I remember the exact moment my first son was placed in my arms after giving birth. I felt a flood of emotions, including unconditional love, fear, hope, and exhaustion. My emotional reflection was abruptly interrupted by a nurse kindly asking me, “Mama, how do you feel?” The only feeling I recall was immense panic at the thought that the “mama” the nurse was referring to was me and not my mom. My mom was in the room with me, but I was “the mama” now, and that thought terrified me.
I am the daughter of a Mexican mother who immigrated to this country with my Mexican dad to give me and my sister the life they had dreamed of for their daughters. They sacrificed being near their families and uprooted their lives so they could cement themselves as American citizens with their future children. My parents gave us the best life they possibly could, and I am forever grateful to them.
The focal point of Mexican culture is the family unit. In many ways, there is a blurring of lines between the individual and the family. Mexican culture is a collectivist one, which places immense value on the family being a strong union that supports all its members unequivocally, ’til death do us part. Even after death, we believe our family members live on in our hearts and that their spirits may still be with us. Upholding many traditions with Catholicism as the backdrop is also the foundation of Mexican culture. Since becoming a mom, I have felt that I clumsily straddle both worlds: my Mexican upbringing in the United States and my American identity raising American-born children.
I have realized the only way to conquer the doubt and fears of being a “good mom” as a Mexican American mother is by creating my own boundaries and parenting philosophy, which at times may differ from my upbringing. Developing my own “parenting” voice and expressing my independence has been messy, challenging, and, at times, isolating. However, it has also been incredibly empowering to know I can be that “mama” that embraces parenting her way—not the way I was told it always has to be.
Below are some key takeaways from my journey in becoming the mother my kids need, regardless of any cultural and familial expectations.
1. Acknowledge Tradition Can Be Overrated
Singing Las Mañanitas every birthday, having a Quinceañera at 15, eating fresh “pan dulce” (Mexican sweet bread) at family gatherings, and celebrating Nochebuena (Christmas Eve) are all special Mexican traditions that have been passed on for many generations. I am raising my children with these Mexican traditions even though they were born in U.S. like I was. I’ve realized that I’m allowed to pick which traditions will continue in our family and which ones will end with me.
Of course, this sounds easier said than done when you are part of a culture like mine that prioritizes tradition in many—but not all—aspects of life. Mexico, compared to the United States, is actually more progressive in certain policies and laws, especially related to the LGBTQ+ community. But I can recall when I decided to not get married by the Catholic Church and not put my children in Catholic school. Let’s just say some family members had some things to say about it! Going against tradition can result in some “tíos” (aunts and uncles) and “abeulitos” (grandparents) shaking their heads in disapproval, but I learned that just because it’s tradition doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best way to parent. I like to believe we evolve with every generation, and adapting and breaking away from tradition can allow for growth.
2. Stop Seeking Validation
I believe many children naturally want to seek validation from their parents. After all, they are the VIPs of our lives prior to our little ones being born. But what happens if the way we parent is different from theirs? It can quickly cause tension if you have parents who struggle to understand your perspective. This is especially true in Mexican families, as they are so interconnected that any break in the synergy can disrupt the whole family dynamic. Mexican parents also seem to have many strong opinions about their children regardless of the age of their children. At age 40, my mom still tells me how to drive!
I am one of those children who has sought validation from my parents. I am a recovering perfectionist who still has bouts of self-doubt when things just aren’t my way. For example, if my boys don’t listen to my request, I feel ashamed that I’m not using a parenting technique that they believe in. I think that as children of immigrants, we internalize expectations from our parents whether or not they were explicitly imposed on us. They sacrificed so much to immigrate to this country, so the least we can do is listen to them. I still long for my parents’ approval because they are the pillars of my life, but I have discovered that seeking constant validation only silences my perspective and instinct as a parent. I am still a work in progress.
3. Prepare to Set Your Boundaries (and the Subsequent Pushback)
The most effective way I have developed my parenting philosophy is by researching parenting philosophies, defending them when needed, and developing healthy boundaries between myself and my family. Boundaries in Mexican culture are complicated because we have such strong bonds with our family. This powerful union is an asset in many situations, except it may not allow for you to express yourself freely, and subsequently, that can suffocate you.
