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My tribe

What are you investing in?

manuelita otero

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These past weeks, Ana has been telling me about her experience teaching her five year old daughter, Manu, at home. One thing is for sure, homeschooling is not for the faint hearted. It requires discipline, time, hard work, patience, energy, creativity, and so many more attributes that it would be difficult to list them all. She says the experience has  been great, but it takes a lot of preparation and dedication, which takes time and she still has her job and Happily Imperfect, which can feel overwhelming. But Ana knows that she is making an investment and a wise one too. She is investing in her daughter.

We have valuable assets such as money, time, and talents. Each day we decide if we are going to invest them or use them up. Investing takes research, planning, and patience because most of the time we won't see the return of our investment until years later. But if we do our homework and invest in the right things we will enjoy the results and be glad we did. So, the question is, who are you investing into? Because investing is not only about money, actually the most important investments we will ever make don’t even require money. They will need time, one of our most valuable assets and it will be invested in people, most likely a long term plan. You may be investing in yourself, studying late at night after a full day of work to advance your career, you may be investing in a neighbor helping her clean the yard, maybe you are investing in a special friend who is going through difficulties, or maybe, like Ana, you are investing in your children.

The tough thing about investments is that sometimes you don’t know if they are going to pay off. You may start full of excitement, but the road is long and the commitment hurts at times. You may have doubts along the way and you may even worry because you just don’t think you will have enough to continue. But when it’s time to collect the fruits of your  investment the difficulties are forgotten and you are glad you didn’t give up. Ana knows this, but it never hurts for all of us to be reminded that there is a time in which we will get to enjoy the fruits of our hard work. I often tell her that everything she is doing right now matters, that it is bigger than she can imagine, not only is she making beautiful memories with her daughter, but she is creating a strong foundation for a relationship that will stand the test of time. Why can I say this with such certainty? Because I have been there, I have invested through the years in my two children. I have deposited and now I am receiving not only double or tripled my investment, I honestly couldn’t put a number to it because the return is priceless. The long drives to tournaments, the waiting at auditions, the going and coming to practice and classes, the long rehearsals, the late nights picking up after parties, the long talks, all of it worth it. I see my children and I am so thankful for who they have become, who they have grown to be. They are not perfect, but they are young adults who want to make a positive difference everywhere they go.

Ask yourself often, who am I investing in?

Manuelita@manuelitaotero


 

The Crystal Quilt "I'm not aging, I'm ripening"

manuelita otero

My daughter and I recently visited Denmark and one of our favorite memories is riding around the city on bicycles. It was something different for us since it had been years since we had ridden a bike. We loved the opportunity to be outside, see the people, enjoy the weather, and at the same time do some exercise. Not only were the sites amazing, but the time we spent with Margarita, a family member, was even more precious. She guided us all over the city without complaints or needing to rest. I loved her attitude, patience, and the wisdom she shared with us. Did I mention that Margarita is over 70? But that didn’t slow her down one bit, so when I saw at the Tate Modern Museum in London an artwork called The Crystal Quilt I immediately thought about her.   

On Mother’s Day May 10 in 1987, 430 women over the age of 60 gathered to be part of The Crystal Quilt, the culmination of the Whisper Minnesota Project, a three year public artwork that wanted to empower older women. The artist, Suzanne Lacy, together with the collaboration of Phyllis Jane Rose, Miriam Schapiro, Nancy Dennis, and Susan Stone interviewed hundreds of women. The artist wanted to impact the community in a positive way by addressing the invisibility of older women.

During the performance of The Crystal Quilt, the women wore all black sat on specially arranged seats and engaged in conversations about their future in society while they were doing simple actions with their hands. Every 15 minutes they would hear a sound that would tell them to move the position of their hands so it would look as stitches on a quilt.

As I read about this artwork, heard the conversations recorded, saw the photos, and watched the video I loved the reminder of the importance of older women in our lives- their wisdom, knowledge, and all they contribute to society. I specially liked that the artwork was not a static piece, but a project that lasted three years and involved hundreds of women. It went out of the museum walls into people’s lives and is still doing that today. It made me think, it made me want to share it and it made me want to make a difference starting with the older women who are close to me.

You are as old as you feel. Attitude, kindness, and character are more important than a number, so we need to start seeing the women who have lived more years than us as women of great value who are offering and can offer to society more than we realize.

Manuelita@manuelitaotero

Children are great traveling partners

manuelita otero

Have you ever met anyone who doesn’t get excited when the word “vacation” is mentioned? When we talk about traveling, some people may smile and let out a deep sigh. It may be a sign of happiness, expectation, or maybe even a little worry. As exciting as vacations are, they can also be a little overwhelming. Adding children to the equation may even make things a little more challenging. 

Some people enjoy traveling with children, even if there is a lot of planning involved. Some families get stressed trying to make their children behave “properly”; while other parents are used to it so they don’t worry at all. There are others who not only appreciate the opportunity, but also enjoy the advantages of traveling with children. They love the spontaneity, the energy, and the curious nature that children add to vacation time. We want to remind mothers, fathers, uncles, friends, aunts, grandmothers, and grandfathers that:

traveling + vacation + children  = magical fun!

It won’t be perfect and it may require a little extra planning, but it's worth it! Here are some tips:

-Be fair with your expectations. We can’t expect children to behave as adults because they are not.  

-Enjoy your child’s company and spontaneity. Try to see things from his or her perspective.

-Take this opportunity to teach your child to be flexible. Sometimes things just don’t go the way you expect them.  

-Train your children to be good travelers, teach them to respect different cultures, to disconnect from electronics, to appreciate museums, and to go with the flow.

