Women are built to be resilient personally and professionally. We can take on challenges in all forms and sizes as we juggle family life and corporate careers. But we are still only human and we have limits. So when is enough really enough? Mercedes Quintana talks about the story behind the article Thee American Mothers, On The Brink published in the New York Times last February 6, 2021 where she shares the challenges of being a Case Manager and a mom in the same room at the same time. She recalls how she was able to schedule chores and breaks together which left her overwhelmed and triggered the pivotal moment of realization that something’s got to give. Tune in and be inspired by how she managed to turn things around and found a new passion amidst the pandemic. Just another proof that we have to always “Be Brave, Be Bold, And Take Action.”
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Working Mom On The Brink – Finding New Passion Amidst The Pandemic With Mercedes Quintana
This show is going to be a little bit different. I came across an article on LinkedIn. I knew that I had to reach out to the person that was in the article. Her name is Mercedes Quintana. The article was called Three American Mothers On the Brink. Mercedes is one of the moms that was interviewed for the New York Times. Afterward, she also appeared on Good Morning America. I would like for you to go and look at either the article or the Good Morning America snippet because it shows a picture of Mercedes right smack in the middle of the pandemic. She is taking sheets out of the dryer. She’s on the floor kneeling. She rested her face and her head right on the sheet. It’s incredible.
I wanted to bring Mercedes on so that we can talk about how life was back then and how life is now with respect to her career, what was happening at the time, and what is happening now. We were right in the middle of the pandemic. Everybody was dealing with all the stress but I cannot even imagine being a mom of young kids, especially having to take care of them 24/7. At the time, her daughter was three. There was a lot going on for Mercedes and her family. With that, stay tuned for the conversation.
Mercedes, thank you so much for being here. I had a conversation with you a little while ago. I found you through LinkedIn. You were part of an article in the New York Times. It was called Three American Mothers On the Brink. This was published back in February of ’21. Tell me a little bit about how that happened. How did you get on the article? What was happening in your family at the time smack in the middle of a pandemic?
That was a very exciting time for us. We were living in our RV, which is a 30-foot RV bouncing between campgrounds every two weeks because our home was being built. That’s when I was following another mom on Instagram. She said, “Check out this article. They’re recruiting. Fill it out if you feel like we could fit.” That’s what I did. I explained, “We’re a family living in our RV. In the summer, my husband is working three jobs. These are very hectic times.” I got a call because I’m sure that’s a unique story. That’s how it started. I was letting my anger out in that application, questionnaire, or whatever you want to call it. That’s how I got the contact for that article. That explains how we were at that time. It was an organized and chaotic time to make do until we got into our new home.
How long would it have been until you got into your new home at the time?
We lived in the RV for about four months. It was from June until about September 2021. It was hot. We were struggling but I wouldn’t change it for the world.
You’re a mom. How many kids do you have?
My husband and I together have one. He also has an older daughter.
You said you were angry. What were you angry about? You’re a mom. Even though your husband is there and he’s actively involved in everything, you’re stuck in this RV. You’re stuck because it’s in the middle of the pandemic. You have a daughter. How old is she again?
Back then, she was three.
Even though you can't take five minutes to yourself, make sure that what goes in your body is going to be healing and nourishing so that you don't feel the need for self-care every day. – Mercedes Quintana Click To Tweet
Why were you angry?
There were so many things. I felt so out of place even at the grocery store that I would go to. I didn’t have my routine. It was a new grocery store. I didn’t know what I was doing there. I was trying to entertain our daughter in between Zoom meetings and keep her quiet. My husband is on the Zoom meeting inside. I have to keep her entertained outside, then we will switch.
I was frustrated because I couldn’t cook in my RV. It was so hard. It’s doable but it’s difficult. I didn’t want to clean anything. Everything was pretty unorganized and chaotic. It’s the only way I could describe why I was so angry. I wanted to go to my office and be at work and focused on work, and I couldn’t. That was so frustrating because everything was blending together.
