Parenting Mexican Style

Let me start with a big disclaimer: I know nothing about parenting in Mexico or by Mexicans! The title sounded good and my intention was to write about some of my observations of different parenting styles – including my own, my friends, clients and two of my gardeners who happened to be born in Mexico.

The birth of this topic occurred at a restaurant.  I noticed young teens at two separate tables – headphones on, plugged into their Ipads. The adults at these tables were busily conversing, but these youngsters were alone in the midst of the crowded restaurant.

The journey to two of my previous Mexican gardeners (Jose, and later – Miguel) started as a free association after watching this scene at the restaurant. A judgmental voice (JV) inside of me started a dialogue with another voice (V); and here it goes…

JV: I can’t believe that the parents of these children allow them to sit in a restaurant, ignoring everyone else, not using the opportunity to teach them how to socialize, and be OK with it!

V: You don’t know whether these children opted to stay home and not join the adults, and that was the bargaining tool used by their parents. Maybe the parents are the one who said “Johnny, I will let you take your IPad if you come!”

JV: Since when do parents need to “bribe” their children to go to a restaurant?  Going to a restaurant is a treat by itself!

V: You don’t know how often these families go to restaurants, so it’s possible that for them a restaurant is not a big deal. And besides, I remember that when your sons were still home, there were many times you asked them to rake the leaves in the backyard and they would refuse – even when you offered them money…

JV: And it was a mistake indeed. I should have been stricter and told them that dinner would not be served unless…

V: Right. You should have been, but you weren’t! So these parents are struggling with their own boundaries and how to enforce them.

JV: Hey, remember Jose? What did he know that I did not know? How did he manage to do what 99% of my friends could not master?

Jose was my gardener about ten years ago, born in Mexico; married with children. Every Thursday I would wake up to the sound of trimmers; and every school vacation he would bring his sons with him. The children would be sleepy, but jump out of the truck with eager faces because they knew that Señora Raquel had some treats for them. I would give each one a Kit Kat or some other sugary treat.  Nope, no fruit bars or other “healthy” snacks.

After the morning ritual of candy, they would take a shovel or a rake and accompany their dad in the cleaning of the yard.

That went on for years, every summer and every school vacation.  After Jose, came Miguel and his children showed up; and his children got candy; and his children worked without resistance.

I would look at them with envy and admiration, and inevitably I would ask myself “What do they know that I don’t know?”

Mind you, I have probably read twenty books about parenting, and as many on child development. And yet, I did not manage to teach my sons a routine of helping at home – inside or outside.  And, when I felt bad about myself as a mother I would talk to other mothers and the report was the same or worse.  As one friend said, “Allowances are contingent on helping with dishes, and for laundry I need to pay extra!” This was depressing.

And so I had a conversation with my gardener in my quest to resolve the mystery of his helpful children. I could have predicted his response and deep down I knew that he was going to tell me something I know but do not want to hear.

“I don’t do a thing”, said Jose.” I just tell them that tomorrow they are going to come to work.” “But Jose”, I said, “If I say that to my children they would say that they don’t want to, and even if I dragged them with me, they would perform so lazily, that I would probably be better off, if they stayed home!”

Jose looked at me and in his eyes was compassion and something else (pity, maybe?), and said: “Your children know that they have a choice, mine know that they don’t.”

And that comment reminded me of the times my children did take me seriously. It was only when I meant it. And they knew.

And I can still see them in my mind’s eye, dragging in the early morning out of the truck, sleep in their eyes, rumpled cloths, uncombed hair, grabbing the big broom or rake, while my children were asleep. Reluctantly starting, and then getting into a groove, especially after hearing their dad saying: “Vamos hijos, más rápido!”

I don’t believe Jose ever read an instruction manual on parenting…

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About rachel bar

Psychotherapist and supervisor.
This entry was posted in Indulging Children, Parenting, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Parenting Mexican Style

  1. Barbara Cooper says:

    I’m not really qualified to comment on parenting as I did not procreate. I do have a stepdaughter that has been in my life since she was a year old (she’s almost 32 now!) but I did not have the day to day challenges of a kid at home. My stepdaughter happened to be a very easy baby and as she grew she remained sweet and accommodating. Amazingly, there were no problems with teenage attitude or rebellion with this kid.
    I, too, was an easy child and a well behaved one. I was spoiled by my father- the very definition of a “daddy’s girl” if you look up Daddy’s girl in the dictionary, I’m sure there is a picture of me! Any issues or arguments were with my mother. Most teenage girls get into it with their mothers. My mother ALWAYS won. She had a look she could give that would stop me dead in my tracks. I don’t know why. She never beat me, I was not abused, but that look scared the hell out of me. She could be across the room from me in a crowded party situation, and if she heard or saw something she didn’t like, there was that look.
    When I was forty, and got the look, I told myself, “You’re an adult- stop letting the look get to you. Stop giving it power over you!” It took a while, but eventually, I took back my power.
    I guess the moral of the story is- if you have kids- develop that look! It worked every time on me!
    Oh and add a dose or two of Jewish Guilt with that look and you’re home free.

  2. Sherry says:

    Maybe that is why my cats don’t listen to me….they don’t believe I mean what I say.(lol)

  3. Thanks for the drop by..and that Jose is a wise man..choice is so important that we often forget we as parents can choose what the choices are…

  4. Margot says:

    I remember “the look” as well. My mother was an expert at it. I tried to develop “the look” when my kids were younger but could never pull it off. In its absence, I chose my battles carefully. Listening to ipods was okay, rolling eyes was not. Messy bedroom okay, being disrespectful of me — not. Maybe the parents at the restaurant had just made choices and the only bargaining was with themselves.

    • Ooo yeah the look..”shivers”..still send chills down my spine when my mother look at me that way now…Yeah, she still give me the look when I say or do something she does not approve…I find it funny that “the look” she gives even works for my kids…and my “look” only works for the younger ones..the eldest have informed me that she was not scared and was only doing things to keep me from where did I go wrong..respect is a hard thing to teach now days..

      • rachel bar says:

        I know from my relationship with my Dad, that he did not “teach” respect, but he acted in a way that made me respect him. I cannot say the same about my mother.

    • rachel bar says:

      I wonder whether the children who had the parent with that look, manege to truly bond with them. The “look” is a barrier!

      • Well I bonded with my mother and she had the “look”..the look was a more of a warning of something was bad to come if I did not stop what ever i was doing. I don’t feel that it is a barrier but another form of communication that is reinforced through the parents behavior.

  5. Pingback: How to be a parent? Is it necessary to attend Parenting Program?

  6. Martha Carr says:

    I wonder too if they also had a more direct experience that work equals food, equals toys, treats etc. In other words, they knew that their dad’s livelihood directly impacted their lives. When you don’t have much – the ramifications of work are more direct and accessible. Even though his implication may have been about parenting, in this other sense, they may have also known they didn’t have a choice. Our kids had so much and even though we would “tell” them about how hard we worked in order to meet their needs and often their wants etc, it’s not like they had the on-going experience of going without (and we weren’t extravagant either), or have the chance to observe us labor in order to earn it!

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