-A plan is just a guide and you should not expect to follow it to perfection. Memories can’t be planned, so leave plenty of space for spontaneity, be flexible, and have fun.  

-Remember that you don’t have to travel thousands of miles to discover new places and new experiences. Start with your city. Visit museums with your children, even if they’re young. Go to tourist attractions and also to the less known sites. Take family walks, cook with different spices at home, when eating out, don’t order their meal from the children’s menu, instead, invite them to try something different.  

 -From a very young age teach your children to eat everything. It may be easier said than done, but they will thank you in the future.

Above everything, don’t wait for your children to be older to travel with them. Traveling together is an opportunity to create a strong family bond and to share beautiful things.  Traveling helps children become practical, flexible, and curious, not only during vacation, but every day. It also gives you the opportunity to learn from your children to live the moment, to enjoy the small details and to observe your surroundings. Make trips a family tradition that will keep going through generations.

Ana and Manuelita

 

What do you see?

manuelita otero

I used to think that a “good” mom focused on her children’s needs first, was always happy, cooked every night, always looked good, and never made mistakes. Being the perfectionist that I was, I wanted to put a check mark on each of the things that according to me made a “good mom.”  I don’t really know where I got these ideas; all I know is that I felt being a mom was exhausting.  My heart was in the right place, I was happy to share life with my two beautiful children, but my perception was definitely based on something unattainable.

Perception is how we see and react to our environment. It’s not a simple gathering of information through our senses; it includes our past, our beliefs, and our experiences. Perception can be based on reality or it can come from an idea that we have created in our minds. It’s real for us and it affects our daily actions.

Illusion is a false perception. In my case I had the illusion of the perfect mom and I had set up all these expectations that couldn’t be met and made me feel like a failure.  I wonder why we do that to ourselves. Why do we define unattainable goals to “motivate” us when at the end they only make us feel insufficient? Why do we hurt ourselves this way? We are affecting not only us, but the people around us that we love.

Take a moment to carefully look at yourself, at your life. What do you see? Be honest. Do you see good things? Are you being positive about yourself? Or do negative comments keep coming up?  Many times we don’t stop to analyze why we think the way we think. What is defining your perception of life? Could it also be the illusion of the perfect mom?

Your perception is not going to change overnight, but paying closer attention to what is shaping your thoughts and decisions is a great place to start.  Many of those beliefs may have been with you since childhood and you may have heard them over and over through the years, so it will be a process. Be persistent and enjoy the journey, take the time to search within and define your values, your priorities, and what matters to you and your family.  

As for me and my illusion of the perfect mom… A lot of things had to happen to shake me hard enough to realize what I was doing to myself.  It may not have been pretty, but it was so worth it and now I know that a great mom doesn’t have to follow a certain set of rules. When my perception changed I found freedom to be the best mom I could be, imperfections and all.

Manuelita@manuelitaotero

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No Todo es Color de Rosa

manuelita otero

We have a saying in Colombia: “No todo es color de rosa”, which means not everything is pink and perfect. I'm not a big fan of pink but I do like how it combines with gray, and lately I've been thinking about these two colors because I want to make them a part of my life. Not so much in the physical sense, but more in how I live and how I raise my little one.

Last year I had a “primiparadas”, which is a Spanish word that means when a person makes a mistake when they're doing something for the first time. I dedicated two months to prepare my little girl for her “big people school” I’m not going to lie, I was intense. I would tell her stories of all the wonderful things she was going to see and do because, as I imagine every mom would want, I was dreaming her first day of school was going to be one of the most important and happy moments in her life.

The first day was great. She was relaxed, a little shy, but happy. But as the weeks went by she experienced things that surprised her because I forgot to mention them. I focused so much on the beautiful, perfect things of her new school that didn’t even contemplate the not so great things. I could have made her transition even easier if I had told her the pink and the gray. I forgot to tell her that some days she might not want to go to school because she's sleepy or tired, but she would have to anyway. I forgot to tell her that all her classmates didn’t have to be her friends, or that it was normal she wouldn’t like all her classes.

We may be tempted to only tell our children all the good aspects of the changes they will encounter, but gray is a part of life and it's good for our little ones to know that too. I have learned not to put so much pressure on me and on my daughter, to talk to other moms about their experiences, to ask my little girl about her feelings and together prepare for the new phases ahead, enjoying them but also realizing that no todo es color de rosa

Ana

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The secret to good relationships?

manuelita otero

Have you ever wondered why relationships seem to be so tough? Whether it’s the people we are close to or a stranger standing in front of us in line, sometimes it’s just hard.  Have you ever asked yourself what is the secret to positive relationships? I don’t think there’s “one” secret, but really lots of things that help make relationships work better.

My children have grown and now my daughter has a boyfriend and my son a girlfriend and I wish I could teach them what I’ve learned from my experience and help them avoid pain. I wish there was a list of things to do and not to do in relationships, but that’s not exactly how it works. We’re complex individuals and we find ourselves in situations where instead of lists we need character and determination. Tips, guidelines, and advice are wonderful and greatly needed, but they can only go so far, we need to teach our children to know themselves, to know who they are so they can enter every relationship with confidence.

Why do I believe confidence is key? Because it’s difficult for a person with low confidence to have a healthy relationship- I’m saying this based on experience. A person with low confidence is afraid of being judged and often feels he or she is not enough. I used to be that person. I would pretend to be fine but even the smallest comment would secretly upset me and could escalate into something bigger. Having to face my lack of confidence was difficult because I felt I had to keep my life “together” to show everyone I was strong. I didn’t want to make myself vulnerable, but I finally realized that accepting my “weaknesses” made me stronger. Recognizing the way I felt about certain things and actually sharing it with others was a great help to gain the confidence I needed.

