At Willow, we’ve made it our mission to bring joy to motherhood. But for moms in 2020, joy has been juxtaposed against unprecedented challenges. From virtual homeschooling to parenting without a support network of friends and family, the “mental load” of motherhood has never been heavier. We need new tactics and approaches to support moms through the challenges of COVID-19 and beyond. On an individual basis, this year I’ve learned to apply strategies of resilience and self-compassion that have helped me cope with a difficult year. At a company level at Willow, we’ve implemented new programs to support employees. And I hope that collectively, we can move forward from 2020 and improve the social structures needed to truly support working families.

A few things we’ve learned from 2020:

As a working mom of three, I have, out of necessity, become a student of resilience because I’m often running on empty. To me, resilience isn’t only created through personal growth after negative experiences (or “bouncing back”), it can be built through positive things, too—like recharging through sleep and exercise, good food and hydration, doing work that’s meaningful, or simply locking the bathroom door for a shower in silence. At Willow, we created a new program called Thrive that provides our team access to exercise, coaching and meditation throughout the week to help build up those reserves.

I joined Willow as CEO in June 2020. By my second week, I was completely overwhelmed with remote onboarding while supporting my kids and their virtual homeschooling. I realized if I was feeling this way, others might be too. Curious, I invited the company to an open conversation. One theme clearly bubbled up: guilt. Guilt about working while your kids were at home or distance learning, guilt about not being fully present for your coworkers or family, guilt that you couldn’t balance it all and guilt for feeling guilty! It was clear after that conversation that the mental load was getting too high. So we implemented “purple blocks” at Willow: guilt-free time blocked on your calendar to accomplish whatever you need. We also implemented “No Meeting Wednesdays,” which frees up blocks of time to get solid work done and spend time with family as needed.

For many of us in 2020, we’ve had to learn to surrender gracefully—we can’t do all the things we used to do. My birthday cakes aren’t as fancy this year, but that’s okay because my kids still like them. I’ve realized I’m not the best homeschool teacher, but that’s okay because it’s a hard job and I’m definitely not trained for it! I’ve allowed myself to be okay with not being able to do everything perfectly. Let’s keep reminding ourselves that it’s okay, even after 2020 is in our rearview mirror.

As the pandemic started, I began writing down one thing a day I’m grateful for. Through this practice, I started to notice my gratitude shift towards the smaller things—like the trampoline outside my office window. I’d never thought about it before, but now it makes me tremendously happy whenever I see it, because I appreciate that my kids have somewhere to play.

2020 has been, in many ways, a year to forget! But if you squint hard enough, it’s also been a year of unexpected beauty. When your world gets smaller, you begin to appreciate the little things— more time with family, less time on the road, new traditions and less distraction. It helps you realize there’s a lot to be grateful for.

I was recently reminded of this powerful quote:
S/he who has a ‘why’ to live can bear almost any ‘how.’ -Nietzsche

Doing what you love and working on things that matter—whether that’s a hobby, passion project, your family or a career—can help build tremendous resilience. I’m lucky to have found an inspiring ‘why’ at Willow, and I encourage all of us to continue to fill our lives with work that has meaning—whatever that is for you. Society has already shifted more towards a mission-based work model, but it’s even more critical when life around us becomes more challenging.

While we’ve found ways to cope this year, we must acknowledge that our challenges are real—really overwhelming, really exhausting and really hard. The pandemic has exposed policies, structures and a culture that fails to support working families, moms and primary caretakers.

Since February 2020, women in the US have lost nearly 5.8 million net jobs, due to layoffs, lack of access to safe, affordable childcare, and/or burnout.1 And in September alone, over 800k left —a rate 4x that of men2—with a disproportionate impact on Black and Latina women.

But I also know how resilient and resourceful women and mothers are. We see it every day in the work we do—like the moms who are pumping with Willow while working from home (63% of Willow moms!), while on a Zoom call (45%), on the frontlines working in healthcare (39%) or while homeschooling (15%).

You inspire us to keep working to build better products, to bring you more joy and to help support you in your ‘why’—whatever that ‘why’ might be. Together, I hope that we can take the lessons learned in this challenging year to build a better future for ourselves and our families.

Best wishes for 2021,
Laura Chambers, CEO

1 Four Times More Women Than Men Dropped Out of the Labor Force in September, Women’s National Law Center
2 The Employment Situation, November 2020, U.S. Department of Labor