Lessons in Decolonizing Parenting

Parenting facilitator Leslie Arreola-Hillenbrand talks to Adriana Lozada about starting Latinx Parenting to help families decolonize oppressive parenting practices and jettison cultural discipline techniques their parents used—that many say they’d never use on their own children.

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Transcript

Lessons in Decolonizing Parenting

Adriana Lozada: Hey Mighty Ones, Adriana here. I wanted to give you a heads up that you might hear some clicking in this episode. And it’s because when we recorded it remotely, that’s how it worked out. We tried really hard to get them out, but working in a pandemic is full of surprises, and here we are. Listen through anyway, because this is a fantastic episode.

Welcome to Birthful. I’m Adriana Lozada. 

Leslie Arreola-Hillenbrand:

It’s what happened to me that has put me in this position where I feel so powerless, where I feel so helpless, where I feel like I’m about to project these power dynamics that I said I would never project, so that practice of compassion for ourselves is the only thing that is going to allow us to have compassion for our children. 

Lozada: That’s Leslie Arreola-Hillenbrand. She’s the founder of Latinx Parenting, a bilingual organization rooted in children’s rights, social and racial justice, and the active decolonization of oppressive parenting practices. If the idea that parenting needs to be decolonized is new to you or you find it stirs up some strong emotions, then get ready for an eye opening conversation. Make sure you stay on until the end of the episode for my two things to do. One for you, one for the rest of us. You’re listening to Birthful, here to inform your intuition. 

Why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about yourself and also how you identify? 

Arreola-Hillenbrand: 

Yeah. Sure. So, I’m Leslie Priscilla Arreola-Hillenbrand, and I could keep going with my last names, but I won’t, because it would take up the entire episode. And I’m a mother first and foremost. I have a beautiful daughter, who’s eight and a half. I have another daughter who is turning three this weekend. And I also have a 16-month-old son, and I identify as a Chicana. Sometimes I identify as a Mexicana, because I’m first generation Mexican American, and my pronouns are she/her, ella, and I’m the founder of Latinx Parenting. It’s really rooted in social justice for children. It’s rooted in the practice of non-violence for ourselves, for our children, for all others, and I offer parent education workshops, and I offer coaching, and it’s mainly for Latinx, Chicanx-identifying peoples. 

And I started it because I didn’t have anything that I resonated with in terms of my culture, in terms of the needs that I was having as a parent to have somebody who understood not just what gentle parenting practices were, but my unique experience as a Latina Chicana. 

Lozada: And you’ve got some fabulous courses. I think with your focus what I was blown away by when looking through your Instagram account and looking a little bit more into your website was your emphasis on ending chancla culture and decolonizing parenting, and I think when we’re talking about decolonizing parenting here today, some people might feel resistance at the idea that parenting has been colonized. So, let’s start with that. How do we know that parenting was colonized? When did that happen? How did it happen? 

Arreola-Hillenbrand: 

Yeah, so it’s interesting, because if you study the history of childhood, most of the history that you’ll find is from Europe. And so, when you look at Indigenous parenting practices in the Americas on this land, very infrequently do you find anything less than gentle parenting practices. And so, I do want to say there is evidence that the Aztecs used corporal punishment and some harsher parenting methods, but overall, when you look at Indigenous cultures, which have survived and which are still here, the parenting practices are very collaborative. They honor children. They look at children as ancestors that have returned in many cases. 

And so, when I talk about decolonizing parenting, it’s not so much… You know, people will accuse me and say, “This is like a white people thing.” It’s like this is not our culture and my argument is this is actually our culture pre-colonization. When we were colonized, it also benefited our colonizers to keep our families oppressed, and our ancestors very much survived by keeping their children in line post-colonization, and so now we have this invitation to not just survive, right? Now we want to thrive. Now we want to really liberate our children. Now we really want to engage with them in ways that are going to not be oppressive. 

And so, the decolonization of parenting to me really means the reclamation of those gentle parenting practices in our families and a movement towards liberation for Latinx and Chicanx people, specifically. 

