Two mothers on working at home, setting boundaries, and changing footwear

THE PAINDEMIC has forced many of us to stay at home. Women who once had to juggle duties at work and home now do so on an exponential scale, as the division between the spheres have been blurred in work-from-home setups. The same delineation has also affected how we dress — while working outside gave the opportunity to both show off and show purpose, what’s the point now, when the most any others see of us are locked into the dimensions of a small computer monitor?

BusinessWorld talked to two women having to weather out the pandemic by balancing their duties to family and the workplace — and doing it in style too.

Patricia Rodriguez Carranza is an Assistant Professor at the College of Music at the University of the Philippines. She also ran a blog and pursued graduate studies, graduating during the pandemic. Ms. Carranza is married to Jullian, is the mother of two children ages three and five, and is the sister of artist Issay Rodriguez.

Meanwhile, Ginggay Joven-dela Merced is President of Visions & Expressions Publicity & Special Events, a company founded by her mother, Susan Joven. Married to Noel, they have two children ages 13 and 19.

Ms. Joven-dela Merced’s firm is known in fashion circles for being the go-to publicist for several luxury brands. Her style prior to the pandemic was reflective of the work she does. “As a player in the fashion industry, it’s sensible to assume that I should be paying more attention to the visual image I give off. I do care, yes, but not that as much as people think. My fashion style is very quiet and subtle. By the very nature of my job, too, I really don’t think it’s appropriate to stand out. I’m more a behind-the-scenes person anyway,” she said in an e-mail.

“I only know what I’m going to wear for the day after I shower, open my closet, and actually get dressed. I don’t have the luxury of time to style and plan my looks ahead. And so, through the years, I’ve just assembled a closet with enough variety for the various dress codes I typically need. I still have a lot of unused gowns. I have dozens of little black dresses, scores of structured tops, basic skirts, jackets, and so on. The only whim I really inject is through accessories. Big necklaces, chunky rings, bracelets and cuffs, belts, shoes, bags – there I’m more adventurous.”

On the other hand, the creative nature of Ms. Carranza’s work, as well as her exposure to artistic circles, has influenced her bohemian style. “Colors would range from all black/white to solid powder blue with embroidered flowers, to ethnic/indigenous-inspired shirts of my husband that I borrow,” she said, describing her style in an e-mail. Her hands-on approach to parenthood also reflects in one of her accessories: a baby carrier. “Most of the time I use my black Ergobaby carrier because it’s convenient with the buckles… but when I feel fancy, the woven wraps do the talking.”

Asked about the differences between what they used to wear to work versus what they wear to work at home, both say that more expressive footwear has taken a backseat.

“Oh how I miss my four-inch stilettos!” quipped Ms. Joven-dela Merced. Ms. Carranza said, “The one thing I don’t wear now is footwear. You wouldn’t want to bring in shoes you used outside. Also, it’s impractical to wear [them] inside the house. If I wear footwear, it’s just bedroom slippers for now.”

Ms. Joven-dela Merced reflects on how she used to work before coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

“The most fun thing about my profession, pre-pandemic, is that no two days are ever the same. It’s such a dynamic field. I never had a normal routine, pre-pandemic,” she said. Describing her work routine now, she says, “I wake up early to work out as kids start school. I then attend to e-mails and correspondence, or have morning meetings if needed. Then I have lunch with the family, which is sacred. Then the afternoon is completely for work. Evenings are spent with the family — watching movies, playing board games, and so on, until they go to bed. After that, I go back to work until late through the night. Some alignment meetings and consultations I do late at night.

“What I wear changes depending on the activity obviously. So in one day, I’ll go from workout clothes, to work clothes, to lounge clothes, to pajamas,” she said.

Ms. Carranza says: “Sometimes I still help out in the kitchen and with the children — which I normally did pre-pandemic, working and studying with the children always in tow.” Ms. Carranza also says that for her, her house clothes have become work clothes, hosting music classes and sometimes even performances via Zoom. “Sometimes I throw in a random blazer for emergency meetings. [Fixing my eyebrows] would suffice, but then I discovered the Zoom filters for lips and eyebrows.”

Ms. Joven-dela Merced has added more color into her wardrobe during the beginning of the pandemic. “Before the pandemic, black was my color of choice. Black’s generally just more versatile. A black dress can take me from day to night. I can dress it down for meetings, then glam it up easily by accessorizing for evening events. But since the pandemic, I have consciously avoided black. In fact, I don’t recall ever wearing black since the lockdown. Not once. For over a year now, I’ve only worn rich, bright, happy colors. The realities of life in this pandemic are already very dimmed and bleak. So I purposely clad myself in color, if only to brighten my mood and those who I meet with online,” she said.