One of the pictures in the New York Times article was of you taking clothes out of the dryer. You bent over and laid your head on the sheets. What was that about?
I was exhausted. As mothers and women that are working from home, we can all understand that you can go to the office and concentrate on work. If you’re at home and you get a break, you’re going to quickly vacuum and do the dishes. That was my moment, “I have five minutes. I need to switch the laundry.” It was all warm and cozy. I fell on it for a quick cat nap.
That picture says a thousand words. It’s incredible. I saw it. Part of the reason why I wanted to invite you to the show is that picture was very evident of the exhaustion of you being a working mom. This show is about women in corporate moving up the corporate ladder. You had a few minutes here and there. You’re trying to take care of your daughter primarily, and then trying to do things around your husband’s schedule and your schedule. You’re switching Zoom calls. What did you do when you both had Zoom calls or meetings?
We were like, “I’m sorry she’s in the background. I might have to get up.”
That makes sense because with a three-year-old at the time, what are you going to do? Was your employer at the time understanding of the situation? How was that working?
My direct boss was very understanding. I would thank her every week for that. She was a mother herself. She understood. My coworkers understood. The clients were amazing through all of this, honestly. Everybody understood around my circle but once it got higher up, it was like, “What is she doing? Are we sure this is a good position for her?” It was questionable. That’s what made me ultimately say, “This isn’t a right fit.” I was grateful that my direct boss was understanding. She had my back when it came to not having childcare.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the whole Great Resignation that was pretty prominent during the pandemic. It has been slowing down. Companies are now starting to lay people off. What was it that ultimately made you decide to leave a corporate job? I believe you’re back to school. What made you decide to leave?
The cherry on top was the vaccination requirement. Whether I got it or not, I didn’t like how they handled it. A lot of people were getting denied exemptions, even medical ones. I didn’t feel like that was right. They were very black and white about it. I didn’t approve. That was the cherry on top of, “I don’t want to work here for the rest of my life. It’s not where I want to be.”
Was it difficult for you to make the decision to resign from a good-paying job? Was it a no-nonsense decision based on your life, your family, and what was happening to you at the time?
It was hard to make that decision because I loved my boss, my coworkers, and the clients. I love mental health. It’s where I wanted to be. It was flexible. It was perfect. It was difficult to make that decision. It did take a long time for me to think about it. I would talk to my husband, “I’m feeling stressed. I don’t know that’s fulfilling me anymore.” It was a long time coming. With that vaccine thing, I was like, “This is my way out. I’ll go now and slip under the rug.” It was hard because I was leaving almost ten years behind to jump into something new. It was scary but ultimately, it was a good decision.
The keyword that you said was fulfilling because if you’re working in a job, it’s not fulfilling, it could be a number of reasons why it’s not fulfilling, and then you need to do something different. You need to take action, talk to your boss, and figure out if it’s the right decision for you to stay there or if it’s the right decision to leave and do something else like yourself. You either go back to school, search for another job, or something like that. It is a hard decision because you’ve had ten years. You have good relationships. All of a sudden, you’re pivoting and doing a 180. You’re back at school. What are your next plans for school? What are the next steps?
I’ll graduate around Thanksgiving time. I’m in school for nutritional therapy. It’s still along the same lines of helping people. I don’t want to say healing but getting people healthy and in a spot where they’re healthy and happy. I’m excited to do that. It took a while for me to sit there and think about what I was passionate about and what was going to light that fire again. That’s when my husband was like, “You always talk about food. You always tell people to look at the ingredients. Find something along those lines.” I did. That’s what I’m doing now. Once we graduate, we’re going to start our business. My husband is a mental health therapist. He will do the mental health side and I’ll do the nutritional side. We will take a whole-body approach to health.
That sounds so exciting. That’s good for you. That’s fantastic. You’re partnering and yet doing your respective disciplines. I want to go back. Was it your husband that was telling you that you like food and to try to do something along those lines?