Lozada: How does chancla culture, as you defined it, stem from that? And why is it so particular to our culture? 

Arreola-Hillenbrand: 

Yeah, so I see chancla culture, and the way that I define it, it doesn’t just have to do with la chancla, like people are like, “Well, what about el cinto? And what about el gancho? And what about all these other tools, and-“ 

Lozada: Let’s explain what those are. Yeah. 

Arreola-Hillenbrand: 

Absolutely. So, el cinto meaning the belt, el gancho meaning the hangar, and so all of these weapons that our parents may have picked up at one point or another to either use on us or threaten to use on us. And so, la chancla is really the most popular, and I say that in air quotes, the most popular of those tools. And you see it everywhere. I mean, it’s been so normalized in Latinx culture where you see it in funny memes, and I also use funny in air quotes, and so chancla culture also refers to the shaming of children, the belittling of children, the manipulation of children, so anything that is oppressive to our children and breaks at some point their mind, their body, or their spirit, is to me under the umbrella of chancla culture. 

And so, we’ve been having those conversations lately, especially on social media, and really trying to get away from the normalization of la chancla and some of these strategies that many of the people in our culture will say that are a part of our culture. You know, again, like this is an adaptation to having been colonized. 

Lozada: And chancla specifically means slipper or flip flop. 

Arreola-Hillenbrand: 

Oh, yes. That’s important to share. 

Lozada: I missed that one. Yeah. 

Arreola-Hillenbrand: 

Yeah, so a flip flop, right? Yes. 

Lozada: Yeah, but I did… I mean, specifically to Latinx culture, the chancla comes up very significantly, but this is not specific to our culture only. I was quite surprised to learn how widespread corporal punishment practices are still present in the U.S. There was a study published by researchers in the University of New Hampshire showing that 46% of whites, 59% of Blacks, and 48% of Hispanics or Latinx had spanked their children between 2018 and 2019. That’s an immense amount of the population and if we add to it verbal abuse, like yelling culture, then that really shows the normalization of oppressive parenting, how this is so widespread. What does these practices do to our children and how does corporal punishment or otherwise, any type of punishment, impact children’s brain development and mental health? 

Arreola-Hillenbrand: 

We know that when a child is under stress, either from fear of being threatened with corporal punishment or actually spanked, that there is an increase in cortisol that occurs in the body, and that cortisol has a direct effect on the brain and the centers of the brain that are now more prone to being in survival rather than the learning that we want to occur, which happens in the prefrontal cortex, and the development of the prefrontal cortex is severely hindered, and so when we are intentionally using corporal punishment, we’re thinking that this is something that’s good for children. It’s actually quite the opposite. It’s pretty harmful to the nervous system and then over time, that creates toxic stress and adverse childhood experiences. 

When we commit to not using corporal punishment, when we commit to not overactivating our children’s nervous system, it actually allows them to have more access to the prefrontal cortex and over time, we see that they thrive, that they actually succeed a lot more, that they have healthier relationships. 

Lozada: Can we talk a little bit about that generational ripples of trauma? Because then new parents may have a hard time dealing with their own feelings that come up towards their parents as they try to parent their children differently. The clearest way that I have… that I can explain that is I remember when my daughter was a toddler and words coming out of my mouth that I said I would never say, right? That were said to me when I was little and things like, “Well, because I said so.” Or, “Because I’m the parent.” 

Arreola-Hillenbrand: 

Yeah. That’s like the tantamount factor, right, is really that reflection piece is at the root of everything in our parenting. If we are acting in ways that are unconscious, then it’s very likely that we are going to be projecting wounds that haven’t been addressed that occurred to us when we were children. And so, a lot of what I do is helping parents to develop this relationship with themselves as their inner parent, and this idea that we have this inner child within us that is still having needs that need to be met by our inner parent. 

A lot of times, we don’t have a cognitive idea about why we become activated, why we become triggered, because trauma lives in our bodies. And the activations that happen can’t be worked through just by intellectualizing. You actually have to identify where some of that tension is happening in your body. It’s really understanding where trauma is occurring, reoccurring in our bodies, and then also trying to bring some kind of narrative around what happened. 

And so, when we are working with a trauma-informed framework, it’s not about what’s wrong with us, like what’s so wrong with me that I’m yelling at my child? What’s so wrong with me that I just picked up the chancla and threatened my child with the chancla? It’s what happened to me that has put me in this position where I feel so powerless, where I feel so helpless, where I feel like I’m about to project these power dynamics that I said I would never project? So, that practice of compassion for ourselves is the only thing that is going to allow us to have compassion for our children. 

You know, my inner niña, my inner little girl shows up, shows up when I get stressed out, shows up when I feel powerless and helpless in my relationship with my children. And my role is to recognize when that is happening, to reparent myself, to remother myself in that moment, so that I can prevent some of those harms from being inflicted on my child. It doesn’t always work, like it’s not foolproof, and so when parents even come to the classes, I say, “You know, we can’t expect ourselves to not harm our children. It’s just… We’re human beings.” I think that when we have the expectation that, “Okay, I came to this parenting class, I read these parenting books, I’m gonna do it perfectly now, I’m not gonna project my wounds.” That sets us up for disappointment and it sets us up for shame, and the blame of ourselves. 

I really want to encourage parents to be very compassionate and very gentle with ourselves, because this is a process that is going to last the length of our parenting journey. 

Lozada: That’s it. And it requires a lot of practice. It requires a lot of repetition to gain competency in it, right? Because you’re basically trying to undo lifelong patterns. Can you explain a little bit more what you mean by when you say reparent yourself and what reparenting yourself looks like? 

Arreola-Hillenbrand: 

Yeah. So, that’s been something that’s been really powerful for my healing journey, for my mothering journey, and it’s something that I learned about when my daughter was very young, and I had a teacher, I still have a teacher and a counselor that I go to that introduced me to something called Inner Bonding. And the founder of Inner Bonding is a woman named Margaret Paul, and so it’s this idea that when our inner child is given the attention, given the validation, given the acknowledgement, that we can actually move through some of those wounds and we can move through to get to a place of intentionality, to get to a place of alignment with what our true intentions are for relationship with our children, which are good intentions, right? 

And so, it’s about bringing light to that inner child, and Bethany Webster is a woman who does a lot of work around The Mother Wound that I’m influenced by, as well. But then also holding a vision of ourselves as a future ancestor, as a future abuelita self, is what I call my future ancestor self. And that’s really what guides my practice and the vision towards what I want to become, right? So, what does my healing look like? Where do I actually want to be when I’m a grandmother? How do I want to be living my life and working towards that while acknowledging the fact that I still have an inner child, while acknowledging the fact that I didn’t get my needs met as a child. 

Lozada: Yeah. The mighty listeners out there, lots of them are pregnant, and a lot of them have itty bitty babies and little kids, so for the new parents that have itty bitty babies and right now may have extended family in their caretaking circles of those little babies, and they’re finding some resistance from that extended family saying that they… Because they don’t understand or want to respect these parents’ choices of not using say corporal punishment, or punishment of any kind for that matter. How can parents address that with their extended family? 

Arreola-Hillenbrand:

Yeah. I think one of the greatest gifts that becoming a mother gave me was the ability to set boundaries and to really create the intentional space that I wanted around my family. And I don’t remember who told me this at one point, but they said, and it actually liberated me from these expectations that I had for everybody to get it, but they said the people that are in your nuclear family, you, your child, your partner, those are the people that we need to focus on. Everybody else is just privileged to be a part of that nuclear space. 

Because my culture is very collectivist… Latinos, we want to be around family. We want to be in good relationships. It’s actually the Indigenous way to be in good relationship with aunties, with uncles, with everybody, and at the same time we have to balance that with knowing what is good for our spirit and what is good for our emotional health. And so, my invitation to people has been don’t try to convince anybody. Don’t try to convince anybody about the way that you want to parent just because you want them to change your mind. They will see what the impact is when they watch you parent. 