Confidence in relationships will help you:

-Say what you mean and mean what you say. And give the people around you the same freedom to express what they feel and be accepted. Make your life simpler by being honest.

-Listen to other people’s opinions without feeling the need to defend yours. Take what’s good and let go what isn’t. Everyone has the right to his or her opinion. And remember- It’s ok for someone to disagree with you.

-Make your life a little easier by not taking every little thing personally.

-Enjoy who you are and bring your best to every relationship. You are unique and valuable.  You can share something special with each person you meet. You can make a difference in people’s lives by being you.

I don’t know the “magic” formula to have happy and thriving relationships, I honestly don’t think it even exists, but knowing who you are and feeling good about it makes a world of difference.

I tell my children that before they can have a good relationship with anyone, they need to have a good relationship with themselves. The more they know themselves the more confidence they will have. So I guess relationships are not so complicated after all. Love yourself first and then love others.

Manuelita@manuelitaotero

Wanting Me Time Doesn’t Make Me a Bad Mom

manuelita otero

Being a mom is one of the best things in the world, but sometimes we forget our babies will grow (faster than we we'd like them to) and become adults with their own lives.

When we hold our baby for the first time, our priorities change. We want to protect our child, see him or her happy and in many cases we dedicate our lives to them, forgetting about ourselves.  Our children will always need us, no matter their age, but we can’t forget about ourselves. We are moms, yes! But we are also individuals with our identities, interests, hobbies, and dreams. Dedicating time to ourselves doesn't make us selfish or bad mothers.

Maybe these ideas will help you find a space just for you:

Routine – I know this word may not sound exciting, but children need a certain type of routine. It helps them organize their environment and have a sense of security.  If you can take your quiet moments each day at around the same time, children could adapt faster.

Round up – Explain the objective to your children and why you're doing it. Make a name for that time, ask them for ideas on what you could do during “mommy time.” You'll decide, but they'll be happy to be part of something important for you.

Also, define what they'll do during your time. They could work on a special project, a drawing, a book, or something that will entertain them.

Rules – It’s a good idea to define what it means for you to have quiet time, and that you should not be interrupted unless it’s an emergency. Once you take your first breath they'll come ask you for things and you may be tempted to stop. But if you are constant and respect your space, they will understand and respect it too.

Rejoice – Life is to be celebrated, big and small events. After your time alone, if possible, share some extra special time with your little ones.

Each moment with our children is precious and to be able to enjoy it completely we need to be relaxed and have some time alone.  It’s positive, healthy, and necessary for us moms to take some time each day to be good to ourselves, to do something we enjoy or to do nothing at all. It shows our children how important it is to take time to celebrate who we are and to do what we love and also to respect the needs of others. So get ready to enjoy time with your children and time alone, it’s a win-win for the whole family!

Manuelita@manuelitaotero

Arguing the Right Way

manuelita otero

Have you ever been in an argument about something apparently small and insignificant that without warning turns into a heated discussion, bigger than you could ever imagine?  Suddenly you are arguing about things that have nothing to do with what you were talking about. You blow up and then stop speaking to each other. You are angry, hurt and confused about what just happened.

The Free Dictionary defines argument as: a “Discussion in which the parties involved express disagreement with one another”. It’s unrealistic to expect to always agree with people around you, especially those closest to you. We could say that arguments are not necessarily a bad thing; they are a part of life. The problem is that often we don’t know how to argue.

If you really care about the people you argue with, then you want to learn how to turn disagreements into opportunities to get to know yourself and others better. This may help get you started:

-Words matter: There’s a difference between: “you are lazy” and “you didn’t pick up the clothes”. The first statement is an attack and if someone is attacking you, you will most likely defend yourself and strike back. Instead of attacking the person, describe the situation or event that started the whole thing.

-All or nothing never works: In an argument, words like “never or always” lead to a bigger dispute.  They are rooted in emotion and deep feelings of being unloved or unappreciated.  They are based on personal feelings that may not be related at all to the cause of your argument.   

-Pause: Many times in the middle of an argument, emotions take the best from you and you end up saying things that are hurtful. Once a word comes out it is impossible to take it back and the damage is done. Know yourself; when you realize you are getting very angry ask for a few minutes to cool down.  

-In it to win: Most likely when you argue you want to win, you want to be right and sometimes you may do anything to achieve that “sweet” victory. But is it worth it? Are you willing to hurt someone you love just to be right?

-Dig deep: If something is bothering too much or if it is appearing repeatedly in your arguments then you need to find the root of the problem, the real cause of what’s bothering you.

-The waiting game: Waiting and hoping that things will cool down and things will be back to “normal” without an apology or an analysis of what happened is an invitation for it to happen again and again. Don’t wait too long to say you are sorry; don’t let pride get in the way.  

-Fight fair: Don’t say things that you know will hurt the other person. Don’t lie, manipulate or use information that you know makes the other person vulnerable.

You are probably thinking that all these make sense, but you may also know maybe even from personal experience that when you are arguing you won’t remember any of these. It may take several discussions and biting your tongue more than once to stop yourself from saying something you really don’t want to, but you don’t have to do this alone. You can speak to that someone you often have arguments with and agree (before you get mad at each other) to argue wisely, to respect certain rules, and to even help each other recognize certain things you do in the middle of discussions. Be smarter than a discussion and agree to disagree.

