When I was sixteen my last grandparent died. I will never forget standing in the hallway as a terrifying family doctor fixed my gaze with his piercing eyes and said “I hope you look after your parents as they looked after theirs”.
For most of my mother’s life she cared for her disabled mother, and once she died, for my dad’s father. Both lived with us and Mum washed, cooked, cleaned and cared for them as well as for the three of us and my dad. She did this around her job as a social worker. I adored my dad but he didn’t bear the brunt of daily home duties and no-one expected him to.
So, the family doctor wasn’t actually talking about my “parents” but my mother. Plus, he didn’t say it to my brothers, he said it to me. This deeply rooted expectation that women carry these burdens of responsibility means we learn to put our own needs last and to prioritise others. One consequence is that we can miss out on fun and health-giving exercise. My dad played tennis and badminton into his 80s. Mum didn’t.
Our sense of duty kicks in young, with girls feeling more responsible for their academic work and more anxious than boys. Combined with other factors such self-consciousness and under confidence girls tend to miss out on sport and exercise and those who do play tend to enjoy it less than boys. With the added challenges of periods and sports bras the situation gets much worse in teenage. We also know that as friendships can be made toxic by social media, teenage girls increasingly look for safe relationships, often with older sisters or their mothers.
In a bid to tackle this challenge from both ends, Women in Sport has created #TimeTogether, a campaign to inspire teenage girls and their mums to make time to get active together.
#TimeTogether is not just about activity but is a way to help the mother- daughter, aunt-niece or similar relationship develop positively. In our teenage years we all look to a more adult relationship with the next generation up, to be more equal, perhaps to start supporting them. Despite the challenges of parenting a teenager, many mothers tell us they will make the time for their daughters they may not make for themselves. Some mothers of course simply can’t do that, they’d like to but they do not have the time to prioritise as they are working such long hours just to keep afloat.
I was lucky, when my daughter started secondary school, I did manage to find time to practice netball shots in the back garden or go for a walk by the river with the dog while she downloaded her day and the various dramas at school. I would listen supportively and we’d get our bodies moving, giving me a break from an office desk and her an alternative to scrolling on her phone.
We even went horse riding every fortnight, something my parents couldn’t afford when I was young. We started lessons together and whilst I was having to block out my middle-aged risk aversion, she was a natural and much better than me, so could advise me and laugh at me in equal measure. It was a really bonding experience, she saw me feeling vulnerable and could support me, equalising our relationship and energising us both by the shared physicality and fun of it all. For me and my daughter our time together being active outside was very positive and bonding.
We have heard from teenage girls that they feel burdened by schoolwork and social expectations, and at the same time the lives of their mothers are often fraught with growing pressures of work and providing emotional support and care for relatives. We want every mother and daughter to feel they have permission to take time out to have fun outside and be active in the way fathers and sons have done for centuries. There has rarely been a more important time for mutual support and activity than in this pandemic.
This is why Women in Sport launched our #TimeTogether campaign and it’s been brilliant to see the way teenage girls and their mums and mother-figures have responded.
We’re so happy to have campaign partners in Her Spirit, This Mum Runs, The Wildlife Trusts, Canal & River Trust, British Mountaineering Council, Our Parks and Places Leisure. They’ve been sharing the campaign across their channels and with it some amazing stories, such as the mum who overcame her fears to taking up climbing with her daughter; and the mother – daughter running duo who pick up litter along the canal as they go.
And whilst our campaign is focused on October, we want to make sure it lasts. As we face local lockdowns society needs to re-learn that being outside in winter can be wonderful, particularly when you’re active and wrapped up warm. We don’t just want to break down gender stereotypes, in these unprecedented times we need to break old habits and create new ones, not least for mothers and daughters together.