And so, for us it’s kind of about building our own villages and our own communities that are going to encourage the ways that we want to parent with intentionality, with nonviolence. I think something that has been really powerful for me is the term willing, right? Like I am not willing to receive that right now. It’s not something I use all the time, because I really do have to pick my battles and I think that people do kind of have to pick what works for them, but I do think that when we utilize words like willingness, and we keep the focus on the consent, like I don’t consent to being communicated with in that way, that is a really kind of simple way to set that boundary while still being able to be in relationship with our parents. 

And we have to understand, like many times these people have really good intentions for us, as well. You know, they just don’t understand maybe the why, and it’s okay to have compassion for that and to say, “You know, I understand that you are concerned. I understand that you feel like this is the better way,” or whatever it is, “and I’m really not willing to hear that right now, or we can come back to this another time.” 

It is really hard and I do want to acknowledge that for people, because being a new parent is such a vulnerable space to be in in general, and so to have people that are coming in helping, and having these good intentions, and at the same time making us feel somewhat insecure about the way that we want to do things is really hard. And I’m hopeful that those situations are temporary and that we kind of learn how to navigate them as we go along. 

And I have so much compassion for those of us that have gone through that, because it does put you back into your inner child state. And so, that’s why to me that reparenting work is so important, because we no longer rely on our parents, and I don’t mean this in like a we don’t need them, we don’t need to be in a relationship with our parents, that’s not what I’m saying at all. I’m just saying that we don’t kind of hinge our decisions and our commitment to ourselves and to our healing and to our children on whether or not they’re going to agree with us. You know, and so we kind of release them of that care that we have wanted from them for so long, and they can demonstrate that care in other ways, like my mom still makes me frijoles con queso, you know, beans and cheese, and I’m like, “Okay, I accept this version of your love. I may not ever hear the apologies that I want to hear. I may not always hear the things that I would want to hear from you, but I can still accept the medicine. I can still accept the love that you offer in the ways that you offer it as long as I can still hold some semblance of boundaries that are going to preserve kind of the integrity and the intentions that I want to have for my family.” 

Lozada: Leslie, when I was looking into the idea of discipline and discipline versus punishment, I found like three traditional categories, and then one was the authoritarian parent, which has clear expectations and consequences but shows little affection to their child. And then you had the permissive parent, which shows lots of affection towards the child that provides a little discipline, and then you had this idea of an authoritative parent that has clear expectations and consequences and is affectionate towards the child and allows for flexibility and collaborative problem solving when dealing with behavioral challenges. 

What are your thoughts on this? Does this actually sit with the nonviolent parenting that you focus on and is that what we’re talking about? Or is this still a lacking system that we need to move beyond? 

Arreola-Hillenbrand: 

Yeah. You know, I think that I hesitate to make those categorizations because it places the expectation that we have to be this perfect parent sometimes. And so, I see things as more of a spectrum. Some mornings, I am a permissive parent. Some mornings, I am more of an authoritarian parent. Some days I’m pretty good and I am more of the authoritative parent. And all of those things are okay. You know, I think as long as we are rooting it in that self-reflection and recommitting to just be attuned to what our children are needing, I don’t necessarily for me need to know which box I fit in. 

You know, and so it goes back to me in the decolonizing of parenting, moves away from those labels. It moves away from good. It moves away from bad. It moves away from authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, et cetera. And it just talks about the relationship, the connection, the spiritual process, and evolution that parenting can offer to us. Those kinds of findings about the authoritarian, the permissive, the authoritative, those can become really pathologizing, especially for non-white families, because many of these studies were done with white, middle class families, and so when I talk to the parents that I work with at least, I always tell them to take some of these studies with a grain of salt, because there hasn’t been a lot of really culturally responsive and culturally sustaining work done in order to create maybe different categories, not that… four categories. 