Manuelita@manuelitaotero

Got Problems?

manuelita otero

The other day my children and I had to face some tough news.  It was one of those things that you didn’t want to hear, the type of news that brings down your hope in a matter of seconds. All of the sudden, we felt discouraged and exhausted.    My children were quiet and didn’t have the energy to express what they were feeling. We all decided to have some time alone and try to process what we had just heard.

When my children are hurting my immediate desire is to hug them and tell them it’s going to be ok.   With time I have learned that children, as well as adults, need to allow themselves to feel different emotions and that includes sadness, disappointment, and frustration.  This doesn’t mean that those emotions define or control our actions, but it does mean that they are real and we need to deal with them.   Teaching our children to deal with difficult situations will help them in the future when they face life on their own.  Here are some ideas on how to get started:  

- Time alone and time together:  As parents many times we think we know how our children feel and we are quick to offer solutions to their problems.  But we don’t always know, and assuming that we do is disrespectful to them. Giving a child the opportunity to sort his or her emotions and to recognize what they are feeling is a great tool for their future.  They don’t need someone offering them quick solutions, they need to be aware of why they feel the way they do and then use the help from someone to sort things out.  For this reason, children need some time alone, but not too long because sad feelings can be heavy and drag them down.     

- Let’s talk: Children need to learn to share their feelings.  Relationships are built through time and creating a positive channel of communication may be a long process. Generate spaces where your child feels free to express his or her feelings; the sooner you start this, the easier it will be for your child to open up about any topic.  

- No judging: One of the reasons children may not share what they are feeling is because they are afraid of being judged.  Your children want your approval and if you tell them: “That’s silly, that would never happen” or “Just forget it and move on” they’ll feel judged and  start monitoring what they share with you because they don’t want to feel “dumb” for telling you something.

- Now what: Once causes of feelings have been identified it is easier to define what to do, to see what things are in your child’s power to change and the ones that aren’t.. Focusing on what they can do and not losing their peace over what they can’t will help them get on the right track without stressing about a situation.

-Look at me:  Your children are watching you, especially during difficult situations. They will do as they see you do.  Actions are powerful, so walk the talk.  Don’t be afraid to express what you are feeling, but also try to keep a good attitude through it all.

You can learn from every situation; you can grow and use it as experience for the future and you can even help others as you go through the most difficult times in your life. It all depends on how you decide to tackle them.

After some deep searching, some pouring out of emotions, and honest expression of what we were feeling, my children and I made the decision that we will do what we can to fix this situation, but we will not allow stress or a sense of discouragement.  We used this bad news as motivation  to keep a positive attitude because that’s how great stories are made and we are determined to make ours a great one.

By Manuelita@manuelitaotero

Little things are not so little after all

manuelita otero

Some years ago we went to Kota Kinabalu, a beautiful city in Malaysia.  We saw a completely different culture, beautiful beaches, and breathtaking landscapes, but we’ll all tell you that our favorite memory from that trip was our daily afternoon cake.

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Our children were still small so by lunch we were all exhausted; them from running around and us from running behind them. Every afternoon we would go back to the hotel and the four of us would take a nap, and after a well-deserved rest we would head to the hotel’s small bakery searching for cake.  From the moment we arrived we noticed the great variety of cakes. They looked so enticing that we decided we were going to try them all. Surprisingly, we did.  One piece would be enough for the four of us, so every afternoon we were armed with forks, ready to enjoy our family afternoon.  We would talk about the day, what we liked and what we wanted to do next. We just ate and enjoyed our time together. It was such a beautiful memory over something as simple as eating a piece of cake.   

Sometimes we think that the best memories are going to be the big events in life, the expensive trips, or the fancy parties, but in reality, it’s about the little things.   Think about it for a moment.  Which is your favorite memory? What comes to mind and makes you smile? Which has been the best gift you have ever received?   If you are a mom or a dad you’ll probably still have some of the gifts your children would bring home from school: paintings you couldn’t decipher, but melted your heart; jewelry, ornaments or abstract sculptures, which in my case, still decorate our living room.  Or maybe it was a little something a special someone made for you to commemorate a meaningful date for the two of you.  A flower when it was least expected, a card in the mail, a poem, or a sweet note on a mirror.

The little things are not so little after all. They are reminders that life is beautiful and doesn’t have to be as complicated as we make it sometimes. The little things are subtle and can easily be missed when we travel through life distracted with the busyness that each day brings.  Make time for those little things, notice them around you and make them happen with the people close to you.  Change lives, make memories and enjoy each day as the gift it truly is.

By Manuelita@manuelitaotero

Forgiveness is something that can’t wait

manuelita otero

I’d like to think that I’m not the only one who tends to be a little “annoying” with close friends and family.  Isn’t it interesting how the people who are closest to us usually have to put up with our “tantrums” and bad days more often than they should?

For reasons that I still don’t understand, the people we love the most are the ones who usually have to wait the longest to hear from us an “I am sorry”.  It’s as if we have subconsciously decided that they have to guarantee us that they will always forgive our mistakes. They may be our husbands, closest friends, brothers or sisters, parents or children, so why shouldn’t they?

We don’t take the time to analyze how a relationship slowly crumbles not because of one specific mistake, but because of several small instances in which we didn’t take the time to say we are sorry. When we try to understand the pain and suffering our loved ones go through as they patiently wait for us to apologize, we can see that the sooner we approach them with a humble and honest intention, the less they hurt and the stronger the relationship gets.  