I was struggling with how I will know what I’m passionate about. I love mental health and I’m passionate about it but I can’t move up in that field. I’m stuck where I’m at, unfortunately. I need to find a new passion. I’ve been thinking about it for so long. I was getting so frustrated. My husband was like, “You always talk to people about their health. Go to your nutritional therapy practitioner. Why don’t you become one?” That’s the light bulb I’ve been waiting for.
That’s so nice that he was able to identify your passion without you even knowing it. That’s important. I was interviewing Laurie Swanson. She said that there are four stages of a career. The contemplation stage is the first stage. You were held up a little bit. It’s so cool that your husband was the one that said, “You love food. You’re always telling people how to be healthy and about ingredients.” What an amazing partnership that you have that he recognized your passion before you did. That’s fantastic.
I’m like, “I need help.”
One thing that’s super cool about food, as you well know, food can because so many issues, especially gut issues that translate into mental health issues. You’re going to be still helping people. You’re going to be doing it through food instead of through therapy and things like that. The fact that you’re working with your husband is going to be very cool. I want to take you back to the pandemic time when you were still working full-time. You have your daughter and your husband at home. Do you feel that you both contributed equally to the household responsibilities? Tell me a little bit about that.
For a lot of people, that could be a difficult question because it’s a big-picture question. That’s something that we discuss between ourselves. At that time, he was working 3 to 4 jobs. If somebody were to come into our house and not speak to us, it would look like he’s in his office all day and I’m doing everything. That was not the case. I don’t want to work three jobs.
I’ll happily contribute to the other half of the household by keeping it clean, keeping food on our table when he is working for the food, and keeping our daughter happy. We contribute equally. Whenever he was on his break, he was right there next to me, spending time with me and our daughters so I can get a break and letting me know, “If you want to go and take a break, let me know so that I can block out that time.” We contribute equally in our ways. It keeps us functioning.
That’s so commendable because you were in a good position even though the pandemic sucked but you had that partner. He was right there by your side even though he might not physically be doing things around the house. He was working and you knew that he was working. He’s doing it for you and your daughter. That’s a great partnership. You can’t ask for anything more. It would be different if after work, he did his thing and you were still taking care of everything else and still working full-time.
A lot of women during the pandemic did get a lot of the brunt of the responsibilities. I don’t think men necessarily don’t want to contribute but a lot of it has to do with child–rearing. Children tend to gravitate to their moms, especially younger kids. My kids are 21 and 24, but during the pandemic, they were 19 and 22. I cannot even imagine having a child that you have to take care of 24/7. One of my sisters has two kids. They were in 3rd and 5th grade at the time. That’s hard because getting them to be on Zoom all day and that whole thing was difficult. At least you didn’t have the school-age time.
I keep that as a positive thing.
What job were you doing at the time? You were in mental health but what exactly were you doing?
I was a case manager/addiction specialist. That means anytime a client needed anything, food, housing, a link to a psychiatrist, or a new therapist, they called me. The way I described it to new clients was, “I am your personal assistant that’s available from 8:00 to 4:00. I’m here to help you navigate where you want to go and your goals.” I did a lot of addiction treatment. It was unfortunate but we saw an uptake in addictions, especially in people that were in recovery. We did addiction groups and one-on-one counseling. I was there to chat with them because it was very lonely for them as well.
I can’t imagine someone that relies on those support groups that you would go to in person and then have that taken away. That’s a huge thing that they now have to overcome and transition to Zoom. Who knows if they even have the ability to have a camera?
They didn’t. They were used to public transportation. Their world got turned upside down.
I cannot even imagine. You as their case manager are feeling the stress because you can’t help them the way you normally would prior to the pandemic. I’m sure that was stressful for you as well. As far as your job being a full-time mom working, did you get any support from your employer for the mental health side of the house?