But you know, that’s just something that I kind of wanted to add, that we can tend to pathologize sometimes within those frames. But I think for me, nonviolent parenting has to become with ourselves and the way that we look at our own parental behaviors, and so the idea of nonviolence is to always be looking below the surface of behaviors and to see behaviors as nothing more than just a strategy to meet our basic human needs, right? 

And so, my child may be having a tantrum in the grocery store and in that moment, I may yell, because I’m not sensing that my need for cooperation is being met, or I’m not sensing that my need for ease is being met. And so, very quickly when we sense that our needs are not being met we come feeling beings, which we are, and so we either feel discomfort, or anger, or satisfaction when our children are acting in ways that we are okay with, but then that kind of bubbles over into the behaviors, and so when we look at any person, not just our children, not our parents, ourselves, just anybody, we have to look a little bit deeper than just the behaviors, because we are not our behaviors. We are the needs underneath those behaviors. 

Lozada: Absolutely. And I mean let’s be honest, toddlers and little kids can seem incredibly impatient or selfish, especially when you’re exhausted, and stressed, and it can be really hard not to feel that they’re on purpose manipulating you, pushing your buttons, and sort of take a step back and observe that it’s… This behavior is an expression of needs, both on them and both in yourself, and I know that their brains are not as developed, so they don’t have that ability to even do any of this process, and it’s hard enough for us as adults to do this process. 

So, what are some things you can say instead of, “Because I say so,” or, “You hear me,” or how can you be compassionate to understand that that tantrum that’s happening is not their way of attacking us? 

Arreola-Hillenbrand: 

There is this really helpful phrase that I think I learned from Dr. Dan Siegel, who wrote The Whole Brain Child and a bunch of other really great books with his co-author, Tina Payne Bryson, but one of the things that has really stuck with me is connect before correct, and I kind of take that to another level and I think about connecting. What does it look like to connect with myself in that moment? Because I am having almost an out of body experience in those moments where I’m just completely in my low brain, in my reptile brain, in my survival brain, and so that connect before correct has to be done within myself first, and so when parents ask like, “What do I do in those moments where I’m just so activated?” 

We really have to begin by putting on the oxygen mask. And I know it’s kind of a cliché thing to say, like you put the oxygen mask on yourself first, but it’s really true and it’s very accurate about that experience. And so, that self-regulation is going to look differently for everybody in terms of the tools that you use. Some people do breathing, some people do sensory tools, or pop a piece of gum in their mouth and kind of like use that to get back to themselves. And so, for me what that looks like is being really proactive about what may happen. 

So, if I know that my children haven’t eaten breakfast in the morning, I’m not gonna go to the grocery store with them. You know, if I know that they skipped their nap, maybe that’s not a good time to take a phone call and that kind of thing. 

And so, it’s a lot of thinking ahead, and it’s pretty laborious, but parenting in general is laborious, and when those moments can’t be prevented, then we kind of need to look at the need underneath that behavior and think, “Okay, what is really happening here? Are they hungry? Are they tired? Did they have a bad day at school?” I remember so many times, like my daughter would come home and just have a detox moment from having to be well behaved at school for a really long time, and she would come home, which is her safe space, and I am her safe space, and she would just lose it. And I had to keep in mind this has really nothing to do with me, and so we want to as much as possible not take it personally, be proactive, so that we can hopefully sometimes avoid those really massive moments of tension. 

And when we can’t avoid them, we maneuver through them as gracefully as we can and hold their feelings, and allow them to express them as long as they are not being violent with us or with themselves, and after that, if we do lose it, if we do get to a point where we are yelling, or we are telling them to stop crying, which will happen, then we get to a place of repair. And that repair for me is so healing because I didn’t have a model for that. A lot of us haven’t had those models where our parents apologized for yelling at us or for hitting us, those of us who received corporal punishment, and it actually provides us with an opportunity to strengthen our relationship, because we are taking the time, making the acknowledgement, allowing them to kind of share with us what the experience was like for them, and really get to a place of reconnection. 

