With an election in the air, it is a great time to reflect on our life priorities and values. Do we vote for the right, the left, the middle, or the independents whose views can just float in the breeze? Do we vote for more money for day care, and more for health? Do we vote to reduce the tax burden on business so they can employ more people and reduce our social services debt -- more people employed means less on unemployment benefits. Or do we vote for our mortgage?
What? Vote for our mortgage? Yes, should we vote to make owning our home the top priority? Why would we consider voting to put our mortgage first?
Because many of us already do it every day, often without realising it. In fact, we even vote to put our mortgage ahead of our children and families, and it is making us sick.
Ridiculous, you say, I'd never do such a thing. My family comes first, I'd never put a house ahead of people.
That's not what I see.
As a GP specialising in mental health, I commonly see men and women feeling trapped in debt. Treating people in a mostly middle class suburb of Brisbane, the most common debt I see isn't that of living in a rental unit and not being able to pay the electricity -- though I see that sometimes too. More commonly, what I see is the distorted price all too many of us put on owning our own home -- the mortgage.
What are some of the common repercussions of such a choice?
Anxiety, stress, and depression.
Way too often I see men and women feeling trapped by their financial commitments. The women, for instance, would frequently tell me of their husband working long hours, them working full time, and having two or more children to look after. It's busy, busy, busy -- all hands on deck 24/7.
It's getting the children's lunches made, getting them up and dressed, making sure they get some breakfast into them before everyone hurries to get into the car and off to school, day care, and work... not necessarily in that order.
Then it's do shopping on the way home, have a meal planned, clean what mess you can, cook a meal, and try to take a breath after the kids have had their bath and are finally to bed. And that's just during the week.
Weekends are just as hectic; the soccer, the piano classes, the dancing or gymnastics, perhaps tennis coaching. It's go, go, go. Not even time to blink. Worse still, there is no apparent end in sight.
Suddenly the realisation hits them... I've got to do this tomorrow, and next week, and -- dare I say it -- next month, and next year. I'm exhausted, stressed. I can't do it anymore. What's wrong with me?
Worse, what's wrong with my child, or children?
Another problem I see way too often is children suffering anxiety and stress too. Many have low self-esteem, especially once they hit their teens. Their parents don't understand it, it's usually one child not coping as well as the others. They come -- quite rightly -- to seek professional help for their daughter or son. Can you fix his or her anxiety, they ask? On gentle questioning they will then share some of the hectic elements of their life. Then I sit back in amazement.
Wow, and they wonder why their child is stressed in such a household. I'd be stressed out of my brain. I'm often amazed they are coping so well, considering what is happening around, and expected of, them.
Why the low self-esteem?
There can be many reasons, but in the end it comes down to how valued we feel. How valued would you feel if everyone and everything else came first -- you were always lowest in everyone else's list of priorities? How valuable and worthwhile would you feel if no one listened to you when you needed them to, or never found the time to just be with you, one on one, sharing quality time together?
How valued do you feel when others always have something more important to do? Like pay off a mortgage?
We live in societies being sold on the dream of owning our home. Many are now struggling just to get into the market -- house prices are increasing beyond many couple's reach. Those who are already in it are often trying to own the best home in the best suburb, and mortgage themselves to the hilt to get it. This means everyone who can work must work, and as long as they possibly can so the family can 'get ahead'. But at what price to the family? At what price to the mothers and fathers, and especially the children?
Before the arrival of Europeans, the Oglala Lakota -- Native Americans of the plains of North America -- placed exceptional value in raising their children during their early, precious, years. They recognised this was the most important time in determining the character and happiness of their children, and hence success of their tribe. To this end they ensured they only had children once every six years. This allowed them to be always be there for their child when they needed them the most, when they were most receptive to learning, and needing to be shown others truly cared and valued them. For them, people were more important than property.
Is the mortgage really more important than our health? Is it worth the price of our children's mental health and self-esteem? With our focus on working longer hours, so many of our children in child care, and the lack of time we find to care for ourselves and each other, it seems to be.
Mortgages are powerful; it is rare I see families prepared to downsize, or let them go.
It's election time. What priorities will you be voting for?