Who Raises Latino Kids?

I’m tired…culturally exhausted. I could speak Spanish all day, no problema. But lately, it seems like that’s not enough for me to be accepted by Spanish speakers. I can’t change my deep-seated values or my general way of being, but I am feeling pressured to do so in order to just be part of my extended family.

I’ve had some minor clashes with my mother-in-law and stepdaughters recently that are making me reevaluate how I’m really seen by the Latino people around me. Worries are racing through my mind: Do they view me as a fake, just adopting part of their culture to try to fit in? Do they think I speak gringa Spanish and do they laugh at me when I’m not around?

A large part of the conflict has been due to the fact that my husband’s not here; he’s in Basic Training for the Air Force. I never realized how much of a middle man he was — between me and his family — until he left and our communication was virtually cut off. I’ve been here, taking care of the kids (when I have them) and holding down the fort, while he’s gone. It hasn’t been easy for many reasons, but one that I didn’t expect was this sudden feeling of being an outsider with his kids and parents.

There are huge differences between the Latino parenting style and the American parenting style. I grew up in a middle-class American world, in which I was awarded independence at a young age. My parents valued self-sufficiency, and my brother and I became responsible very fast (because we knew there was an OR ELSE and we wouldn’t be handed everything). I treat my 4-year-old as though he is much older, and he rises to meet my expectations, for the most part. With my stepdaughters (10 and 12 years old), I try to do the same. I expect them to act the same way that I did at their age: much more mature than they truly are. In my eyes, maturity is not just an extra; it’s a survival skill.

What I have found, though, is that the girls have been sheltered by their culture, protected from all the “what-ifs” and prized as many Latina daughters are. While they are truly sweethearts, we’ve had quite the struggle when I expect them to be responsible. The problem of late is that I’ve been halted by their abuela, who is a huge influence in their lives, in my quest to help them grow up. She insists that I do not understand their culture, and implies that I must bend and baby them. I stand my ground firmly, not least of all because I know their father would stand with me. But, alas, I cannot just call him up at the moment and say what I’d like to say: “¡Ayúdame!”

Aside from worrying that I will always have this in-law clash, I am preoccupied with the future for these budding teenagers. How will they deal with all of life’s inevitable tough moments when they have been practically raised by a different generation, from a different country, who wants to protect them from said moments? And what if their parents have beliefs that conflict with those of their grandparents?

Perhaps it’s just my own insecurity or inexperience with the inner workings of Latino life, but I’d love any advice from the SpanglishBaby community about being a white American girl in the middle of a Latino American family.

What do you do when cultural and generational differences stand in the way of your daily parenting tasks? In your opinion, what is the “proper” role of abuelos in a Latino American child’s life?

{Image by Daquella manera}

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