When it comes to family and close friends, it’s better to forgive and ask for forgiveness as soon as possible.  Maybe the perfect words are not at hand and maybe there is not a nice way to adorn the event, as long as we don’t take longer than needed to be courageous and say “I am sorry”.  Make sure the people you love the most know that you are not taking them for granted, that their feelings matter and that their forgiveness is important to you.

By Ana

 

 

 

Are you taking your child's talents seriously?

manuelita otero

Wouldn’t you like for your children to work a job they love when they grow up? Don’t you want them to be happy every morning because they are dedicating their time to doing what they feel they have been created to be doing?  Loving what you do is a great feeling, and we can teach our children from a young age how to achieve it by helping them recognize their strengths and using them. 

However, sometimes we don’t take our children’s talents and abilities seriously.  We even discourage them from continuing, because we think they could use their time focusing on something that will “benefit” them in the future.  We may discourage them from discovering what they love and what they are good at when we invite them to try to fit to what society has labeled as “good” traits to have a “good” job. 

When I finished high school and I was trying to figure out what to study, I remember not knowing my strengths.       When it was time to make a career decision, I chose to become an international economist.  I don’t regret it, since I have learned a lot of interesting things and the education I have received has opened several doors, but I really dislike math.  I really, really, really don’t like numbers, and I had to dedicate a lot of time to them. I worked very hard to understand them and to make good grades, and I did, but it was difficult for me.      Why didn’t I choose another field? One in which I could still work hard, but at least enjoy it? Honestly, I didn’t know myself and I wanted to please my parents.  This was a great lesson. Now I am the first one to support my children’s “out of the ordinary” career paths.  My daughter wants to be an actress, singer, and entrepreneur; my son’s dream is to be a professional tennis player.  I see their talent and the hard work they put into their passion.  I am their biggest fan, doing what is in my hands as a mom and a guide so they can achieve their dream using their strengths. Will they be rich and famous? I don’t know and it doesn’t matter, as long as they are enjoying their work.  Of course they need to be realistic and have clear ideas on how to make a living, but I want them to be creative and find ways to achieve it by using the many talents they have been given. 

As parents we can know our children better than anyone and we can be the first ones to help them discover their strengths.   Here are some ideas on what we can do as parents to help our children use their strengths: 

- Listen to your children.  Hear the excitement as they discuss certain topics or share the things they have done. 

- Record special moments in which you notice their strengths at work, even at a very young age. They will love to see it later and it may help them make decisions in the future. 

- Don’t shoot down their ideas, no matter how difficult it may seem to achieve them. Listen and support.  Mention that it may not be easy. 

- Let them be children.  Many times our mature “parent mind” stops our children from letting their imagination fly.  

- Encourage creative thinking, study sessions, sport activities, involvement in the arts… expose your children to different things from an early age so they can discover their talents 

Enjoy your children’s talents, be a part of their world, encourage them, enjoy the journey with them.  Whether we realize it or not, children, no matter their age, want to make their parents proud, so be by their side as they travel through life developing their talents and enjoying who they are and sharing what they have been given. 

Manuelita@manuelitaotero

Don’t spend your life trying to be a copy

manuelita otero

Every person is unique and imperfect; so are families. That is, in part, the great joy of life: the diversity, and genuineness… not the impossible perfection or the boring copy.

Have you ever spent a long time visiting friends and ended up discovering unique characteristics about them?  I don’t mean the easy labels that many times we give families, like: “The Smiths are so funny”, or “The Rochester are so snobby”. As if every member of the family could be described with just one word. I am talking about a more in depth description that takes time and can only be done as part of a process which makes each family unique.

I dream with giving “wings” – even if it sounds as a cheesy phrase – to that wonderful feeling of being  unique and achieving something important in the world.  And as any dream that deserves respect, sometimes it keeps me up at night.  I decided to try to understand and find what is that something that could make each person in my family feel free to be who they are meant to be so they won’t lose their identity or spend their life trying to be a copy of someone else. It is easy to fall into the trap of wanting to imitate the achievements, dreams and style of other people. But thanks to experience, I finally found that the key to allow my family members to be themselves is to understand that being ourselves is a step by step process.  In that journey some steps will be in the wrong direction, some we wish we could forget, and there will be some that will be small and yet important.  We can’t wait until the end of our life to applaud and celebrate our achievements.  It is not fair to only enjoy and value the final results.  Just imagine how much more fun life would be if we celebrated small steps… ours and other people’s too.  This is how we keep the authenticity of our family and of each member in it.  This is how we stop obsessing over comparisons and we finally understand that we are traveling at our own speed; therefore, who cares how fast others are going?

Maybe I will never be able to describe my family with specific words or phrases, but nothing could compare to the life we live and how much I enjoy our step by step journey.  This is happiness.  

By  Ana

 

 

 

Giving starts at home

manuelita otero

Some of the best memories we have from traveling as a family are not related to the places we saw, the exciting things we did or the hotels we stayed at. The best memories involved giving. 

Giving abroad is a process; first you make the contacts to visit orphanages, hospitals, churches,  or jails. Then, as a family, you buy all the things you need to take. You see the joy in your children as they make necklaces or cards to give away Once you reach your destination, you drive for hours to reach the place and share a game of soccer with orphans, read a story with sick children, or simply share a smile and some food with special people who greatly need it. Giving abroad is priceless and it is the best part of your trip.

There’s something powerful about giving.  There’s so much joy when we make someone smile and make a difference in someone’s life.  Does it mean that to be able to give I need to travel to exotic locations or go on mission trips? I think deep inside we know that to give all we need is to open our heart and make ourselves available.  Once we do that, we will see opportunities as close as our neighborhood, our city, our children’s school or our workplace. 

