Business mogul, Michelle Fontelera, opens up about the strength it takes to care for a child with special needs, and what she discovered about running a company from home
A success story from the ground up, Michelle Fontelera made her mark when her brand, Zen Zest, became a household name. These days, she finds joy in spending more time with her family at home, and she also ventured into the homeware business. As a mother of two, with her eldest diagnosed with spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy, she rejects the term “supermom”, acknowledging that her strength is simply not a matter of choice.
Today, she opens up about what she wants everyone to know about being a mom to a child with special needs, and how she’s adjusting to working at home.
Time is universal currency
The lockdown that started in March earlier this year forced businesses to adapt by continuing with work in different ways. Some parents discovered that working from home was possible, and maybe even ideal— Michelle included. “I realized that I don’t need to be in the office from Monday to Friday. Some of my work I can actually do at home. I am able to spend more time with my kids and my husband now. Prior to the pandemic, I would just spend dinnertime and the weekends with them,” says Michelle.
She continues, “It’s really hard to balance your time as a full-time working entrepreneur, and as a mother and wife. I make it a point though, that I am always there for my kids. If they have doctors appointments and school activities, I am always there. Even if sometimes, I have to do something important, I drop everything for my family. At the end of the day, family is always my priority.”
Michelle also adds that being forced to stay at home gave her the opportunity to take a break and even explore having “me-time” for a change. She only took three weeks off for both of her maternity leaves, which we all know isn’t a vacation, so having time for herself was a first. She’s learned that self-care for her is as easy as watching her favorite shows on Netflix and enjoying her favorite food.
A mother’s love knows no bounds
Being a mom comes with its own set of challenges, but being a mother to a child with special needs is a whole new ballgame. Michelle’s eldest son, Xavi, has cerebral palsy among other medical issues. They would sometimes spend 45 days, or more, confined in a hospital due to his health, which caused a great deal of anxiety and depression for Michelle.
The day-to-day of having a son with special needs has become normal, but it’s not something you ever get used to. Michelle admits to having anxiety attacks every time a health concern comes up, even after 16 years of challenges and hospital visits.
“Many parents of regular kids think of us as supermoms, and are super strong and resilient. I think that people should understand that parents of children with special needs are not supermoms. We just needed to be strong because we were not given a choice. I realized that despite all the challenges and difficulties that special needs parents go through, we endure everything for our child.”
Life keeps going
While health issues have Xavi limited to staying in his room, his younger brother, Juany makes it a point to hang out and they watch movies together. Xavi also has a dog to keep him company, but it wasn’t always like this. When he was younger, Michelle and her husband, Sunday, made sure he attended all the kiddie parties and they would go to the mall every week, like any regular Filipino family.
Juany, on the other hand, is accustomed to socialising and values his relationships with many friends. He takes pride in taking care of his kuya though, and the two are, in so many ways, also the best of friends.
Like any mother would have it, she only wishes that her family remain happy and healthy. Her success in business comes from passion and hard work, and is a blessing that can afford her the best care for Xavi.
This boss-mom is built for business
Michelle believes that special needs parents would make great entrepreneurs because for them, there is no such thing as impossible. She has faced many hardships in life, failing time and time again, yet still continues to thrive.
A word to aspiring mom-entrepreneurs, “Never stop dreaming and always reinvent yourself. Do something that you love and something you are passionate about.” Her story is proof that grit and perseverance can knock down barriers, and that a mother’s dedication is second to none.