New Study Highlights Parental Health Neglect

New research* reveals that 51% of Australian parents neglect self-care, with 69% of mums bearing most responsibilities. Former Miss Universe Monika Rad, a mum of two is lobbying to change this narrative.

At Pure Health Hub, we spotlight Mum’s self-care needs and their mental and physical well-being every day but in light of recent Mother’s Day we asked renowned GP Dr. Michela Sorensen to address this issue, highlighting the urgent need for better self-care among parents to improve their overall health and resilience.

Self-Care Prioritisation: With 51% of parents not prioritising their self-care and many limiting it to basic tasks like brushing their teeth, what advice would you give to parents who feel they don’t have enough time to focus on their own well-being?

Self-care is one of the first things to be neglected by parents. In fact, recent research by Philips* revealed that 46% of parents don’t regularly take part in self-care activities after having a child and three-quarters (78%) say that self-care only occurs after their family’s needs are taken care of. And, when they can find some precious “me” time, 80% of parents say they find themselves constantly thinking of their family’s needs during this time. 

This is a scenario I see daily as a GP with the classic example being the time it takes for a parent to even book a doctor’s appointment. I may see them every other week when they are bringing their children in for various concerns. However, it can often take a year (or several) for them to make an appointment to address one of their own concerns.

I am guilty of neglecting self-care too. Since having my children, exercise classes have gone out the window as I don’t have anyone to mind the children during the week and weekends are filled with kids swimming, gymnastics, or just rare and precious family time. “Mum life” takes priority over everything else.

What I say to all my patients however, and I also try to remind myself, is if you don’t look after yourself, who is going to be there to look after your family when you burn out? Because it will happen. It’s not about putting yourself first, it’s about treating yourself as equal.

And remember, self-care doesn’t have to be hour-long baths surrounded by candles and rose petals, spa visits or sleeping in until 10 am. Small, bite-size pieces of time add up and can have huge mental health benefits. It’s about being realistic and making the most of the time you do have.

Balancing Parenting Responsibilities: The research found that 69% of mothers feel they bear the majority of parenting responsibilities. How do you recommend parents distribute these responsibilities more equally to ensure both parents have time for themselves?

The reality is we still live in a society with quite traditional gender-based roles. While this is certainly changing to some extent, there is still a long way to go. Two-thirds (65%) of Australian mums find it difficult to even just find a short amount of time to themselves as a parent, compared to 45% of Australian dads.

I think the key here is open communication and practical division of the load. I know this can be tough, personally I find it difficult as the thought of having to explain what needs to be done down to the smallest detail takes more time and energy than just doing it myself!

However, one good strategy is, rather than each parent trying to jump and do bits and pieces here and there, to have designated duties.  For example, one parent makes sure the school uniforms are ready each day while the other oversees packing lunches. One parent looks after grocery shopping while the other makes sure school newsletters are read, sports carnivals and assemblies are remembered, and dates are noted down. Have a family calendar/timetable – having it written down for everyone to see saves having to repeat it 10 times over! Yes, it takes a bit of time to set up, but you will be rewarded in the weeks and months to come.

The most important thing on the calendar, however, is scheduling time out. Each parent should allocate some time for themselves every week – and that should be non-negotiable.

Mental Health Impact: How do you think the mental health of parents is impacted when self-care is neglected, and what are some early signs they should watch out for?

We know that when self-care is neglected, mental health suffers. The two are inextricably linked. Philips research tells us almost three-quarters of parents (68%) admit they feel more burnt out if they’re unable to get at least an hour to themselves each day. Some of the early warning signs that you’re becoming burnt out or struggling with your mental health include:

  • Feeling overwhelmed or more emotional
  • Feeling more irritable or having a short fuse
  • Sleep changes. This might be struggling to get to sleep, waking frequently or even needing to sleep more.
  • Not looking forward to things or not finding enjoyment where you previously did.
  • Brain fog, difficulty with concentration and memory

If you are noticing any of these, it is time to reach out for help.

Self-Care Strategies: What other simple strategies or practices do you find effective for parents trying to recharge in limited time?

We need to start by rethinking what self-care is. The word often conjures up images of hour-long baths surrounded by candles and rose petals, spa visits or sleeping in until 10 am. These examples are amazing if you can do it, but for most parents, this is an extravagance they can only dream about.

In reality, the concept of self-care can be much simpler and more achievable.  Philips research 80% of Australian parents say they feel better even after just a few minutes of downtime each day.

It is all about maximizing the small moments of downtime you do have in your day. Just a few minutes here and there add up and recharge your battery. Parents say they experience the most regular downtime when commuting to work (34%), in the bathroom (37%), exercising fitness (35%) or only once the children have gone to bed (50%).

Think – leaving your conditioner in for the recommended 5-10 minutes and giving yourself a head massage rather than a quick jump in and out and reaching for the dry shampoo – again.  Or perhaps, using those 2 minutes of brushing your teeth to also do some mindfulness exercises. Stuck in traffic? Great! Rather than getting frustrated, pop on a podcast or a favourite song.

Those small things can help you feel more relaxed, refreshed, and happier.

Cultural Expectations: How can we shift societal and cultural expectations so that parents, particularly mothers, feel supported in prioritizing their self-care without guilt or judgment?

I think there is still an ingrained societal misconception that self-care is indulgent. A lot of people, myself included, grew up seeing our parents, particularly our mothers, doing everything for everyone else. We saw the toll it took on them, yet irrespective of that we still see this as normal and a social expectation.

An issue that separates this generation of parents from previous ones is that in the majority of families, both parents need to work. So, it usually falls on mothers to not only do most of the parenting and also carry the mental load of the family, but also work.

The Philips data reflects that 70% of Australian mums say that they bear the majority of parenting responsibilities and are unable to commit more time to self-care, compared to 40% of dads. 71% of Aussie Dads are satisfied with the level of self-care they have given themselves since having a child, compared to less than half of Australian mums (44%)

I think one of the most important things we can do is break down the misconceptions about self-care. It is not an indulgence; it is a physical and psychological necessity. It also does not mean that you are putting yourself before your family, it is about putting yourself on an equal footing.

Given we know almost of half of Australian women (45%) are likely to pursue beauty and wellness activities as a form of self-care compared to just 27% of dads, creating more family-friendly beauty and wellness environments is key. On an individual level, however, empowering parents to take 10 minutes each day as non-negotiable me time and not feel guilty about it is a great start.

*Research conducted in April 2024 by PureProfile on behalf of Philips on a sample of 1008 Australian parents with at least one child under the age of 18

About Dr Michela Sorensen

Dr. Michela Sorensen is a respected GP and women’s health advocate, known for breaking down complex medical information into digestible messages for everyday Aussies.

A favorite guest on Seven Network’s The Morning Show and The Daily Edition, she has also been featured in ABC News,, and Mamamia, discussing mental health challenges.

Practicing in Sydney, Michela is passionate about empowering women, especially those aged 14-30. She supports them in understanding and managing their physical wellbeing, building resilience, and enhancing their mental health.

You can follow Dr Sorensen at: