Latin Style VS Gringo Style Parenting

My first close encounter with gringo style parenting of the third kind was about 9 years ago at the local dog park in Mill Valley, CA. Yes, I didn’t even have kids back then, but I had my puppy Fidel (as in Fidel Castro), who in the Bay Area was considered “human”. I had no idea what to do with him or how to train him. The best thing to do was “do as the Romans do” and take Fidel to the dog park. In Argentina, dogs aren’t viewed as family like they do here in the U.S. They’re loved and respected, but as companions for hunters, horsemen or ranchmen. They work with their master during the day and sleep outside at night.

Dogs don’t have special beds, groomers, shampoos or perfumes. Dogs are dogs.

The first day I walked into the dog park, I was shocked at how people talked to their dogs. I had never seen something like it before, let alone where I came from.

“My baby loves to play with friends.”

“My boy would love to have your boy over for a playdate!”

“Please watch your boy’s manners, he is not sharing his toy with my girl.”

“My baby just got a haircut, isn’t she lovely?”

“You should change your baby’s diet, he must be allergic to grain.”

“You boy needs etiquette lessons. I can recommend someone fantastic who only charges $50 an hour.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! And to make matters worse, Fidel loved to swallow his “friend’s” rubber toys and balls. I ended up giving money to panicked owners for the lost toys and apologizing profusely for my dog’s horrible manners. After all, he was a Latin-raised dog. I decided to quit the dog park scene and hit the trails. It was easier! I did not have to deal with other angry and hurt parents, and Fidel could now chase real squirrels and not fake rubber animals.

But then came the day when I had two human babies. They were only one year apart. I had no choice but to go to the local playgrounds. Hitting the trails every day with an all-terrain double stroller would’ve been exhausting. I then had the pleasure of witnessing the ways of Gringo parenting.

Gringos are “helicopter” parents

I’ll never forget the face of a fellow mother when she saw that one of my babies, who was trying to climb up the playground steps, fell flat on his back and I did nothing. I didn’t even blink. I didn’t stand up or run up to him. My Latin instinct told me to let him try again on his own. To let him learn the lesson. I keep applying this same theory until today, but it has its risks. Kids will get hurt, will cry, and will make a mess. But that’s okay with me. I want them to be self-sufficient.

Gringos are “well mannered” parents

Another interesting episode at the playground: My 2-year old didn’t want to share his truck with another unknown boy. Why would he? Would I share my car with an unknown stranger? Most likely not. The mother of the other boy was horrified at my kid’s horrible manners and, to her dismay, at my attitude. I told her to let kids be kids and to let them figure it out. She was ready to call 911 and have them arbitrate the situation.

Gringos are great “schedulers”

I live in Miami now and 80% of my kids’ friends are Latinos. They all ride the bus home from school, walk home on their own, and as soon as they get off the bus, they run around from one house to the other looking for the best treats, food, and most fun things to do. They’re smart and resourceful. I don’t need to entertain them anymore. They have fantastic social skills. I think I saw their parents once or twice, to give “a face” to the mother of the kid who ate all of their popsicles. And that was it. Everyone is relaxed and non-intrusive. Kids do their own thing.

But things were different back in the Bay Area, where my kids grew up from age 0 to 5 in pure American culture. Play dates needed to be scheduled 30 days in advance, formal introductions needed to be made and kids needed to be catered to. It was exhausting. Of course, I had no time whatsoever for myself. My adult life was non-existent. Being a parent was a full-time job, and I was always being observed and judged.

Gringos are amazing at following “the right agenda”

I was always confused about hitting certain American milestones or activities with the kids. Just in the last 5 years, I learned about:

  • Valentine’s Day: Make beautiful pink and red valentine cards and hand out to your kids’ friends.
  • Halloween: Choose an awesome original costume (more points if it’s handmade), decorate the house, carve pumpkins, go trick or treating.
  • Christmas: Bake gingerbread cookies, exchange cookies with neighbors, pick a tree at the Christmas tree lot, decorate the house, buy presents, wrap them up in beautiful paper and bows, send hand-written Christmas cards to everyone you know, Christmas caroling, get a photo with Santa, get a professional Christmas family photo taken, cook, bake, sing, drink eggnog, make a snowman…

Let me give you the Argentine version – Valentines is not celebrated in Argentina, neither is Halloween (luckily). But I do remember Christmas as a kid. Santa would come and bring presents at midnight, so it was all about staying up late, eating chocolate ice cream (it’s blazing hot in South America in December), jumping in the pool at night, scout for fireflies, look for Santa’s star in the sky, eat as many “turrones” as your body could handle, and basically hang out until midnight.

Our parents would drink sparkling wine and toast every 10 minutes. It was a big feast of food and wine.

We did not have any set of rules to follow, and it was all very improvised. Friends and neighbors would show up uninvited. And it was all good.

My kids are now 5 and 6 and are perfect LatinGringos. They are bilingual, love their Asado (grilled steaks and chorizos) and their marshmallows for desert. They are a perfect Latin-gringo symbiosis. I love raising my kids in a multicultural way, and I was very lucky to bring them into two worlds since day one.

No parenting style is perfect. But what I learned is that if you open your mind and take lessons from here and there, your kids will be well prepared to be citizens of the world. And please, always follow your instinct. Your instinct is ALWAYS right.

Consuelo Lyonnet

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