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!”