I am so pleased to introduce Lucy Westerman and I am sure you will enjoy reading my interview with her.
Lucy Westerman is a Melbourne mum, who recently relocated to London with her husband and two sons aged 8 & 10. Lucy has studied more with children than without; Following her Sociology & Nutrition undergraduate majors, she completed her honours in public health nutrition while breast-feeding her first son at her keyboard typing up her thesis, then taking on a Masters in Public Health more recently when both children commenced school full time. More recently Lucy has relocated to London with her family, while finishing up her Masters by distance and undertaking a placement, adding a different layer of complexity to the juggle. But the end is in sight, and it’s with a little apprehension that Lucy is finishing her final subject, and starting to investigate what a PhD might entail… Lucy blogs at and prolifically tweets about public health at @lewest
How important is health and well-being for mums?
Health and wellbeing for mums is such a huge priority, from physical to mental health and wellbeing. If you don’t have your health, the wheels fall off everything else.
What do you think are some of the biggest challenges facing mums who study?
Lack of sleep – I have found that I am most challenged in my capacity as a mum when I am sleep deprived, those nights of burning the midnight oil to submit by a deadline the next morning often coincided with me having less patience and energy the next few days. Unfortunately it was late nights that I have found I am also most productive, when the house and neighbourhood is quiet, no interruptions, so it’s a catch-22. I have to be extremely disciplined not to stay up past 11pm when I have ‘stuff to do’… it’s something I’ve not yet mastered.
Juggling, balancing, being & doing everything – effectively and efficiently managing your own, your children’s and your family’s time so that you don’t miss your priorities. Squeezing it all in is hard, particularly when there aren’t official office hours. I made a point of not ‘working’ on weekends unless I was under extreme deadline pressure. I also use my calendar constantly to schedule priorities, family time and deadlines – which I shared with my husband. And prioritised to-do lists and daily plans, including everything from ‘have a shower and wash my hair’ to ‘submit assignment’ helped keep me on track and feel like I achieved progress, even on days when not much more than a ‘shower’, ‘walk to letter box to post card’, ’feed family’ and ‘complete biostats assignment question 3′ was ticked off.
After-hours lectures – when lectures fell during holidays or right on dinner time, our routine had to be far more flexible. Not working meant that funds to pay babysitters were limited, and there was only so many times I could ask for favours in terms of help with the children. I learned I just had to, and to even ask for cooperation from my children and understanding from teachers and peers.
Un-planned outages – just when things are working like clockwork and you have scheduled your week based on children at school or sleep times, they get sick… the electronic babysitter really doesn’t help with the night waking, fevers, vomiting, persistent coughs, Days off school… all the planning in the world can’t find you more time… before you know it, the midnight oil is burning again and you are getting sick. It can be a vicious cycle. I have since learned to appreciated anything done during school holidays, sick days, excursion days, family events, is a bonus, an unanticipated achievement to celebrate! So I make sure I allow extra time where I can to account for such outages
What do you say to women who feel guilty taking or making the time to look after their own health?
Don’t! Don’t feel guilty for nurturing yourself. If you are taking the time, you need it. If you aren’t taking the time, you definitely need it! Plan the time and make it part of your mental, physical and study health; ultimately I find that investing in myself makes me feel better and more capable of mothering fully and happily. The times when I have neglected my health are the times when my family and relationships have suffered. Scheduling time for yourself to slowly sip a hot drink, read a magazine, go for a walk, go on a date or outing with friends is testament to your ability to balance and prioritise what is most important. If you didn’t have your health and family, the study probably wouldn’t be as meaningful or worthwhile.
Do you have some tips for mums to help them prioritise or combine their studies with maintaining their own healthy lifestyle and that of their children?
Pre-make double batches of meals, stretch them out with lots of vegetables and freeze them – I think our deep freezer was one of our best investments. The more vegetables I fit in, the more nourished I feel! And eat breakfast, and fruit for energising snacks!
Celebrate the small wins as well as the big ones, submitting a small assignment is another achievement to put behind you and move forward. these might be the ideal times to treat yourself with scheduled time out.
Be open and up-front with the challenges and your need for flexibility from your lecturers, supervisors and peers. First and foremost, you are a mum, that is not something that can go on hold, nor should it. If you know other mums who study, help them to be the best parents and students they can be by supporting them.
Get your family on board, their support is crucial to you not only feeling like you can take on the world, but you can do it easily!
Learn to say no to things… You are probably inherently a ‘do-er’, but you simply can’t do it all, even if you try and think you can. Be realistic about your capacity.
Find a mentor who has juggled and struggled and come out the other side shining. They don’t have to be parents, but it does help them to understand and give advice, reassurance, a morale boost and support when you most need it.