2010

Cafe Magazine: Listen Up

Listen Up 
by Angelica Herrera 

Published in Cafe Magazine on March 1, 2010.

CHICAGO -  Wearing an Illini sweatshirt and jeans, Rosaura Maldonado laughs when asked if she openly talks to her Latino parents about dating and relationships.

“Oh! You’re being serious,” she says, apologizing.

Sitting in the crowded Café Jumping Bean in Pilsen, the 28-year-old explains how daunting — if not downright impossible — it is to talk to her Mexican parents about dating, relationships, or much else concerning her personal life. “My first boyfriend wasn’t introduced as my boyfriend to my parents,” she says. “It was assumed he was my boyfriend, but I never officially said anything.” Nowadays, Maldonado’s parents suspect she’s dating someone because her boyfriend is showing up at family parties. It’s clear to Maldonado they know something is going on when, on the rare occasions she’s by herself, her mother inquires, “¿Y tu novio?” [“And your boyfriend?”]

Steering clear of conversations involving relationships is a constant maneuver for Maldonado. Saying too much becomes an open invitation for unsolicited advice from her mother. “My mom tends to give her opinion and tell me what I should do and what I did wrong," she says. “Who wants to hear that?”

Like Maldonado, many Latinos share a similar experience when it comes to talking to their parents about relationships. But something that can be done to change that.

Having worked with families as a parenting program director at Chicago's Midtown Center for Boys for 36 years, Arturo Baranda knows first-hand what it takes to build relationships between parents and their children. He says the trick to open communication between parents and children — no matter how old they are — is following a formula that encompasses attention, acceptance, approval, respect and understanding. Doing so helps create a sense of mutual trust. However, Baranda says simply following the formula isn’t always enough because one must also consider the generational differences between parents and their children. It’s important for children to acknowledge that parents have lived both major successes and failures — and this is something they may be able to someday apply to their own lives, he says.

Still, experience shouldn’t ever trump being fair. “What a parent needs to understand is who is this child of theirs —the good and the bad— and accept them for who they are,” Baranda says. “The worst thing a parent can do is judge their child, or injure their self-esteem because most of the time children hear something the parent says as a life sentence, not as an eruption of agitation or frustration.”

CURFEW INCLUDED

In many ways, Carolina Garcia says she’s played the role of mother and father for years because her husband worked all day, especially during the hours when her two girls were home. During this time, her daughters, now 23 and 21, haven’t always heeded her advice, but when they do listen to her, it’s usually over a cup of coffee.

“Usually, my oldest daughter is the one who listens to me when I tell her something,” Garcia says with a smile, gingerly touching the eyeglasses hanging from her neck. “Meanwhile, the younger one tends to tell me, ‘I don’t want to hear it.’”

But when it comes to being supportive of who they date, Garcia asks them to first bring their sweethearts home to meet because she wants “to know what kind of person he is before I give them my approval... but [my approval] comes with a curfew.” Her youngest daughter still lives at home with Garcia.

Garcia says that possibly the best way for her daughters to open up is to invite them out to dinner just to talk, because when they’re at home, the last thing they want to do is talk.

“It’s your job to capture their attention so they can listen to you,” she says. “As parents, we have walked down that path, and although we don’t want them to go through anything bad, we need to recognize that they too must live their own lives.”

Nonetheless, Garcia wishes she and her daughters spoke more openly.

It’s not just parents who want an open relationship. For the most part others who, like Maldonado, lack an open dialogue with their parents, wish it existed.

Maldonado is sure her parents, who got married at 18 and have raised six children together, must have great relationship advice. “But if I start talking too much about someone, they might misinterpret it as my wanting to get married,” she says with a sigh. “Maybe they don’t really understand the concept of dating because they got married so young.”

Regardless of the generational gap, improperly channeling emotions at a parent or child can result in a wall that is laid brick-by-brick. But knowing how to admit when you’ve screwed up is equally important. “As a parent, accepting that you’re defective is crucial,” Baranda says. “But being able to admit when you have hurt your child, and knowing how to ask for forgiveness, is vital.”

And by no means does asking for forgiveness jeopardize a parent’s authority. “If anything, it strengthens a mutual bond because there’s respect in an apology. It signals to the children that their parent trusts they have the ability to show them how to be better people,” Baranda explains. “Showing vulnerability is invaluable to getting your child to open up and talk to you.”


GET YOUR CHILDREN TO SPEAK UP

1. Attention: Give them your undivided attention, away from distractions. Talk about your own experiences and encourage them to do the same. Find your children’s strengths and weaknesses and encourage them to pursue things they’re good at — and show up to support them.

2. Acceptance: Accept and love them just the way they are, even when you’re mad at them. Remind them you love them and that you’re proud they’re your kids. Give them the space and sense of security to become comfortable in their own skin.

3. Approval: Be honest and let them know when they have disappointed you and why. But also let them know how proud they make you when they’re great. If you don’t approve of their behavior, wait until you’re in a good place to assertively talk to them.

4. Respect: Show the same level of respect you expect from them. Apologize when you have been hurtful, and be ready to explain what part of your behavior was wrong. Eventually, your children will start to mimic this behavior.

5. Understanding: If you’re involved in your children’s lives, it’s easier to understand what they’re going through and why. If your children feel understood, it’s easier for them to want to come to you for advice. As a result, they’re more aware of the consequences of their actions.


SOURCE: Arturo Baranda, Parent Program Manager, Midtown Center for Boys.

To read the full article on the Cafe Magazine site, click here.