Yes and no. My boss was always like, “I’m here to talk. I’m here for you to vent and things like that.” She was. It’s the same with my coworkers. In the first year of the pandemic, because I did go off of that, we used our supervision in our meetings to vent to each other. That was good. When I did reach out to the company for my mental health support and my support in general like I don’t have childcare. I didn’t have vacation time or anything like that when I ran out. They were like, “We can’t help you. You either work or you quit. There’s nothing left that we could do to help you.”
My boss was like, “No.” She did not like that answer. I didn’t like it. I remember that day. I was driving by myself. I had spoken to the HR department. They were like, “There’s nothing we can do. You either quit or you push through.” I was like, “I have a three-year-old with no childcare. She’s not going to understand.” I was so mad. The whole pandemic made me say, “This company wants money. They’re not about their employee’s mental health and their client’s mental health.” It was sad but I made it through.
How did you try to do any self-care for yourself?
That was hard because my self-care pre-pandemic was pedicures. I would be out of the house for an hour. It was enough time to relax, take a nap, and do things like that. My self-care went on the back burner because I can’t relax if I have work to do and if I feel chaotic and unorganized. I would rather take that time to try to organize my life, especially in the RV. I didn’t have any self-care time.
I could tell that took a huge toll on me, unfortunately. My self-care went in a different direction from reading ingredients. Even though I can’t take five minutes to myself, I’m going to make sure that what goes in my body is going to be healing and nourishing so that I don’t feel like I need that self-care every day. It flipped a little bit. I didn’t take time to myself but I took care of myself.
No wonder your husband was like, “That makes more sense now.” I saw a second picture with you. You were in a closet. You were in a crouch down with a laptop. Your daughter was right behind you. Was that in the RV or your new house?
That was in our new house. Thankfully, we have a large closet. That was my attempt at making an office. It still didn’t work because she still came in. I was like, “I might as well work in the living room.” That was my attempt at an office.
I was wondering about that. I was like, “I need to ask her about that particular picture.” You’re trying to work. You’re on the floor but then she’s right behind you.
I have a little desk in my setup. If she’s away for a little bit, I can close the door and have a quiet call, but it never worked out.
That never panned out. I also wanted to ask you. During this whole time when you’re going to bed and you’re thinking about yourself and how you’re handling everything, what did you learn about yourself during that time?
I am so resilient and strong to get up every day and do it all over again. We go to sleep at night and be like, “That was terrible. That was a horrible day.” The next day, we get up, do it all over again, and think the same thing at night, “That was terrible.” It’s how resilient I am getting up every day, doing the same thing and the same routine, cooking, cleaning, working, being a mom, and being a wife. I am strong. I go out there and do it. I have no choice.
I love that you said that you’re strong and resilient because you have to. Even if we hadn’t been in a pandemic, having a young child is not easy. Working or going to school and having a young child is not easy but you got through it and did it. We’re still in the remnants of the pandemic. They’re saying we’re not officially in it but COVID is still here. It’s here to stay. A lot of people are still getting sick with COVID. Thank goodness it’s not nearly as bad as it was. It has been a while since the article has been published. How has life changed? How are you doing with your family dynamic? How is life now versus the chaos back then?
It’s so much better. We’re back into a groove. I don’t go to sleep every night thinking, “That was horrible.” I look forward to waking up in the morning and getting a new day. My husband is doing private practice now. He makes his schedule. It’s only 1 job, not 4. We get to see him a lot more. Mila, our daughter, is a little bit more independent.
I can say, “I’m going to be on a call. My door is going to be shut. I need you to play. If you need anything, wait for dad.” That is so helpful. I’m more organized. That brings me a sense of calmness. I wouldn’t say I’m where I want to be with organizing but we have a routine. That’s all I can ask for because at the beginning of the pandemic, moving, working and trying to balance everything was so chaotic. We didn’t have a routine at all.
Everybody got thrown into this life curve ball globally. I don’t know if you remember seeing all the videos from people in Italy where they’re playing catch or something from window to window or from apartment to apartment and things like that. You see interesting ways of how people were able to still relate and entertain. I’ve seen things where women would go to a parking lot and park their minivans. They’re social distancing but they’re all in their vans. It was winter at the time. Everybody is in their coats. They have all the back of the vans up. They’re chatting because that’s the sanity of people at the time to get through it.
