I Never Thought I’d Get Here but I’m Finally at the Age Where I Have To ‘Parent’ My Parent
This Latinx Heritage Month, mitú is highlighting the root of Latinx joy. We’re digging deep into the subcultures and traditions that have shaped our communities — the reason for our song and our dance. We continue building flourishing communities together because of our strong roots and with the support of State Farm.
It’s a little past 5 AM, usually the commute to work is dead silent. Suddenly, my mom blurts out something that would stick with me: “I’m glad your brother is figuring himself out, you were always the one that kind of knew what you were doing. On the other hand, I feel like I’m lost and am past the age of figuring it out.” For a couple of years, it felt like I had become the de facto parent — this admission confirmed what I had already accepted.
Within Latino households, gradually taking up family responsibilities is expected, encouraged even, so younger family members can mature. Nonetheless, in doing so young people are subject to “parentification.” This social anomaly puts the responsibility of being the support system on the immigrant child. Consequently, the immigrant child, or child of immigrants, is exposed to issues that are beyond their scope of maturity and understanding such as family finances, medical issues and other sensitive topics. For many, this can create a sense of resilience and independence. However, this can also have negative consequences as it stunts emotional, mental and psychological development for those having to step up at a young age. Furthermore, it is common for “parentified” children to grow resentful, creating tension in the family for years to come.
Our family has seen this phenomenon repeat generation after generation — my mom went through it, her mom went through it and so on. And although it went unspoken, there were tensions bubbling under the surface. Ultimately, this led to my mother leaving her tense household.
For the twenty-plus years that followed, my twin brother and I would achieve life milestones that my mom had to miss out on as she was raising us. From walking across the high school graduation stage to wandering cluelessly on the first day of college, these were among those events that she didn’t get to experience. Meanwhile, my mom paused her life yet again as she raised my younger brother who had serious, lifelong health conditions. This new family dynamic brought about challenges for my twin and I in our developmental years.
In retrospect, I acknowledge the resentment I held against my mom in my teenage years. At the moment I realized these feelings went unaddressed, I became the first member of my family to go to a therapist. It was here where I started being more aware of the cycles that were repeating in my family. As I helped my family navigate its emotional issues, I became a “parentified” child all over again.
Without exaggerating, I say that twenty five suns revolved around the Earth before my mom was able to pick up where she left off at seventeen. Now, I am at an age where I’ve become my mom’s “parent,” assisting her to navigate a more unfamiliar world than it was when she became a mom.
It has been almost a year since our family’s beloved son and brother passed on due to complications with COVID. This tragedy marked a before and after. While many get engaged or move in with a partner at age 25, I am “parenting” my parent. So far, I’ve dropped her off on her first day of school in her pursuit of higher education; helped her with her homework; assisted her in the funeral arrangements of both son and father; driven her to her first job interview in sixteen years; given her dating advice; and been her support as she navigates her grief.
Where many have grown bitter, I can only hope that these efforts help our family heal and move on.
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