Breaking Latino Family Expectations and Cycles
If you’re a Latina like me, your family probably put a lot of expectations on you growing up. My parents brought us to the U.S. to escape poverty and create a better life. As a child, I remember many adults around me constantly having conversations about who was doing better and then comparing us kids to each other! There was an unspoken expectation that the children would get them out of poverty.
To add to this, living in a traditional Mexican household created even more family expectations of who I should be and how I should behave as a girl and woman. In my childhood, Latino culture expected girls to act a certain way. They warned me that everyone would shame me if I strayed from those expectations. We Latinas are often shamed by our family and community when we don’t meet our culture’s expectations.
We are told that our job is to be at home and take care of everyone else but ourselves. Society expects us to get married and have kids by a certain age. People expect us to stay married even if the husband is macho and abusive. Our families raised us to be good Catholic women. Many of us feel the pressure to graduate from college with top grades and pursue a high-paying career to take care of our parents and siblings. We’re trained from a very young age to make our lives about others instead of what makes us happy.
These expectations only cause us to create a life that’s not truly authentic with who we are. For those brave enough to take a different path, we’re sometimes disowned by our families and shamed for not fulfilling their expectations. As a trauma and credentialed professional goal coach, these are real fears that many of my Latina clients experience. They realize they created a life that their parents and family wanted for them while not being truly honest with who they are. Yet, they’re terrified of the threat of shame or being disowned by their family if they start living a life that’s honest with themselves.
As a Latina who did just that, I’d like to share some valuable advice that can support you in your path of truly knowing yourself.
How My Near-death Experience Pushed Me to Break Family Expectations as a First-Generation Latina
When I was 24 years old, I went through a near-death experience in a car accident. My life changed completely after that event as a first-gen Latina. I left my corporate career to move to Sedona, Arizona, so I could focus on my spiritual path, healing, and getting to know who I was. My Mexican parents were furious. I’m the first in my family to graduate from college, so they saw me leaving my corporate job as me throwing my college degree and career away forever. They were no longer proud of me or supportive of my life choices because it was no longer in alignment with their expectations of who they thought I should be or how I should live my life.
I spent five years living in Sedona, and although it was challenging, I don’t regret it. I learned about myself and grew a lot in those five years. When I returned to the San Francisco Bay Area, I was able to get back on my feet with my career in a way that was honest and authentic to myself. I would not be living my life being true to myself now if I had not done all this work on myself. Since I’ve been through this journey, I’d like to share some 4 tips with you that I wish someone would have shared with me when I decided to walk my own path.
1. It’s Okay Not To Know!
Many of us grow up too fast in our families. Our families give us adult responsibilities from a young age, which prevents us from truly enjoying our childhoods. When this happens, it becomes easy to put a lot of pressure on ourselves to know things when we don’t know. My parents had a lot of expectations for me even though I didn’t know what the heck I was doing when I went to college. That was the reality: I didn’t know. The expectations of having to know caused a lot of anxiety to the point that I ended up in the hospital several times during my time in college. We have to remember that it’s okay not to know. Part of our journeys in life is to accept this and be open to trying and learning different things to know who we are and what feels right for us. This thought process is a natural part of our growth and evolution.
2. Learn Who You Are
As Latinas, many of us learn to prioritize the needs of others over our own. When we do this, it becomes easy not to know who we are. We might make important choices about our lives based on what others expect instead of what feels right for us. At some point in life, these choices always catch up with us. At a certain age, we start to feel that the life we created is not ours, and we’ll start to question everything about it. So it’s vital that you do the inner work as soon as possible to understand who you are and get to know yourself better. This introspection will help you build a solid and honest foundation for your life.
3. Get Comfortable With Putting Your Needs First
Our Latino culture encourages us from a young age to put others’ needs before our own – this includes even our parents. When this happens, the roles in our families get reversed – our parents become the children, and we become the parents. It’s never okay for parents to use their kids for their own selfish needs. It’s never okay for our parents to try to live their dreams through us. This only causes harm and prevents the child from developing and creating a solid sense of self. That’s vital for safely navigating the world. Putting your needs first doesn’t make you selfish! It makes you human. You’re not a robot. It’s human nature to have needs and to have them met. You cannot truly be there for others until you start to be there for yourself first. If you start focusing on putting yourself first, you can break free from others’ expectations and live a life that’s authentic to you.
4. It’s okay to take your time
As women and Latinas a lot of pressure is put on us to do certain things in our lives by a certain age. Marriage and parenthood are two examples. The reality is that some of us are choosing not to get married or have kids for the sake of it. Many of our parents used harmful parenting methods while we were growing up. We know we don’t want to put our kids through the same trauma. We would rather wait to find the right partners than get married and be miserable. It’s okay to want better for yourself and future kids and to take your time to do things at your pace. It’s better to take one step at a time and be intentional with your steps than having to rush through life, making choices based on what others expect of you, and rushing to meet a random milestone.
You’ll begin to break free from the expectations of others by following these steps. In the process, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of yourself and create a sense of self-confidence. Self-awareness and having a secure sense of self are what help you navigate the world more easily. That’s a powerful place for Latinas to be!
Article originally published in Epifania Magazine on June 28, 2023