self care WFH

WFH: The devil on your doorstep

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.

image credit

creativity self care

Self care = good work

Even before the pandemic hit, there was a big movement in the American marketplace catering to the idea of self care. Products were created, experiences curated, and blogs written emphasizing the importance of one’s self being a top priority in order to achieve happiness and, frankly, sanity. However, in a capitalist society what value is given to the care of workers when the money engine runs on productivity? I have found that self care actually makes me a better worker bee by allowing me the mind space to harness and compartmentalize my focus when it matters most. Let me explain.

There’s nothing new in the argument that self care makes us feel better. It works. We’re nicer people when we’ve had time to decompress and sit with our own thoughts. Who has woken up from a restful nap angry or short-tempered? Who looks down at their pedicured toes and thinks, “Now that I feel pampered, who can I yell at?” But does taking time away from the blessed 8-hours that we’re supposed to be tapping away at a keyboard in order to spend more time doing the things that make us feel better actually help achieve a new level of productivity in less time? For me, yes.

I began working from home again during the pandemic. I had quit a full-time, in-office job and decided to go back to freelance design. I found a few great clients and went to work. However, before I decided to go back to work, I had established a routine for myself where I worked out in the mornings, took time to eat a healthy breakfast, make the beds, straighten out the chaos my children inflicted on my house the night before, shower and usually by 10:00 or 11:00 a.m., I was able to sit down and focus on some good-old fashioned contributions to society. When I hadn’t done my routine first, I would sit down at my computer, half awake, and those small things that I really wanted to do for myself, would sit in the background of my head and actually make me feel guilty that they didn’t get done. I would be distracted because, well, I missed me. I felt edgy and uninspired. On the other hand, there was the feeling that I had to be at my desk from 9-5 in order for it to “count” as a workday. I soon realized, I had to let that go and realized that I could get more done in less time if, and only if, I let myself have some time for me.

The results: I workout every morning. I may sit down at my desk, a sweaty mess, for a couple of minutes afterwards to answer any super emergent cries for design help, but then I go about my morning, eating a good breakfast (away from the computer or phone), cleaning up a bit (including my sweaty mess of a self), and then set to work. I also take a break mid-day to walk my dogs and eat lunch outside (weather permitting) for a quick recharge. Then I work a bit more before usually being summoned to my kids’ school by some sports commitment or carpool. I never feel like I don’t get what I need to do accomplished. I never feel guilty that I took that time for myself, because I realize this works.

I work better when I feel better. I work well when I feel like I am not a slave to my clients. I feel balanced and positive about my work instead of harried and beholden to it. If there is a unique project that requires a full eight hours that day, I may take care of it in the evening and order takeout for dinner or throw that hot potato to my spouse to deal with. I have also learned not to take on too much to begin with. You can read more about how to do that here.

In the meantime, namaste.

education marketing

Hold on. Hold on to me.

You got the students. Now how do you keep them?
A three-pronged prescription for private school retention post-pandemic

[ I write this hoping that the words “post-pandemic” will actually be a thing someday. I always like to focus on the positive, so we’ll go with it for now. ]

According to a recent article in EdWeek, generally speaking, private schools saw an increase in student populations in the fall of 2020. After many failed online learning experiments, disgruntled and exhausted parents frantically looked for a way to keep their children on a path to educational success.

“In a survey released Aug. 3 by the University of Southern California Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research, 22 percent of respondents with K-12 students said they would change schools for the 2020-21 school year… of those who reported a school switch, 28 percent said the change is ‘somewhat’ or ‘very much’ influenced by experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Public Schools Catch Parents’ Eye as Public School Buildings Stay Shut” by Evie Blad, EdWeek, August 6, 2020.

Suddenly, schools that had not enjoyed the comfort of a waiting list for years were suddenly bursting at the seams with new admissions while simultaneously working feverishly to create a hybrid learning environment for the coming school year that would put parents’ and teachers’ expectations at ease. These expectations included small class sizes (hard to accomplish when you have full classes), individualized learning plans (even harder for teachers who have one-third more students in their class and can only come within 4 feet of them), and options that would fulfill online and in-person learning outcomes with equal rigor and consideration.

For some families, this fall became the first time, outside of daycare, they paid “extra” for educating their children. The value of a stretched dollar now has even more importance tied to it, and families are eagerly awaiting to see if the product they’re paying for—that private schools have always insisted is better—is worth it. No pressure. Here are 3 tips to make their enrollments last.

Remember: Experience doesn’t always mean expertise.

It’s a precarious balancing act. How do you keep improving a relatively new style of hybrid education with thoughtful intention while also making sure parents know that you’re nailing it? (Or, at least doing better than your competitors.) During my three years as Marketing Director for an independent school, I realized the school’s greatest referral audience is its current families, and its greatest advertisers are its classrooms. Not the rooms, per se, but what happens inside of them.

With much of the employed nation still working from home, they are taking their due breaks from the onslaught of Zoom meetings. During this time, social media has amplified its role as a quick and easy brain break. Use that to your advantage and get your teachers to help. Though they are juggling additional students and an in-person as well as an online persona, much of the work their students will be doing will be independent. Remind teachers that when they can’t sit next to little Tamira, they can at least take a picture of her working. Make it easy. Create a Google Drive folder with the week as its name, and subfolders with grades or divisions, share it with your entire faculty/coach/student council community, and ask that they share at least one photo a week. If, in my experience, you only get 20 percent contributing, you’ll still have enough to work with and remind parents of the unique and innovative program their children are enjoying while in your school’s experienced hands. Bonus: Some prospective families, already fatigued by this year’s public school challenges, will be trolling your social media accounts to see what the alternatives are doing.

2 Saying “no” doesn’t mean the client will never approach you again.

Become a thought leader. Encourage your head of school and/or Board Chair to write editorials for the local newspapers. Get the Parents’ Association to partner with local child-development authorities to offer webinars to help families navigate their children’s futures and mental health during these times. Think social workers, pediatricians, learning development experts—all can offer useful knowledge to your families that will increase the value of what their student is already receiving in the classroom. Plus, the businesses get exposure to potential customers in return. Use your social media channels to spread useful advice from the experts. One parent told me an article I had posted from the New York Times when the pandemic hit that advised families on how to keep a routine for their children during online school was instrumental to their child’s success and their sanity.

3 Six of one, half a dozen of the other—give or take.

Indexed or discounted tuition is not a new concept for private schools who have struggled for years to maintain financial sustainability. Based on a family’s income, schools may have adopted a model that discounts the tuition in exchanged for a bright, willing student to join the ranks and fill the seat. Consider a similar option for enrolled families: A tuition freeze, or a sustainable discount over the course of their enrollment (think: even a sort-of-high tide raises all ships) can do wonders fro retainment.

Your families will have enjoyed a year of hands-on, individualized learning for their children. They’ll be so proud of their children’s progress, they will want to continue this. Seal the deal by making it financially palatable.

Now, this may not seem sustainable as cost of living increases keep happening and teachers still appreciate raises, but think about what a full school will do for your brand image in the long run! Suddenly, you are now the school to be in, with excellent academics and programming, and—more important—happy families who see you as the considerate partner in their family’s educational (and financial) wellbeing.

While there’s never a one-size-fits all solution to student retention, for the most part, reminding families that the investment they are making in their children will lay the groundwork for their success in life is an emotionally compelling argument for private schools to make. With the future economy even more uncertain, having a good education under its belt will only help this next generation make the smart decisions required for personal and national success.