Challenging cultural norms

Personal experience of post-natal depression inspired Tiffany De Sousa Machado to use her Westpac Future Leaders Scholarship to look at how bringing new mothers and older women together can be of mutual benefit.

Tiffany De Sousa Machado says she recalls feeling isolated and alone at a time in her life that should have been happy.

“I felt there was no structure in society to support me, and my dream of becoming a mum was just being shattered every day. We live in a society that is not set up to support parenting in a very useful way and it does not hold parenting in esteem.

“Being a parent is something you do as well as your career, which is held in esteem. Parenthood is not revered in our culture compared to other cultures.”

Post-natal depression affects around 16% of women and can have a long-lasting impact on a woman and her family.

As part of her combined PhD/Masters in Psychology at the University of Adelaide, Tiffany is looking at how older women may struggle to find purpose following menopause, retirement or when their children are grown. Bringing the two groups of women together can be empowering and create a community that is beneficial for emotional, mental and physical health.

“Ideally, in the future, retired people would be able to assist new parents,” she said. “This has benefits for both groups. This can really cultivate a community feel and have people connect with other people: not through the medical industry or a structured program, but just through being there for each other.”

Addressing inequalities is something that motivates Tiffany. “We think we are equal in our culture, but we’re actually not if you look at how life pans out,” she said.

She also recognises the pressure on women to be successful academically, professionally and in motherhood. She believes that fathers have an integral role to play and this is an inequality that needs to be addressed by challenging cultural norms about the roles of mother and father.

Tiffany’s scholarship allowed her to travel and look at parenting in other cultures. She reflects on her research in Sweden where parents share care for their children, which is good for the wellbeing of the mother, father and child.

“I went to Sweden to look at how to improve women’s lives and unexpectedly I saw how much men get out of shared parenting.”

“We’re doing everyone an injustice here (in Australia) and one of my main aims is to be an advocate for women and men in terms of equal parenting and policy change. A focus of my work now is about trying to change policy to allow parents to share the care of their infants.

“I went to Sweden to look at how to improve women’s lives and unexpectedly saw how much men get out of shared parenting. I also realised how much men are missing out here. When I asked the men in Sweden what would happen if they didn’t get to have that year with their child they would often well-up at the thought of not having that time.”

Tiffany said her own family is structured to provide a caring and nurturing environment for all. “The way we have structured my current family is completely against the norm. I’m really good friends with my ex-husband and my current partner’s ex. We often hang out together, do Christmas together and plan holidays away together. In a society lacking ‘the village’ we make the most of our network to support each other and provide a caring environment for the children. They are our priority.”

Story by Bikki Gray

Photo by Russell Millard

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