Parenting in a First-Generation Latinx Family
I call my daughter’s name to get her attention from across the room. She turns to face me and runs toward me with a smile “¿Qué Mamí?”, she responds. I smile back at her and thank her for coming to me and proceed to prompt her to wash her hands because dinner will be ready soon. She takes off and I hear the water running from the bathroom faucet.
I reflect on my childhood and any given circumstance where I would have answered “que?” to either of my parents. They would have swiftly reminded me that it’s “mande usted”, literal translation “you command”. In general, you can think of it as “at your command” or “at your service”. This response is meant as a display of having good manners and showing respect to your elders. I can get behind the notion of being courteous and showing respect, but expecting a child to respond with “mande usted” is excessive.
I cringe a little. “What a difference”, I thought to myself at that moment and many others that I’ve come across as a first-generation Latina raising a daughter.
Like many children of immigrant parents, we’re often taught to be grateful for having our basic needs met and to not look for or expect more than the basics because it’s just not a luxury that can be afforded. “When I was your age, I had to…” Sound familiar?
From the moment I found out I was expecting, I knew that my role as a mom would be no small task. I love my culture and my family, but there are certain practices, or norms if you will, that I knew I would not be carrying over to raise my little one.
I knew that I wasn’t having my child so that he or she (we chose to wait until birth to find out the gender) could be “at my command”. I wanted to raise a child to be individually their own person; to form their own thoughts and opinions, to have their own voice and express themselves. I wanted to parent from a place of warmth and compassion.
SO WHAT DID THAT LOOK LIKE?
Boundaries. Goodness, this topic alone may need its own blog. I can recall the discomfort of having to hug and kiss an extended family member and the specific reasons why it was so unsettling. Yet, I never felt like I had the option to choose otherwise. So yes, teaching my daughter that it’s important to have boundaries and that others respect her boundaries, was at the top of my list. To me, this means that my daughter does not have to hug and kiss every family member at a family gathering just because that is what’s expected of her. I can understand the sentiment behind it, but I’m an enthusiast of teaching consent and respecting my daughter’s boundaries.
My daughter is now 3, and since age 1 she has had the opportunity to choose how she greets and says goodbye to any person we engage with, including myself and her dad.
Does it sting a little when she doesn’t want to give us a hug? 100%. But to me, this slight to my ego is worth it because I know she is able to set boundaries.
Routines. “Why do you have to go so early? Just let her sleep in our room and you can put her to bed when you get home.” A common response to leaving the family gatherings “early” during pre-pandemic life.
As a full-time working mom, not sticking to my daughter’s nap and sleep schedule was not an option. It was a constant back and forth between my parents and me. Look, my parents raised four kids so I know there is wisdom behind (some) strategies they lend, but this one just did not work for us. If my daughter didn’t have her naps or go to bed “on time” the next day would be total chaos. I’m talking lots of tears, thrown off sleep and feeding schedules, and a level of stress that just didn’t make sticking around an extra hour or two worth it. So, there I was being a “party pooper”, but sticking to my boundaries.
For many first-generation Latinx parents, setting boundaries, and having our parents respect those boundaries, is no small feat. Especially if we are still living with them and some of us are. Our parents still want to parent us. They want to smother their grandchildren with love. To grant their every wish and desire. Could it be that they want a second chance at parenting? Or is it that they’re no longer facing the same struggles and hardships that they once were when we were children? To me, both seem like possible answers.
Punishment. An unfavorable, yet common parenting technique in the Latinx community is using physical punishment to correct a child’s behavior. I can speak from my personal experiences and as a therapist that has experience working with families that rely on this approach to parent their child. It is not effective. As a matter of fact, it is quite detrimental to the parent-child relationship, the child’s self-worth and self-esteem, and their ability to form positive and healthy relationships in the future. So here I am, breaking intergenerational traumas and I encourage you and your family to do the same. There will be no nalgadas, chanclas or cintos used to discipline my child.
HOW HAVE I CHOSEN TO PASS ON THE ELEMENTS OF MY CULTURE THAT I VALUE?
Despite the things I’m leaving behind, there is also a lot that I treasure and value from my culture that I am passing on to my child.
Language. Before my daughter was even born, I set out to get my family to agree to ONLY speak Spanish to her because I wanted her to know our language. I now have a bilingual child (shoutout to my family if they’re reading this!). She transitions from Spanish to English without missing a beat. She even hits us with a bit of Spanglish. Proud mom moment here!
Music. I also wanted to pass on my love for music. I can recall many joyous occasions in which music was at the center of birthday celebrations, family gatherings, and even early morning chores (ok this last one is not so joyous). I’m talking about my love for mariachis, good old Chente, Selena, and Juan Gabriel. So, what did I do? You guessed it! I made sure to play this music in our home, while driving, at my family’s home. Excessive? Maybe. But now when she randomly starts jamming to “Querida” or requests a music video by Selena, I beam with pride not because I know that my persistence to have Spanish music playing paid off, but because I know that she is embracing this part of our culture too.
Values. I hope that my daughter learns to value her family, as I learned from my parents. That she learns that hard work and dedication pay off. That she values having an education. I want my daughter to be proud of her heritage without having to compromise her wants or needs.
I encourage you to reflect and identify the beliefs and norms from your own culture. Find the ones that caused you to feel hurt, shame, or guilt. Let them go. Find the ones that bring you joy, contribute to your wellbeing, and a sense of belonging. Embrace them and pass them on to your children.