Lozada: You’ve said that ending chancla culture and decolonizing your parenting is a form of activism and social justice. How is that a form of social justice? 

Arreola-Hillenbrand: 

Yeah, so when we teach children that they are, Brown and Black children especially, that they can be free of oppression, that will carry Brown and Black children, Brown and Black families, and any families really, forward to a place of value and inherent worth. And so, I find that value and inherent worth being a part of what needs to happen in order for families to be liberated from oppression in general, which is a part of social justice, which is a part of activism, and so when people will say, “Well, I can’t go protest. I’m parenting. I can’t go out.” And so, just because we’re doing it in our home does not mean that we aren’t doing anything. It’s actually really powerful to raise children with an inherent sense of what peace looks like. 

Lozada: Absolutely. I mean, that’s everything. That’s definitely a way to make the world better for all of us. And I gotta thank you personally, because your Instagram to me has been a particular breath of fresh air, because I’ve had so many aha moments relating to my own growing up, and different countries and cultures, so I personally thank you and thank you for being on the show. 

Arreola-Hillenbrand: 

Thank you. Thank you, Adriana. I appreciate you. 

Lozada: That was Leslie Arreola-Hillenbrand. Her website, LatinxParenting.org, is filled with wonderful resources, including a recommended list of parenting books. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, @LatinxParenting. 

I hope one of your takeaways from our conversation is that decolonizing your parenting is hard and constant work. Please have lots of self-compassion when you become triggered or frustrated and don’t let that critical inner voice tear you down. Instead, explore what is the need you are trying to express and see if you can lean in with curiosity. 

One thing you can do for yourself is to identify that one thing that your parents did that you said you’d never do and figure out other ways you could respond if you feel those words bubbling up. So, for example, if you hated when your parents said, “Because I said so,” what is a different phrase you could use to communicate your frustration in a positive, non-oppressive manner? 

The one thing you can do for the rest of us is to keep raising your voice against the separation of families at the border and support those working to help reunite the hundreds of children that are still separated from their families. The ACLU has filed a federal lawsuit to stop separation. You can find specific actions to help their efforts at ACLU.org. And you can also donate at JusticeInMotion.org to support the work of their human right defenders that are physically searching for the separated parents. 

Lozada: Birthful was created by me, Adriana Lozada, and is a production of Lantigua Williams & Co. The show’s senior producer is Paulina Velasco. Virginia Lora is the managing producer. Cedric Wilson is our lead producer. Kat Hernandez contributed to this episode. Thank you for listening to and sharing Birthful. Be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Spotify, and everywhere you listen. Come back next week for more ways to inform your intuition.  

CITATION: 

Lozada, Adriana, host. “Lessons in Decolonizing Parenting.” Birthful, Lantigua Williams & Co., November 24, 2020. Birthful.com.


 

Headshot of Leslie Arreola-Hillenbrand

Image description: Leslie, a Chicana mother with long, dark hair cascading over her left shoulder, wearing a blouse embroidered with colorful flowers, looks at the camera with a smile.

About Leslie Priscilla Arreola-Hillenbrand

Leslie Priscilla Arreola-Hillenbrand is a first generation non-Black Chicana mother to three biracial children. She is a descendant of Indigenous Tarahumara Rarámuri and Spanish lineages, who resides on occupied Tongva and Acjachemen land, also known as Orange County, CA. Leslie shares her work and medicine by offering coaching, workshops, support and advocacy for Latinx/Chicanx via her organization Latinx Parenting, a bilingual organization rooted in children’s rights, social and racial justice, the practice of nonviolence and reparenting, intergenerational and ancestral healing, cultural sustenance, and the active decolonization of oppressive practices in our families.

Learn more about Leslie and her available resources at latinxparenting.org.

You can also connect with her on Instagram at @latinxparentingon Facebook or Twitter

 

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