• Nilmari Donate

Just Wait a Minute! Learning to Care About Self

By: Nilmari Donate Melendez, MA (2009)

I am in the bathroom for, oh!, about ten seconds when the first request comes. It is my twenty one month old, Samari, asking for cheerios. Through the door I tell her to go ahead and ask her father. Confused about the task I just gave my daughter, I start remembering when I used to sit on the bathroom floor when my mother was… you know, taking care of business.

After I became pregnant two and half years ago, I came to the conclusion that mothers have no reason to look forward to any amount of privacy.

I finish combing my unwashed hair, wishing I had time to take a shower before going to work. My objective for today is to finish my eight hours of work, get something for dinner, play with my daughter, read a book to her, bathe her, attend to my husband and plan for the next day before the clock hits 12:00 am (“You see?, you are not the only one suffering from this motherhood exhaustion.”)

As I am combing my messy and unwashed hair, I am summoned once more from the other side of the door. “Mami! Mami!” It is again Samari, Oh, y ahora que?, I am thinking as I yank the door open, only to find my dear daughter standing there, her once fresh pink outfit dripping fruit punch and cookies smashed into her hair. I pull Samari into the bathroom and start cleaning her. It is already 8:00 am and I need to take her to the baby sitter (Abi) that is 30 minutes away.

There always seems to be some sort of crisis on the other side of the door. Whichever door I close, I always seem to be needed. Even in my work, if I close the door, my husband is still calling me to ask me for a favor, or to remind me to bring home something from the outside.

But what about me? Oops… I forgot this is a private question. I have recalled so many times my mother telling me “tus hijos son primero” (your child comes before you) or “Una Buena madre alimenta a sus hijos antes de alimentarse ella misma” (a good mother is the one that feeds her child before feeding herself).

Today I found myself screaming!. I found myself needing to care about me. How long has it been since I have gone to the doctor?… I always try to sneak in my personal concerns in the middle of my child’s consultation (and I know my doctor hates this!). When I am sick, I just call my mother for a quick remedy like “limón and sal” for my throat.

So, how do we start taking care of ourselves?, How do we start putting ourselves on the same level as our children? If we are not able to take care of our children because we are physically or mentally sick, who will do it for us? Especially us, Latina mothers who don’t have anyone with us in the United States.

The National Extension Parenting Educators Framework (NEPEF) point out that caring for oneself means knowing and understanding oneself, managing life’s demands, and establishing clear definitions for us. Although not impacting children directly, Care for Self provides a backdrop of security, support, predictability, and purpose that indirectly influences the lives of everyone in the family. For example, a parent who has established a sense of purpose in parenting will be more comfortable establishing criteria for choosing guidance strategies. A parent who is motivated in her or his own life will be more capable of motivating a child. And a parent who feels interpersonally connected and supported will find it natural to nurture a child.

Self Care also includes:

  • Developing a calm, persistent and flexible approach to problem solving

  • Enhancing your capacity for sustained relationships

  • Ability to develop autonomy in relation to others and to feel self confident

  • Ability to get one’s need met– ask for help!

  • Managing resources

  • Managing stress

As mothers raising kids outside our countries with little or no support, it is really important that we understand that our bodies and minds need us the same as our children.

It is time we start taking time to care for ourselves and let our kids know that we are just… “On the other side of the door” and we will re-open once we take care of self…..

Tips to care for self:

  1. Take care of your body: Mothers need to keep their bodies in prime condition, or suffer some potentially serious consequences down the road. Make time for exercise and eat healthy foods

  2. Time alone:Again, while mothers usually have very busy schedules, fitting in even fifteen minutes a day for some quiet time alone can bring valuable benefits.

  3. Join a support group: I bet you are not the only one suffering from this “motherhood exhaustion”

  4. Make a date with a friend

  5. Create a sleeping schedule for your children

  6. Divide responsibilities with your support network.

  7. Say no: Learn how to draw the line.

For further reading:

Burns D. (1999) “Feeling Good: The new mood therapy Revised and Updated” Avon Books

Peterson, R. (2008) “The Mothers Guide to Self-Renewal: How to Reclaim, Rejuvenate and Re-Balance your Life”. 1st Edition

McDermott D. (2008) “ Developing Caring Relationships Amo0ng Parents, Children, Schools and Communities”. 1st Edition. Sage Publications.

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Nilmari Donate-Melendez


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