One of my greatest goals as a mother is never to make my children feel as though they owe me anything for raising them.
I’m lucky to have three amazing little girls who, so far, my partner and I have managed to raise differently from my own upbringing in a strict Mexican household — though I make sure they are unapologetically proud of their roots!
If you come from a Latino family, you’re probably familiar with the feeling of being indebted to your parents for all their sacrifices. We hear phrases like, “I gave up so much to give you a good life, and this is how you repay me?” with any small act of everyday adolescent rebellion.
Other favorites are, “If I had everything you have, I’d never let my own parents work,” and “I fed and clothed you all your life; the least you can do is help me with this!”
This is especially true for young Latinas
As Latinas, the expectation is that we will continue to care for and help our parents at home as they age. As a result, many of us don’t prioritize our own lives or futures.
Growing up, I believed my parents were always right and should not be questioned. I confused blind obedience with gratitude, never objecting to their wishes or beliefs, even when I disagreed on the inside, especially regarding gender roles in the family.
I felt I needed to pay back every tear and sweat drop from my parents’ foreheads, and being exactly what they wanted me to be was just a part of paying them back. We were constantly reminded of the hardships they experienced and that we, the kids, had it so easy compared to them.
Don’t get me wrong, I love and admire my parents’ strength and bravery. I’ll forever be grateful for the life lessons they have taught me. But I’ve also learned that certain things can never be repaid with anything more than gratitude.
The burden of generational wounds
I’ve had this conversation many times with my therapist and my siblings. We feel that we need to take on this burden because our parents probably did the same for theirs. More often than not, Latinas feel immense guilt when their parents’ expectations don’t align with the life they envision for themselves.
Self-expression is a struggle because we try to fit the mold that our parents created for us. A silly example I remember was when I was about thirteen, and in my emo phase, my best friend helped me bleach my bangs. I came home to my mother, who exploded in tears, worried I was becoming a delinquent and that she had taught me better, while my father yelled that if I ever made my mother cry like that again, not to come home again.
While this ended up being one of my only “rebellious acts” and made my parents’ lectures even more frequent, it was a moment that made me question why I was not allowed to express myself.
Even after becoming an adult and a mother, the expectation that I still need to give back to my parents for all they have given me is still a weight that I can’t fully push off. But I’ve learned to manage it better, especially when parenting my own kids.
I will never expect them to pay me back for all the pain and anxiety that came with motherhood, much less for the diapers and food, and clothes that are my responsibility as a parent to provide them with.
It’s refreshing to see many Latina moms do the same in breaking away from these customs. As TikTok user @dianaossers expresses, “There’s this belief that your parents bring you into this world and you’re supposed to provide for them and make them happy… and that’s not right. That’s a lot of pressure on a child.” I can’t agree more with this sentiment. All we should want for our children is for them to be happy and safe.
I have made peace with the fact that I had no control over my parents’ hardships in life and the choices they made in raising us. I’ll continue to be grateful to them because they did the best they could, even when their expectations weren’t always healthy.
Thanks to these realizations, I want to ensure my children are never afraid to speak their minds or tell me what truly makes them happy. By slowly breaking away from these cycles, we Latina moms can raise children who are strong, creatively expressive, and who can prioritize taking care of themselves in a way we could not. It is also a way for us to heal our own generational wounds.