But we don’t even have to go anywhere to start, because giving starts at home.  That’s where we set up an environment in which we give a lot, but we also receive a lot.  As a mom I can tell you that many times we show our children that we, moms, give a lot; but we forget to teach them that they also need to too. Many times without realizing it we are teaching our children that for them to give they have to receive, creating a feeling of entitlement.  In some cases children will not do anything around the house unless they get something in return. Family members need to be attentive to the needs of others, not because they are expecting something in return, but just because. 

The more we give, the easier it is, so here is a list of giving ideas to get you and your family started.  Keep adding to the list and notice how giving will become an essential part of your life:

  •  Give honest compliments. Who doesn’t love to hear something positive? You will be surprised by how easy it is to make someone’s day.   
  • Give encouragement in different ways:  Little surprising notes, texts, positive words, e-mails, or cards.
  • Give together time at an organization that works in a cause you believe in.  
  • Give kindness, polite greetings to strangers, and smiles to those who provide services for you.
  • Give love in different ways to those closest to you.  Be creative.  Making little surprises doesn’t take a lot of time or money; it just takes the desire to do it and they could become the best memories for those you love.
  • Give your family a break from the routine and do something unexpected.
  • Give everyone you speak to or listen to, your undivided attention.  Don’t let electronics take you away from the moment.  
  • Give gifts to those who add to your life.  Give cookies to the mail person, a special treat to your child’s coaches, a thankful note to someone who helped you.
  • Give at a local food pantry, at church, or at an organization that is fighting hunger in your community.
  • Give babysitting time to a couple who needs a little break.
  • Give a listening ear without any judgement to a young teen.
  • Give yourself a break and do something you love every day.
  • Give experiences, open your home to friends and family.  Share laughs, words, and good food.

Cultivating a giving environment takes time and lots of practice, but the effects on your family, and on society will make the challenge worth it, it becomes part of the legacy we want to leave.   

 Manuelita @manuelitaotero

 

 

My past doesn't define my future

manuelita otero

Life is made up of experiences and memories that we gather as days go by. Many of those are from our childhood, and even if we don’t remember the actual events, the impacts last a lifetime.  Most of the initial memories come from the closest people to us, our family.  Sometimes a positive word can set a determination to succeed in a child and a negative one could stay imprinted in a child’s mind, building walls and low self-esteem.  Even though we can’t choose what happened to us as children, we can do something about the feelings we have now.  Build on the positive and let go of the negative.

Have you ever stopped to think how memories from the past affect your everyday life? Even if you only see that family member who hurt you once a year, you try to ignore their comments and avoid confrontation. Tough issues need to be dealt with because anything in our life that we leave unresolved will come up when we least expect it.   Problems have to be faced, no matter how hard it may be and the sooner the better. 

Who wants to go through life carrying unneeded negative stuff, weighting our journey down and affecting our relationships? The following are some ideas to help us get rid of those heavy feelings that are stealing our joy:

- Enjoy the silence: Sometimes we keep busy on purpose so we won’t have to be silent with our thoughts, but taking time to think and analyze the things that are bothering us is necessary. How can we fix something if we don’t know what  we need to fix? Take time to think and write down your thoughts, it is step one towards inner de-cluttering.

- Be honest: Facing tough memories is hard, painful and scary; that is why many times we prefer to do everything else but that.  When we finally accept that we are not perfect, and no one else is we can bring down the walls that we have built to pretend that we have it all under control. That is when we start to be honest with ourselves and with others.  

- The blaming game:  Blaming someone for all our problems is not going to make them better, it only perpetuates heavy feelings and never allows for true healing to occur.  When someone hurts us deeply our initial reaction is to blame them and make them feel the same pain we have felt, but the feeling that “justice” has been served doesn’t last long.  True healing only comes when we forgive, let go, and we take control of our life. 

- Letting go: It is important to face the people who hurt us, if possible, letting them know what they did that affected us.  But this can only be done at the right time, when we have dealt with issues on our own so we won’t be talking out of anger but out of the desire to have closure and be able to move on.   We can’t control how others are going to react, but we can control what we do and what we say.  The goal is to face the issue and finally let it go.  The past is gone; we have our present and our future ahead and we don’t want anything negative from the past to get in the way.

- Step by step: Be patient, letting go of heavy feelings takes time so we can’t expect to be able to unpackthe unnecessary stuff in our life all at once in just a few weeks.  Some issues are going to be easier to get rid of, others will take some time, but dealing with them and defining strategies that will help us finally get over them is a step in the right direction.  

It helps to remember that no one is perfect, and sometimes people hurt because they have been hurt.  Issues from our past don’t have to define our future.  We decide what stays and what goes.

Manuelita @manuelitaotero

 

A slow pace in the middle of the rush

manuelita otero

I remember what our mornings used to be like.  I would wake up later than planned because I went to bed much later than I wanted to, so I would jump out of bed and start yelling for everyone to wake up.  I would rush my children, telling them to do ten things at the same time so they would not miss the bus.

After waking them up in such a way that they were in a bad mood, and there would be tension. I would not sit with them because I was too busy making the lunch they had to take and then  washing dishes to save time later.  Many times we had already argued or were in the middle of an argument as we ran to the bus. Once my children were on the bus I’d feel guilty for the way the morning had turned out. The next morning,  everything was the same.  Now, things are different.  We sit down for breakfast together and we talk about our plans for the day.  We live in the moment.  Of course it helps that my children are now studying online, so there is no rush every morning to get the bus. But more than that, my attitude has changed.  I stopped and looked at my children and realized how fast they were growing and how soon they would be leaving to begin a new phase in their journey and I didn’t want to miss out the opportunities to share time with them now.  I decided I wasn’t going to let the rush of life stop me from enjoying this moment with them.  

