-friendly lifestyle with her love for travel, good food and online shopping.