Ms. Carranza, meanwhile, has gotten into twinning, or wearing matchy outfits with her two daughters during special occasions. “I hated twinning because it seemed forced to try to look like your children. On the other hand, the children will grow up fast and they’ll soon find it awkward to wear matchy-matchy outfits,” she said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Both reflect on how their work lives changed because of the pandemic.

“I actually enjoyed it at the onset. Pre-pandemic, we only really got to spend this much quality time whenever we traveled as a family in long stretches, like summer or Christmas breaks. So I relished it in the beginning. I’m used to working remotely (at home or whenever I was abroad) even before the lockdown so that wasn’t really a big shock. I love spending time with the family. We’re such a fun and funny foursome. We poke fun and prank each other often. It’s such a hilarious dynamic. My husband and I are like big kids sometimes, childish and immature at times. We genuinely enjoy time with each other,” said Ms. Joven-dela Merced. “But to have them in your face day in and day out inescapably, that can also be somewhat claustrophobic after a while. Of course, there’s cabin fever.”

Ms. Carranza says, “It’s not new to me. I used to bring the kids to their school before I work/study. People wouldn’t know me if I don’t have my kids with me (at least that’s how I perceive it). The only difference is, we don’t go out. I’m introverted and I like the solitude of not talking to other people.”

Due to the new work-from-home setups both employ, they have had to set the lines to separate work from family life, in the absence of the chore (or escape) found in the office.

“We all just agreed on our ground rules. We assigned spaces for each other and made door signs so as not to interrupt one another, unless urgent: ‘Class ongoing’ or ‘Silence please, recording.’ We dedicate specified hours for each other. We’ve also established our respective patterns and cycles. After over a year of this, I think we’ve learned to accept and embrace this way of life. More importantly, we’ve learned to be happy despite the immobility,” said Ms. Joven-dela Merced.

“It was my hope that for this year, I would be working full-time; my husband part-time. We had an agreement to switch when I finished my master’s and get my full time job, it’s my turn to be the career woman I wanted to be,” said Ms. Carranza. But due to the pandemic, she says she lies low, and rests. “Maybe this is the rest I needed in the four years of being a ‘super mama,’ as some have said,” she said.

Changing times also mean changing goals, and being in constant close quarters with family certainly influenced that. “I saw my children grow. Before, I didn’t mind it so much, because I wanted to rest in between. Now, I have no choice — well actually, we made the choice. I also stopped blogging about motherhood for a while to evaluate how I want to portray motherhood to others,” said Ms. Carranza. “I’m not really a super woman! And neither do other women have to be — because we have to acknowledge our limits and that society has to step up in the way with how it treats women and mothers by actually giving them concrete ways and means on how to be the best versions of themselves and not glorify the resiliency and sacrifice of mothers.”

She adds, “I realized that I needed to wait for things to happen and not always chase after them because I will become very tired. I learned to value myself and give myself the rest I deserve.”

“My professional and personal goals were always very realistic and achievable,” said Ms. Joven-dela Merced. “Sure, when I was younger and more aggressive, my goals were more ambitious and ideal. But as I matured, I learned to temper them. Even before the pandemic, I already had a very appreciative outlook and level-headed mentality. I don’t beat myself up anymore for things I can’t control. I just do the best I can under the parameters I’m given,” she said. “Professionally, I just want to ensure the company is able to assist its employees the best way it can, given the company’s limitations. Personally, I just want to provide a healthy and happy environment for the family.”

The pandemic is a constant season of loss, and last year made it necessary to deem what was truly essential. Both women reflected on things they have learned to let go, and things to hold closer. For Ms. Carranza, she gladly loses one thing: “I can do without a bra!” she says with laughter. “Other than that, it turns out I can do with so little clothes. No need to buy again.”

She decided to let go of anger (and also a bit of social media): “Ang hirap magalit palagi (It’s hard to always be angry). You read about the billions of debt on Facebook. I deactivated FB for a while because all the fake news is there! But it’s so hard to always be complacent, contened, or ‘blessed.’ We should always choose to live truthfully and responsibly in all the ways we can do. Start with the little things you do with your children.”

As for Ms. Joven-dela Merced, “My heart aches every time I hear of someone’s passing, someone’s business suffering, someone losing a job, or someone’s mental state spiraling [down]. It’s heartbreaking to witness the hardships and the pain people undergo because of the situation we’re in. I just channel my emotions to doing something to help, even in my own little way. I involve the kids in these little donation-drive projects to help displaced individuals. It’s a tiny drop, what we do. Hopefully though it helps nonetheless.

“We just have to keep the faith and maintain optimism. After all, hope is such a powerful thing.” — Joseph L. Garcia

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