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Physical activity experiences of mothers with young children: Barriers, practices, and the influence on children’s behaviours and attitudes

Feminist research has long explored the various factors that shape women’s experiences of motherhood, including the multiple and competing discourse of ‘good’ motherhood. Increasingly. mothers are expected to quickly resume and pursue a physically active lifestyle for both their own health and that of their children and families. This research aims to explore how mothers navigate these pressures, as well as how they integrate physical activity into their routine and that of their children. Inspired by post-structuralist feminism, this study draws upon twelve interviews with New Zealand Aotearoa mothers with at least one child under the age of 10. All living in the Bay of Plenty (East Coast of the North Island, NZ) mothers ranged from early twenties to mid-thirties and most had re-entered employment. The group of mothers described an array of social pressures and expectations to achieve ‘good motherhood’. A key element of this was achieving ‘yummy mummy’ status, by taking control of their bodies, specifically re- gaining pre- pregnancy physique, through exercise. Some mothers worked to achieve this unrealistic ideal. Other problematised such dominant discursive constructions of ‘good’ motherhood. These women developed an array of strategies to navigate these discourses in ways that felt appropriate for themselves and their families. Factors including employment, lack of time, fatigue, family support, and pressures from ‘other mothers’ were all key contributing factors influencing mothers’ physical activity practices and experiences. This study also explored mothers’ perceptions of their influence on their children’s physical activity practices. They all considered themselves important role models in their children’s lives and express a strong desire to increase physical activity time while decreasing technology use from an early age. Focusing on New Zealand mothers’ lived experiences of juggling motherhood and pressures to be physically active, for both their own health and as role models for their children, this study makes an original contribution to a growing body of literature on the complex relationship between motherhood, sport, and physical activity.
Type of thesis
The University of Waikato
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