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self care WFH

WFH: The devil on your doorstep

Working from home blurs the physical and mental boundaries between work and home. While there are many benefits to this, there can also be some pitfalls that can do more harm than good—especially for moms.

At the risk of overemphasizing the obvious, working from home, like many of us do now due to Covid-19, blurs the physical and mental boundaries between work and home. While there are many benefits to this (as I have noted in past articles), there can also be some pitfalls.  

Additionally, this osmosis between spaces offers close proximity to our less socially acceptable vices we keep behind closed doors, like alcohol, overeating, or screen addiction. Now, add some kids to the mix perhaps, maybe a partner, income insecurity, lack of childcare, loss of social support. And, what if you add to that a culture where euphemisms like “mommy’s sippy cup” and other humorous observations about alcohol consumption among moms are increasingly common and, in fact, encouraged? Well, that devil is cozying right up next to you and handing you a drink—probably wine in an insulated cup emblazoned with “Rosé all day.”

First, a little about me: I’m white, cis-gendered female, upper-middle class, in a heterosexual marriage, and have two kids and many pets. For the last year or so, I have worked from home as a freelance graphic designer. I coincidentally left my full-time office gig when we moved for my husband’s job right as the pandemic was revving up. Though working alone at home can be at times lonesome, I personally love the flexibility my at-home setup affords. I get to be a mom when I need to be, make enough money to pay for our kids’ tuition, and chip away at some of the never-ending laundry. 

Back to my point. I remember seeing a video on Facebook a few months into the pandemic by the Holderness Family to the tune of “Do you want to build a Snowman?” from the Disney movie Frozen. It’s a quarantine parody song that poses a day-time question to his spouse, “Do you want to start drinking?” To be fair, I find a lot of their content funny and admire them for normalizing, in an accessible and humorous way, a lot of the hidden challenges of parenting and marriage. But, it made me think: what could videos like this and the normalization of ideas like “wine o’clock,” mean to families—and mothers—especially during a pandemic with all its stress-inducing glory? Are we simply giving license to unhealthy behaviors with “everybody’s doing it” messaging—and worse, could we be encouraging it (read: “everybody should be doing it”)?

What makes the idea of a glass of wine so appealing to so many at the end of the day? More so, why has it become increasingly normal for moms to be attaching themselves to a culture built around memes and posts about it? Well, Americans buy, and what we buy always implies something about our identity. The car you drive, where you shop, the clothes you wear, the food you eat, all say something about your value system and your socioeconomic status, among other things. Basically, in a capitalist society, where you choose to put your money says a lot about you as a person. Marketers obviously realize this and bank on it. 

Recently, women’s alcohol consumption is approaching that of men’s and the alcohol industry is developing product lines and messaging to encourage this demographic, driving home the message: “don’t forget, you are what you drink, too!” Look at widely available and affordable wines these days with cheeky titles like “Skinny Girl” or “Mommy’s Time Out” (subtle). “Barefoot” and “Yes way, Rosé” brand themselves as a quirky analgesic rather than a fine vintage. The culture around wine in America has shifted from the seventies as something you might get a glass of in an Italian restaurant from a raffia wrapped bottle to a reward for good behavior. We’re looking at you, you underappreciated, overworked mom. 

Work-from-home mom, meet stay-at-home mom. Oh, wait! Thanks to Covid-19, you are just looking in a mirror. Personally, I noticed that my clock-watching was getting much more focused around 4/4:30 every afternoon during the early months of the pandemic. Is it five yet? Is it almost five yet? Anything to break the day into a new chunk! I soon was disturbed by what I was feeling with this behavior. All of a sudden having a glass of wine or two at the end of the day didn’t seem like a choice. It was a routine. And, not one that particularly made me feel good. It was the norm that my husband and I would split a bottle of wine at night—that’s like 2 ½ glasses per day. (And, those glasses are bigger now than they used to be.) My husband and I relished this ritual. We started staring at each other’s glasses and second-guessing how big the other’s pour was compared to our own. I felt like my adolescent son when he split a can of soda between his sister and him. He all but whipped out a ruler to make sure they were equal. My husband was noticing this, too. So, he suggested we pull back. We did and stuck with it. We both feel a lot better about our choice. 

Here’s the thing. The marketing people want us to believe that we moms are supposed to be drinking wine at night to unwind, relax, and reward ourselves for if not a job well done, a job—well, done. That’s what got me. It wasn’t a reward. I didn’t feel better or happier because of it. In fact, I slept worse, I gained weight, and didn’t like where my patience level was headed. 

Plus, I didn’t like the message I was sending my teenage daughter: You NEED a thing to help you feel calm and relaxed when you’re stressed. I want her to find relief and solace in relationships and herself, not things. I want to be that for myself. Covid stripped away our in-person community of friends and family, made us full-time roommates with people we were used to seeing a couple of hours a day. (People who we love, but maybe not people who need to be around us 24-7.) I am not at all surprised that alcohol consumption rose during the pandemic—especially among women. We were all looking for rewards for good behavior, for not losing our ever-loving minds because of the demands heaped upon us. Life is messy, motherhood isn’t all well shorn, polite children, clean rooms and hot dinners. It’s OK to need help. The problem is that the market’s answer is: Here. Drink this. It’s classy and it’ll make you feel better. (Until it doesn’t.) 

I like wine. I like it more now that I only have it on weekends. I savor it. I drink less and appreciate each sip. I decided to replace that old routine with a healthier one: exercise. I figured if I wanted something to help me relieve stress, why not take a completely guilt-free and actually effective route? Through this, I show myself and my kids that there are ways that you can take care of yourself, ways that don’t involve something you buy, something you ingest, or something that can ultimately harm you. So I closed the door on that chapter.

Now, I roll my eyes when I see yet another coffee mug that says something like “This may be wine.” At first, the humor was cute. It pointed out that we moms don’t have to be perfect all the time and we sadly needed that permission, especially when even more was being added to our plates. But, the devil’s in the details, and when you take a closer look at who is driving this message and the long-term effects it has on the very women it’s trying to liberate from perfection, aren’t we doing more harm than good? For me, that devil’s still waiting outside the door, I know he’ll always be there. But for now, he’s drinking alone.

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