We hear beautiful quotes about appreciating what we have, and we agree and wish we could apply them to our life, but then real life situations come and those quotes seem far away.  It makes me think of a phrase I heard so many times while studying economics: “Ceteris paribus” which in Latin means “all other things being equal or held constant” and in life most things are not constant, there are always factors affecting it, which throws our carefully drafted plans out the window and makes it hard to apply all those “phrases for a perfect life”.

What good is it for me to tell my children to live in the present, if I am making that present a terrible experience?  If they see me worried about tomorrow when today is just starting? If they see that I can’t even sit down to watch a movie with them because I have laundry to fold?

To teach our children to enjoy the moment we need to show them how.  It is important to help them understand that they don’t always have to be “busy”. We need to be careful not to allow distractions steal from each memory.  But how do we do that?  Actions speak louder than words and as parents we are being watched constantly; our children are learning from what they see us doing.   Do we half way listen to them as we scroll checking the latest e-mail or tweet? Do we leave them hanging on a sentence to answer a text?   If you want your children to pay attention to you, then pay attention to them. Let them see you live in the moment. Even from a very young age, children know when we as parents are fully connected and emotionally present.  

 Here are some ideas that may help when teaching our children to be more in the moment:

Tell them to do one thing at the time:  I don’t know if all mothers do this, but I tell my children to do five things at the same time, and it drives them crazy!  They are older now and I have asked them to help me by letting me know when I do it. They tell me: “I can only do one thing at the time” they are not being rude, they are being honest.  I keep thinking that I can do many things at the same time and I used to feel so proud of multitasking, until I realized that maybe it was not such a good thing after all.  

Be ok about uncertainty:  Making plans is necessary, important and fun; having objectives gives us guidance and motivation.  We need timelines and schedules to turn dreams into realities, but sometimes we worry too much about the future.  At times we want to control everything and have a sense of certainty, but when we realize that there is not much we can control, we find freedom and flow. We need to teach our children that plans should be helpful guides not strait jackets.  It is great for our children to learn that they won’t always get their way and that is ok because if they work hard and do their best, good things will happen, even better than what they planned.

Make technology-free moments and areas: Technology is wonderful and being connected is a great benefit, but it is necessary to take some time to disconnect. For our children to learn to live the moment, they need to let go of technology once in a while so they can focus on what is surrounding them instead of the screen on their electronic devices. In her book The Big Disconnect, Catherine Steiner-Adair explains the negative impact our dependency on technology is having on the development of children: “While parents and children are enjoying swift and constant access to everything and everyone in the internet, they are struggling to maintain a meaningful, personal connection with each other in their own homes.”  It is sad to think electronic devices are interfering in the way children are learning to relate to family members, affecting their future relationships. 

Do what you love:  In her book “Daring to be Yourself” Alexandra Stoddard says:  “We don’t live our lives year to year or month to month; we live moment to moment.”  And that is what stays in our mind- special moments;  That is what we are leaving our children.   Let your children see you doing what you love and invite them to join you or to do what they love. Train your senses to just be, to listen, to smell, to appreciate the sky and the flowers and the trees.  Walk more, explore more, and savor more.  Live at a slow pace in the middle of the rush.

We all have fast paced lives, believe me, I know.  In our family we have so much going on and I know many people look at us and think what a hectic life we live.  It could seem a little chaotic but in the middle of that rush we find time for the important things.  We always gather as a family, sit down for meals, laugh and talk.  We find our way to enjoy our now.  We are all different, so no one can tell you how to enjoy your present or how you can teach that to your children.  Find your way. Get together with your family and decide how are you going to live the moment.  Don’t let life become an overwhelming list of obligations, let it be a celebration and a celebration deserves time to be enjoyed.

Manuelita@manuelitaotero

 

The Magic Formula to Raise Children?

manuelita otero

As parents, we want our children to be happy; the problem is that at times we think we always know what will make them happy and we end up pushing our views, ideas, and dreams into them.  

Have you ever done something just to please your parents? Do you really want your children to do things just to make you happy or find approval? Or do you want them to be free to be themselves and follow their own path?

There’s a thin line when it comes to parenting.  We need to guide our children, encourage good decisions, help them when they are facing difficulties so they can learn and grow. At the same time, we need to give them the freedom to make their own choices without depending on approval, including ours.

Raising strong children is a lifelong endeavor.  We don’t start teaching our children to take responsibility for their actions when they become teens; we start from the moment they are born because everything they hear, experience and see is going to shape them and affect their future.

We have an amazing impact on our children and it should be positive. That doesn’t mean that we will always get it right, because we won’t. Being a parent is the hardest thing we will ever do.  We can’t compare ourselves to our friends or to the perfect families we see on TV.  We need to know our family, know each member and create our own family style, allowing everyone to be who they are.  No one has the secret formula to raise children.  It hasn’t been defined; it changes as our children grow and it develops as we mature. It is a continuous learning process; a beautiful process.

When a child has a strong sense of self love, he or she will be ready to face peer pressure, bullying, criticism, rejection and so many other challenges that we hope they never have to encounter. They won’t only survive through difficulties but thrive and grow. 

We won’t always be present to protect and guide our children, so we need to teach them to do these things on their own.  

So, how can we teach our children to feel free to be who they are?

