How often have we heard fairy tales where the princess must be rescued by the prince as if the princess was incapable of saving herself?
For centuries, females have been looked at as the weaker gender that has to be protected. This is especially true in the Latino community, where women are often overprotected within families from a very young age.
Young Latinas are taught even as children to be cautious and motherly, learning to help their mothers in the kitchen, take care of younger siblings, and not be in the presence of other males alone.
These overprotective practices have stretched to not allowing Latinas to enjoy many things like sleepovers, social gatherings with friends, and even dating.
I remember feeling so frustrated as a preteen when I was invited to my first sleepover, being so excited to ask my mom about it, and being met with a big “no” and ongoing lectures about it being dangerous to sleep somewhere other than your own bed.
Growing Up with Confusing Roles
Many Latinas can agree that they were very much aware of gender roles from a young age. Boys got much more freedom and were allowed to be “tough,” whereas girls were reminded to be gentle and obedient.
Even younger brothers were told to look after their sisters because girls weren’t always taught to defend themselves.
Though this narrative has certainly changed over the years, and many Latinas are now focusing on their careers and education, it’s still heavily ingrained in Latino culture for girls to be motherly and “wifey” material while men are viewed as the “strong ones” and breadwinners of the family.
These ideas are completely outdated. Allowing kids to share responsibilities and chores equally while encouraging them to be open about their emotions can positively impact them and is a great way of leaving these toxic gender roles behind.
A recent topic many Latina moms on social media have brought up is how their parents would force them to hug and kiss other adult family members as a form of greeting. This was done to show that the children were respectful and well-raised. But many realized how unhealthy this custom was and how it often made the kids feel unnecessarily uncomfortable.
You can imagine just how this can be particularly confusing to a Latina who is used to being overprotected but is also forced to hug and kiss an older relative without question.
Thankfully, many Latino parents are breaking this custom and teaching their kids that they always have a choice regarding their bodies. One of the best tools a child can learn is to have boundaries; it’s our job as parents to teach them how to utilize this.
The Benefits of Setting Boundaries
Learning about boundaries is something I have had to learn as an adult because it was not something I was aware of growing up. While our parents usually have our best interests in mind, it’s not always conveyed in a way easily understood by a developing mind.
It is common in many Latino households that privacy is not always given, especially to children and adolescents. Parents will barge into their kids’ rooms without knocking or telling other family members what their children have told them in secret, causing embarrassment or shame.
Yet, sex and anything surrounding our bodies was not openly discussed. Shielding kids from these topics does more damage than good, and parents shouldn’t feel scared to engage in these important conversations when they reach an appropriate age.
My own therapist has told me that it’s always better for a child to hear about sex or the dangers of drugs from the parents first than from another source. Building a bridge of trust from the beginning will help kids to use their best judgment later on in life and break down barriers such as doubt and fear.
Another great piece of advice my therapist regularly reminds me of is that it’s okay to say no, even to family.
When I became a mother, my family had even more unsolicited advice they needed to give me about how to raise my kids and be a proper mother. Instead of being encouraging, there were many times I was told I was doing something wrong and setting my kids up for failure.
Learning how to walk away from these negative conversations was a difficult journey but one that has been crucial for my mental health. I still struggle with letting people overstep in my life and have trust issues due to not setting boundaries young, but learning this now has helped me to recognize what is acceptable treatment and what not to take to heart.
These are exactly the things I want my own kids to be aware of early on. I have built a good foundation of trust between us, and my eldest daughter knows she can come to me for anything.
My job now is to care for this foundation so that my daughters don’t grow up with fear or feel incapable. More importantly, teaching them to have safe boundaries, whether with family or with friends, will help them to prioritize their mental health now so that they will not have to heal from unnecessary pain years later as adults.