We all adapted. We knew what we needed. We adapted to the rules and regulations.
Knowing everything that you know now, would you have done anything different back then?
No. Everything we did was to the best of our ability. We needed to keep our jobs and somewhat enjoyed our jobs. It’s not like in the pandemic, I could have a babysitter because that’s the one thing I wish I had. Maybe learn a little bit earlier on to take breaks, not put my job first, and pay attention to what matters and my daughter and not the job or the clients because ultimately, they all survived without me, but my daughter and my husband can’t without me.
There are no regrets. You think you did everything the best that you could. There couldn’t have been anything else that you could have done. Even when I talked to you, you seem more relaxed. You seem like you’re happier. I’m so glad that you guys have a good routine because it’s so important. Let me do a little bit of a tangent. There’s this term. I don’t know if you’ve heard it. It’s brand new. It’s quiet quitting.
I don’t think it’s necessarily bad because these are people that were giving 120% to their work, working a lot of overtime, and putting in a lot of extra hours. All of a sudden, they’re still doing their job, contributing, and meeting all their key performance indicators and all that stuff but they’re not going above and beyond. They are not putting in all the extra hours because they want to enjoy life.
The things that the pandemic made a lot of people realize as far as work is concerned is that a lot of us were working, and we felt that obligation because that’s what we have been ingrained in. The United States is unique in this. Other countries look at the United States and they’re like, “You guys are nuts.” The pandemic has made people realize that we need to enjoy the moment and appreciate the day away from work. You’re still working from 8:00 to 4:30 or whatever your hours are. You’re still dedicated but you’re not killing yourself for the job. You’re trying to balance. That’s the biggest thing.
I wish it was called something different. You’re doing your job but you’re not putting your life on the back burner for the job. I’m glad that we’re here now. How many times have you heard of someone that retires and then within the year, they drop dead from a heart attack or something? That whole time, you could have been enjoying your life a little bit more.
That will probably bring us back to that question. That’s something I would have changed. I would have said, “Just because I’m working at home doesn’t mean I’m going to work ten hours. Just because I’m working from home doesn’t mean I have all this free time now.” There was a threat from the higher-ups and you need to prove that you’re essential. If you don’t, we’re going to cut your program.
I was like, “Here we go.” I would work my butt off, stress out, and take on extra work and extra clients. I shouldn’t have done that because not only are we working extra but we’re taking on this extra emotional thing from the pandemic, stress and life. One thing I would change is to say no, “I’m not going to take a group. I’m not going to take extra clients. I can’t do it.”
That’s a good lesson for you. When you and your husband start to establish yourselves in your practice, that’s going to come back and be a good lesson for you to say, “I can work however many hours and then set boundaries around that.” Your husband may be like, “Let’s take extra clients.” You still have to balance work and life. It’s incredible to me how far you’ve come. You’re still a resilient and strong woman. You want to advance and create your business. You’re recreating your life.
One thing that I want to make sure that women in corporate understand is that things can pivot. You can change and do something different, whether you stay in corporate or start your business. Many people that resigned during the pandemic left corporate to start their businesses. That’s good for them, but all of these lessons are going to help you and your husband to establish an amazing business where you’re going to be able to help people. You’re going to be able to do it on your terms. That’s going to be the biggest difference for you guys.
He had left corporate too in the middle of the pandemic. We’re right there with each other. No more meetings, just family. Let’s make our business and do what we want.
I’m excited for you. You’re in California. You have nicer weather than Chicago.
I don’t know if I would rather do 110 or -30 with the wind chill factor.
I might rather be cold. I’ll say that now but when I’m cold, I’ll say I want 110.
I wanted to ask you if you could give two tips to women in corporate that are struggling in their careers and maybe are working too much. What are a couple of tips that you have for women in corporate?
