Spoiler: bedtimes are just not a big deal here
By Sarah DeVries
Moms are different in Mexico.
Well, that’s what I’m supposing anyway, as I’ve never been a mom anywhere else. I just know that they’re different from me.
So while I haven’t had the experience of being a mother in my home country (the United States), I did grow up there, and I’m still attached through my family, friends and the bits and pieces of my home culture I consume online.
When I look for advice (and believe me – new mothers look for a lot of advice), it’s information from my own culture that I naturally turn to. What did my mom — or moms like my mom — do? Okay, then, let’s move in that direction.
Mexican motherhood, of course, is as diverse as motherhood in any other country, all of us with our own unique styles of doing this terrifying job of trying to turn tiny humans into empathetic yet strong adults. Still, every country has a distinct personality, and there are plenty of common cultural threads to be found.
Last week, I wrote that when it comes to our children, we have the twin contradictory tasks of teaching them two things simultaneously: that they are special and unique and that they aren’t better than anyone else (I read that somewhere, by the way; it’s not my original thought).
We’ve all got different ways of trying to make this nurturing and strengthening happen, and through the years, I’ve run up against a few unexpected differences between me and other moms.
Now that so many other mothers and families seem to be moving to Mexico, it seemed a good time to point out some of these differences.
In my eight years as a foreign mother here in Mexico, these are some of the things that I’ve observed that are different between my experience and that of Mexican moms.
One fantastic difference: most moms here seem to rarely feel embarrassed by their children’s behavior in public.
As I’ve said before, an attitude of “Um, these places aren’t really for children, OK?” isn’t prevalent here. Children are recognized as the tiny citizens they are and given their due space in both public and private arenas.
Almost everyone, including strangers, adopt a kind and playful attitude toward them. Mexicans just seem to really enjoy children, and I’ve almost never heard anyone here utter the phrase, “Actually, I don’t really like kids.”
Most children are treated like very small children for a very long time — sometimes even as adults!
I suppose it’s possible that I’m imagining this, but there seems to be an assumption that kids can’t really do anything for themselves … so they are not frequently asked to. Food appears in front of them, clean clothes and dishes are magically put in their rightful places and parents wear their children’s Minecraft backpacks on the way home from school much after the point that most kids elsewhere would be expected to handle at least some of those things themselves.
Bedtime is not a big deal. In fact, it seems to be nonexistent for most children, even at young ages.
It’s not uncommon to see kids running around during family parties at midnight, or asleep on three to four lined-up chairs while their parents continue in the fun. This was very difficult for me to deal with personally, as I got a lot of pushback for wanting to keep my kid’s naptimes and bedtimes sacred. (She was a very grouchy baby and did not do well when her regular sleep schedule wasn’t followed.)
For most parents in Mexico, a “they’ll sleep when they’re tired” attitude abounds. And for the most part, that’s what kids do, though I never learned the secret to getting my own baby to do it; she would just stay awake and scream about it until I performed our nighttime routine.
Bath time, though — that is a big deal, and most parents don’t ever skip it.
Moms might scold their kids harshly, but you’ll rarely hear them complain about them.
Loudly and publicly putting your kid in their place? Fine. It happens. Complaining to others about how hard it is to be a mom and how sometimes you’d just like your pre-mom identity back? In that case, you might as well just call Child Protection Services on yourself.
To question one’s own dedication to the job that so many here consider sacred is to draw suspicion to yourself. There might be gritos (yelling) and chanclas (essentially, a child getting a slipper or sandal thrown their way for misbehavior), but the ideal of the all-sacrificing mother is ever-present in Mexico.
This can make it very hard to talk about things like postpartum depression (which I definitely had and definitely did not get professional help for).
Letting your child be cold in Mexico is practically child abuse.
Much of this is due to the belief that people get colds and flu from actually being cold (or from abrupt changes in temperature in general), as opposed to the transmission of viruses. If anyone has the sniffles, someone will invariably say “Well it’s no wonder, what with this crazy weather and all!”
I also see small dogs in sweaters when it’s 65 degrees out, so I’ve basically given up on trying to convince anyone that the cold won’t actually hurt them.
Back to scolding: friends will help you out with an unruly child, but do not scold a Mexican mom’s kid in front of her.
We’re all self-conscious about our parenting skills. But telling someone else’s kid not to do something because it annoys you (like screaming at the top of their lungs, for example) will get you some serious rancor in return.
Either learn to live with it or make up a story about why you can’t hang out until the kid’s a little older and possibly past that stage. Never tell the truth about the reason if the reason is that the kid annoys you; trust me on this one.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, and of course, I haven’t delved into the topic of fathers (that’s for another article). But these are the things that have stuck out to me!
Sarah DeVries is a writer and translator based in Xalapa, Veracruz. This article appeared April 9, 2022, at https://mexiconewsdaily.com/opinion/sarah-devries/parenting-differences-in-mexico/.
Reprinted with permission.