Boundary setting takes practice. When my mom tells me I should dress my boys a certain way, I have perfected a calm but direct response like, “Thank you, but I want them to wear this instead.” After a while, this type of interaction can get frustrating, so then I have to elevate to a more serious conversation where I ask firmly but politely to stop commenting on how I should dress my boys. I have had to prepare to defend my parenting boundaries to feel fulfilled as a mommy.
4. Amor Eterno (Eternal Love)
The beauty of having immigrant parents is that they carry so much love and hope for their children. It’s what inspired them to make such a huge change that has affected their entire lives and those of their future generations. Immigrant parents have already proved they would sacrifice it all for their families. Their love for their children is profound and eternal.
I know my parents would do anything to help me. They are dedicated and reliable when I need more support. They are amazing, doting grandparents who are devoted to loving my children. When I don’t have child care, I know I can turn to them to help me with my boys, and they will do it willingly and happily. My boys have mutual feelings for them and count down the days to be reunited with their abuelitos. My parents cook for my boys, play with them, and invest in their education. They are truly spectacular grandparents. This is typical of immigrant families—they focus on their family above all else. Being a daughter of immigrants is something I take great pride in and will forever cherish.
5. Know Being a Trailblazer Can Equate to Being the Black Sheep
I never thought I would be a trailblazer in my parenting philosophy. I had no idea what I was doing when I became a mama. None of us really do in the beginning! When you stop seeking validation, go against some traditions, and use parenting philosophies like gentle parenting in Mexican culture, this can be a formula for family conflict. You may eventually view yourself as a trailblazer; others may see you as the black sheep of the family.
It’s not easy being the black sheep—it can feel so lonely. I have become very familiar with this feeling of isolation. In Mexican families, we are raised to honor our parents’ wishes and not challenge them, especially if you’re a girl. Unfortunately, by being vocal and standing my ground in how I am raising my children, this has resulted in conflict. I wish it played out differently because I am trying my best to raise my kids, but this is a side effect of being a strong, Latina mama and the black sheep.
6. Lean on Your Mama Squad for Support
Because of #2 and #5, I have found comfort and community among my mama squad. My mama village gives me support in the good and bad times as a parent. Going against cultural and familial expectations can actually bring you closer to others who are on similar journeys. My best friend—my rock—has responded to late night texts and phone calls when I need reassurance or just a shoulder to cry on. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness. In fact, it’s an act of empowerment and love.
I also give myself grace to make mistakes in how I am raising my children. I am my own worst critic, and this reality can stunt my growth and impede any happiness as a mother. Positive affirmations have uplifted me in my moments of darkness when I doubt myself as a parent. Only I (and my husband) know how best to parent my kids.
7. Invest in Healing any Generational Trauma
We all carry with us some version of generational trauma. Its effects come out in different ways, like how we react when we are angry or how it triggers our ability to see the truth. I am no exception, and I am aware I have some healing to do. Therapy has been a godsend when it comes to processing my experiences and its impact on how I approach parenting. Going to therapy feels like giving myself that warm hug that validates my traumas and offers a safe space to process them.
Mexican culture, traditionally, doesn’t acknowledge the benefits of therapy. In fact, when I revealed to my family that I was in therapy, its validity was questioned. Nevertheless, I’ve continued on my journey of healing my trauma, and I am becoming stronger through the process. This current generation (children of immigrant parents) is making progress in healing generational traumas and seeking new ways to support our children.
Another method I’ve used to discover my parenting voice is by seeking Latinx parenting education. I have enjoyed taking Latinx Parenting courses because they speak to my upbringing and my hopes as a parent. They offer informative and engaging classes and content, which have validated my experience as a daughter of immigrants raising my American-born children.
Ultimately, I am lucky to have love and support from both my family and community to collectively be part of my village as a mama. It’s not a black-and-white situation where I have had to choose between my parenting style and my culture. I am allowed to pave my own path as a mother by pulling from different aspects of my life that resonate most with me.
I want to acknowledge how lucky my children and I are to have my parents in our lives. Immigrant parents embody strength, love, hope, and perseverance from their immigration stories. Their love is our greatest gift. I love my parents with all my heart, and I am honored to be their daughter.