First, give yourself grace. You can’t do everything in 8 hours, 10 hours, 12 hours, or a day. You can’t do it all. Give yourself breaks and grace and learn to say no. We always want to give 110% in our jobs, at home, and to ourselves. We can’t do that. Everything has to give. One day, give 60% to work, 20% to home, and then the rest to yourself. That changes on a daily basis when we give ourselves grace.
Secondly, nourish yourself. If you’re not nourishing yourself, you’re stressed. Your body is stressed. You won’t notice it until it’s too late, and then you’re sick. When I get a cold, I’m like, “I should’ve taken care of myself because now I’m miserable.” Give yourself grace with every day that comes and what comes with that day. Nourish yourself and give yourself food and what your body needs to overcome the stress that you go through. Take a lunch break, a breakfast break, or whatever it is. Take your breaks. Don’t push through those breaks. Take them, enjoy your food, and relax.
Those are great tips, especially with the nourishing one. That includes water. Many people don’t drink enough water.
Add salt to that water for more hydration.
That’s what I do. What I do is take a bunch of lemons and squeeze them. I have a juicer. I squeeze them and put them in little ice containers or the freezer. It’s already all done. That’s fresh. I pretty much do it once a week. I have my big jug of water and do the salt and the lemon. I do it in the morning and the afternoon. I get my water. It’s very cool. Mercedes, this was a great conversation. It’s cool that you were in the New York Times article. Did you do anything else other than the New York Times article?
After that, I went radio silent for a little bit but then I kicked back up with Good Morning America. We talked about what moms are still going through. It was about a year following the article. It was a little follow-up of how moms are still feeling like we’re in the thick of it.
Thank you so much for spending this time with me. Are there any final words from our conversation?
If anybody wants any quick nourishing tips, follow me on Instagram @Realistically.Nourished. Other than that, women are incredible. We do it all. Always give yourself a pat on the back.
That’s fantastic advice. Mercedes, thank you so much for your time.
It was so incredible how Mercedes’ life has changed from back then to now. She learned about herself that she is strong and resilient. That’s fantastic. You can tell she is in a much better place now with her new home and she’s much more settled. She quit her job. She was part of the Great Resignation where she decided that corporate was not working for her, especially with the way the employer was doing things. She decided to quit. She went back to school. She’s still doing school. She is going to become a registered dietician and go into a business with her husband. That is amazing. Strength and resilience are something that she learned. She knows that she had to go in there, take care of her daughter, and do all of the things during the pandemic, and she came out on the other side.
The two tips that Mercedes gave us are, tip number one is to give yourself grace and take breaks. She said that you’re not going to be able to do it all, so you may as well take those breaks. I love the fact that she said to give yourself grace. I’m going to add compassion as well because sometimes we women are so hard on ourselves that we forget to be compassionate toward ourselves.
Tip number two, Mercedes says to nourish yourself with good food. Make sure that you’re eating healthily and that the food you’re eating is good for your body. I added the fact that we also need to hydrate. One of the things that I do is I have a big water bottle. It’s half a gallon. I do one in the morning and one in the afternoon. I have a juicer, so I juice lemon juice. I put them in ice cube trays and freeze them. That way, every morning I just have to pop my lemon ice cube and put a little bit of salt in there. I have my water ready for the day. I do that in the morning and afternoon. Those are a couple of quick tips on how you can easily hydrate and eat good food. With that, have a great day. Remember to be brave, be bold, and take action.
- Mercedes Quintana
- Three American Mothers On the Brink
- Good Morning America
- Laurie Swanson – Previous episode
- @Realistically.Nourished – Instagram
About Mercedes Quintana
Mercedes Quintana is a wife and mom of 1. Her background is in mental health, and currently transitioning to becoming a registered dietitian to start her own business alongside my husband.
Corporate life is just not feasible for moms, so she feels having her own business will meet her needs as a mom, wife, and career woman.