An Open Letter To Working Mums: If You Want To Succeed, Lower Your Expectations

Di Westaway | Founder Wild Women On Top | Chief Adventure Chick

One of the things I love most about daily Zoom meetings is the window into the home lives of my beautiful team. 

From topless boyfriends and husbands scuttling past and kids causing chaos, to leaf blowers blasting, housemates singing and cats jumping on laps, our new normal is most entertaining.

It has also highlighted to me how differently we all live, especially at the moment.

We’ve got time-rich, bored millennials watching online makeup tutorials, doing countless virtual exercise classes, making sourdough and planting balcony gardens. We’ve got Baby Boomers like me working long hours, making tough decisions about business, who have never had so much time at home with their grumpy teenagers and kidults. 

And we've got the group who are massively impacted by this crisis: the time-poor mums. They are completely run ragged trying to home-school, get a full-time job done in four days, stay on top of the washing, stay on top of the news, be nice to their partner, get enough veggies into everyone and do the f**king push-up challenge with kids crawling all over them.

It is to these women I speak – because I was one of them.

This is not the first time in my life I have been through a crisis. In my late-forties, I left a dysfunctional relationship, which resulted in a tough new normal. I was burning the candle at both ends trying to build a business while protecting my children from the trauma of divorce and displacement. My eldest kid had decided to leave home, aged 17, and this triggered a sequence of events that led to a new life as a single working mum. I had to support three kids on savings and long hours of work for nearly three years before I was able to breathe again. That time is still a blur in many ways.

Sure, it wasn’t a global pandemic, but it taught me some valuable lessons about lowering your expectations and overcoming guilt to get through a crisis. And it taught me the importance of hanging onto your core self-care habits no matter what life throws at you.  

In pretty much all aspects of my life, I lowered my expectations and let myself be okay with not being perfect. I got the job done. And we all got through and we’re all doing fine. My kids are all resilient, independent, well-adjusted and kind.  

During this period, here’s some of (but not all) the things I didn’t do.

I didn’t supervise homework. I didn’t read the notes from school. I didn’t pack nutritious, delicious lunches. I wasn’t a domestic goddess. I didn’t have a bikini body. I was quite late to pick kids up from activities at least twice. I wasn’t a ballet mum, or a soccer mum, or a swimming mum. I didn’t clean out the pantry, I didn’t Marie Kondo the house, I didn’t renovate the spare room, I didn’t read any books, I didn’t watch TV, I didn’t go to book club. I missed parent-teacher nights, I didn’t bake for school fundraisers, I didn’t make costumes for the Easter Hat parade, I didn’t stress if the kids forgot to brush their teeth and I definitely didn’t bake sourdough.

My daughter quickly learned how to do her own dance concert makeup and care for her many sparkly costumes all by herself. My youngest learned to ride his bike up a massive hill to gymnastics. My 17-year-old was completely independent. I hardly ever called my mum.

I realised that to survive a crisis, my mental health must come first. This meant getting outside every day and finding ways to move my body while connecting with friends and family. And I hung onto dreams of adventure challenges, like going to Everest Base Camp, despite not knowing how the heck I’d pay for it and who the heck would care for the kids. At this stage, I didn’t know the science of what I was doing. I just knew it helped me to cope.

I never did this alone. My outdoor exercise was always with kids in tow during the day or with adventure buddies into the night. My daughter learned her times tables with me jogging along the footpath while she rode her bike alongside me. My youngest son joined me for rock-hopping adventures when he was only 2. And my eldest took on the responsibility of baby sitting a baby while he was only a kid himself.

It wasn’t easy. We all made massive sacrifices and I often wondered if it would ever end.

But my kids knew they were loved, always. We hugged often. We talked. And we walked.

I managed to cope by prioritising my health and showing my kids that together we would get through it. And by reaching out to my community when I needed extra support.

It’s okay not to be okay. It’s okay not to be perfect. It’s okay to feel lost, confused and anxious.

But if you’re feeling like this, it’s important that you reach out and ask for help while taking responsibility for your challenges. This includes learning the principles of wellbeing so you can lead a happy, healthy life while supporting those around you.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with all that’s going on, just breathe, lace up your runners and head outside for a thought-walk. Bring the kids in the pram, the backpack, on a bike, or walking by your side. Think about what you have, rather than what you don’t have. Look for the joy in your life. Then prioritise what matters most and work out ways to manage the unmanageable.

Don’t try to do everything. You don’t need to do Pilates every day, cook gourmet meals, be perfect at your job, have a perfect body, wash your hair or put on your “face”.

Be happy with a glimpse of the sunrise, a stretch in front of the tele with the kids crawling all over you, a sleep in on Mother’s Day and a walk around the block when the kids have gone to bed.

And be happy to get the rest of your life done 80%, knowing that is enough. Your kids will be fine. All they need is love and the occasional bit of broccoli.

This too shall pass. And when it does, you’ll come out the other side stronger than ever.

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