- Example: This may bring some pressure to us, but there’s no way around it.  Our children see everything we do, hear everything we say and know us better than we imagine. Whether they want to or not, our children many times end up imitating what we do.  What good it is to tell them to love what they do if they hear us complaining daily about our job? What good is it to teach them not to judge, yet we criticize anyone who seems “different”?

- Experiences: My son tried several sports before he found his love for tennis.  That meant long hours of driving, waiting and of course, a monetary investment. But it was all worth it because he found his passion. My daughter always knew she wanted to act, and experiences in life have given her a wider view of things; a different perspective that she can take into the characters she plays.  We all need experiences in life.  We need to break the routine, try out new things. Children will benefit if they are exposed to different situations.  Travel far and near, explore your city, visit museums, go to the theater, encourage visits to family members and conversations with them.  Teach your children to search for what they love, and once they find it to dedicate themselves to it with discipline and joy.

- Advice: As parents, why do we establish rules in our house? To guide our children, to protect them, and to teach them. Rules are not bad, but sometimes we present them in a negative way to our children.   More than a list of rules, children need advice and procedures so they can remember them later when situations arise.  Limits are required and they need to be respected and followed, guidelines are the foundation so later children can make their own decisions without needing someone looking over their shoulders. There is no need for a power struggle at home; it has to be very clear that the parent is the authority and the guidelines established need to be seen in a positive way so they will add to our children’s growth and development. Rules can always be broken, but advice will be remembered.  

- Unconditional love:  Telling our children that our love for them will not change no matter what is one of the best things we can do.  They need to hear this often so they see that we don’t base our love on their success, grades, accomplishments or anything they do.  Children need to know that they will be loved, even if they make mistakes. They want us to be proud of them, that is why they hide the negative things they have done. But if they feel that they can come to us no matter what, a lot of positive can come out of a negative situation.

Children grow up fast and the time that they are home with us, when we can influence them the most goes by quickly.  We need to take advantage of it.  We can’t shelter our children from life, they need to see it with us so when they go out on their own they will be able to face it without stress, knowing that they can make a positive impact in the world being who they are meant to be and loving every minute of it.

Manuelita@manuelitaotero

Loving Us More

manuelita otero

“Regardless of being wives and mothers we are still women”*

I wonder at what time so many women that I know stopped resting as they should and doing the things they love?  I have been thinking about this for the last two to three years, maybe because I am at that phase in my life in which most of my friends, beautiful and valuable women, are starting to change their priorities as they have decided to live with someone, get married, have children and start a family, which of course changes the rhythm of life.

As these changes were happening; I started receiving several invitations to bachelorette parties, weddings, baby showers or birthday parties.  And every time one arrives I feel a great joy since lately it has become the only opportunity to get together to chat and laugh with the ones that a few months ago were like my shadow, my inseparable friends. 

At the parties, I'd see my friends rushing around, beautiful as always, happy and confident, but as I looked closer, however, I noticed they seemed exhausted from all the planning, as if they were regretting having the life they chose. This is a problem where the reality of the daily rush wins over the joy to be with the people they love.  

But what reality am I talking about? The one we tell ourselves in short texts while we are doing our errands, or the one we share through emails that seem therapeutic, or the one we discuss during lunches that took forever to plan.  The deep issues of our life that we share as we eat, work, look at a wedding dress or help our children with their homework.  And at the heart of it all stress seems to be in the middle of our lives due to excess work and fatigue.  We worry and we have anxiety because we feel there is never “enough time” for everything we want to do.  And maybe the things that stress us are not necessarily always big, but they steal our energy and sleep and in a way trouble our soul.   

When I notice all that fatigue I can’t help but ask, at what time did we allow so many things worry us?  Things like groceries that can wait or an errand that is not vital stress us to the point that we forget to do some of the things we really enjoy.  At what time did we allow the “normal” rush of having a new family invade us more than necessary?  Because if we are honest, it invades our time, our dreams, and even our essence. Of course it is not our family’s fault; it is up to us to choose how to use our time.   

It is not about ignoring all the beautiful things and the joy involved with having a new family, but it is not either about resigning to live tired because we want to pretend we can do it all, control it all, have the perfect family; even when we don’t realize that is what we are trying to do. 

Since we are the ones in charge of our time, we should make the decision to love ourselves by taking care of ourselves before we take care of others. This is the only way we can find balance.

This invitation is for us to understand how valuable we are and how we can love ourselves more during our day to day activities:  

1. Have a set day to put into practice a simple beauty tip.  

2. Plan to do something you love, at least once a month. Make it something that is just yours. 

3. If you feel tired and you have a partner, agree with him to have your own time.  Not just the opportunity to sleep a little longer in the morning or at night, but maybe some hours on Saturday or Sunday to read for a while, watch T.V., think without being rushed, or listen to music. Whatever you enjoy.  

4. Teach your children from a young age to respect your space (If they respect it, they will understand that you deserve it and some day they will remind you to take time for you and to enjoy your space)

5.  Think “Nothing will happen…” The world will not collapse if you stay a Saturday or Sunday at home resting without making a specific plan.  Nothing will happen if you say no to a family lunch because you are tired and want to be alone for a while.  Nothing will happen if you tell your partner that you need time just for you.  Nothing will happen if when buying groceries you buy first something you really want, even before you buy the goodies for your children, and if there is only money for yours… nothing will happen, at least nothing major that is worth worrying about.  

PD.  I dedicate this to my soul sisters, my friends of forever, the ones I know in good times and bad times. 

Ana

*Marcela Mar || Actriz colombiana || Revista Esquire edición No. 52 - Colombia, septiembre de 2014.