With a quick scroll through her Instagram, you’ll wonder how she manages it all. While her grid naturally maintains a cozy, uplifting aesthetic – branding is her thing, after all – she doesn’t hold back from having candid conversations about motherhood, parenting, and entrepreneurship through her captions and Stories.
Brandy Pham’s experience with balancing the demands of being a new mom while running a business not only led her to build PLANOLY, but ultimately, inspired her servant leadership and parenting style. Brandy is a leader for a future generation of entrepreneurs – an especially shining star for minority women entering the tech space.
Today, Brandy is a mother of two and the creative visionary behind the PLANOLY and StoriesEdit apps. She and her husband, Andy Hoang, worked together to build PLANOLY. Now, the duo is running their home and a quickly-growing company amid a global pandemic.
Like others on the PLANOLY team who work closely with Brandy, I was curious to know more about the demands of her hectic schedule and daily balancing act during this time. Between answering Slack, switching between life and work with Andy, managing her team, hopping onto a Zoom call, virtual classes with the kids, and maybe some “me time,” how has she been able to sustain creativity, empathy, and humor?
What was your family’s normal, pre-pandemic school routine?
Our usual routine was already stressful before the pandemic, so you can imagine the uproar that COVID-19 caused in our home. Every weekday is a marathon of getting both kids up and ready for the day. We would drop off our daughter at daycare, then start our therapy schedule with our 6-year-old son, who has Autism. He has Speech and Occupational therapy first thing in the morning before we drop him off at BCBA (Behavioral therapy) before heading to the office for work. During our work hours, we try to get as much done as possible before our evening routine of picking up both kids, going home to start dinner, and getting the kids ready for bath and bedtime. We usually get some work done before going to bed ourselves.
How did you and Andy – PLANOLY’s CEO – establish work, parenting, and marriage boundaries?
The first few weeks were up in the air and pure pandemonium since we didn’t know what was going on or how long it would last. After many failures and successes, we kept evaluating what was and wasn’t working for us as a family. We both had to work from home, have a 2-year-old and an Autistic son who was previously receiving 40 hours of therapy a week to transitioning to homeschool and teletherapy. We started blocking off WORK and CARING hours. Since I was the one doing the parent-led teletherapy with Teddy, Emmy would get her 1:1 sessions with my husband during those time blocks.
What’s it like homeschooling two children and doing virtual therapy with Teddy?
It hasn’t been easy. As children and even adults, routines are so important, so behaviors and anxiety immediately spiked up in both kids. It’s still important to keep our routines the same as much as possible, so that gave our kids a little comfort in knowing what to expect for the day. Some days they are more cooperative than other days, but I’ve waved my white flag and started letting my high expectations go a bit.
Teletherapy has been difficult as Teddy is already flighty, and it’s hard to keep him focused in front of the iPad or computer during the sessions. It’s constant running back and forth and redirecting him. Although I feel like a failure when he doesn’t have good sessions, I also make sure to celebrate the tiny victories when he does well and relive it by telling the family his little successes for the day and replay it in my head. I often share those tiny victories in my Instagram Stories and save them in my Highlights and rewatch them as a constant reminder of how hard he works and of the progress he’s made over the years.
Who are some people in your digital community that provide comfort and support right now?
Along with my amazing team, there are so many amazing people in our digital community that has provided comfort and support. Caitlin Kruse of @themamanotes has been a blessing with sharing all of her tips and tricks for keeping the kids busy at home, working from home as a parent, but also being so candid, honest, and genuine about imperfection, daily failures, and just going with the flow. Even the Sago Mini (@sagomini) team has been helpful with Teddy and their new preschool app by answering my questions, giving ideas, and feedback for homeschooling!
You always have an open ear and are ready to help your team. How have you been able to cultivate that practice as a leader?
I’ll be candid and tell you that I’m bad at asking for help. I usually suffer in silence and try to handle everything on my own until I break. I’ve been getting better at that during the past few weeks, and I’m so grateful to have such a supportive and understanding husband, partners, and team who have helped me tremendously.
What led you and the leadership team to prioritize health, family, and then PLANOLY as a companywide culture?
Most of our decisions are shaped around our personal experiences (e.g. bad bosses and poor work experiences in our previous jobs) and going through the experiences raising Teddy. I’m not sure if people are fully aware, but when parents get this kind of diagnosis, it’s like growing through the stages of grieving a death. It took a toll on our mental and emotional health. We had to let go of all of our dreams or pre-assumptions of what our child would be like or the “normal” family life we thought we’d have.
We started PLANOLY as a bootstrap startup when Teddy was a baby and after burning ourselves out, we all made the decision that it wasn’t healthy for us. Collectively we needed to prioritize health and family first. We firmly believe that if you’re happy and healthy, then it truly shows through your work. As parents and as founders, we want to practice what we preach, and we’re very proud of that.
What’s the first thing you’re going to do after quarantine?
The first thing we’re doing after quarantine is taking the kids to the playground and letting them run wild! It’s been the saddest thing to see and hear them ask about the playground and even school! What we’ve been doing as of late is going on drives and we tell the kids they can wave and say “hi” and “we’ll see you soon” because they miss their teachers and friends so much.
We’re all human and can only handle so much! Since you’ve been juggling taking care of the kids while working from home, have you had any moments where you just felt defeated? How did you get through it, and what did you take away from the experience?
There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t feel defeated at some point. Some days Teddy is OCD and everything bothers him. Other days, Emmy is challenging to put down for a nap. I even try to wake up at 5 am to get some work in. Some days it works but most of the time, Emmy ends up waking up several times a night and I’m just exhausted.
I started to change my language a bit and noticed that if you vocalize the negatives, it makes it worse on yourself and on your partner or children who have to hear it. Instead of saying, “I’m tired” and be moody for the day, I can say, “Hey, I didn’t get much sleep last night because Emmy was constantly waking up. I’m going to need some help today.” Little changes like these start to make a big difference.
Do you have any daily habits that have been helpful to keep you sane during this strange time?
We’ve been prioritizing our water intake, starting from when we wake up and making sure we take breaks to step outside for a break. For me, my daily 5-minute face wash and moisturizing routine have been bliss. What has also helped me is making sure I roll my back with a foam roller and stretch for the day.
How are you prioritizing you time? What has worked for you to help set boundaries and give yourself time to recharge?
This is the biggest struggle for any parent because we’re always thinking of the kids and their needs first. When I figure this one out…I’ll let you know—just kidding! Although I’m terrible at prioritizing ME time, I make sure I do my skincare routine every night and even if it’s only 5 minutes, it’s like going to the spa for me, so I’ll take it! I also started setting the rule of “no screens” during meal times. To fully be present and enjoy your meals is something I’ll never take for granted. We are so wired, and constantly trying to answer every Slack message or email we get, that we often forget to enjoy the little pleasures in life like food!