Leslie Priscilla Arreola-Hillebrand, founder of Latinx Parenting, joins Janet to discuss how the challenges parents face as products of our upbringing can make respectful, non-punitive parenting more difficult to achieve. Leslie shares how her experiences as an early childhood professional started her on a journey of self-reflection and healing, which then inspired her to create trauma informed programs to support others to learn to reparent their inner child, break intergenerational cycles, and become the parents they wish to be.
Transcript of “Reparenting Ourselves to Break Intergenerational Cycles (with Leslie Priscilla Arreola-Hillebrand)”
Hi, this is Janet Lansbury. Welcome to Unruffled. Today I’m excited to welcome a guest I truly admire, Leslie Priscilla Arreola-Hillenbrand. Leslie’s the founder of Latinx Parenting. And her mission is to transform the culture of parenting by educating, advocating, and inspiring families to practice non-violence, self-reflection, connection, and community wellness. I very much wanted Leslie on this show because while her programs focus on Latinx parents, the wisdom and the guidance that she offers, the reparenting process she teaches, transcend any one culture and can certainly benefit every parent.
Thank you so much for joining me, Leslie. How are you doing?
Leslie Priscilla Arreola-Hillenbrand: I’m doing so good. I’m in my cozy little office. My three kids are not anywhere near here. And although I love them around, I also love just having this time on my own to chat with you. So I’m so grateful to be here. Thank you.
Janet Lansbury: Well, I am so impressed with your work and inspired by all that you do. I would love to hear a little about how you got into this work and what your days are like, what your focuses are these days.
Leslie Priscilla Arreola-Hillenbrand: I really started this work I think when I was a child. I was the older sister of a baby when I was 10 years old. And at that time my parents were going through a really messy separation and I just wanted to be close to her and I wanted her to feel close to me. And so when I talk about me as a mother and me as a parent, I always say I have these three kids, but I had a lot of my parenting experience actually raising my younger sister in a emotional, mental attachment and capacity. And so I feel like a lot of the foundation for my work is rooted in just being a big sister and remembering also what I was like as a child.
And so that’s kind of where it started, but I was very interested in children. I was very interested in my own story and wanting to process. I majored in psychology very early on. And then I started taking child development and it really blew my mind just how attachment can make a difference and how connection and then also respecting children’s autonomy and trusting them could make a huge difference for a child. So I went the early childhood route. I was a preschool teacher for many years before I decided to work with parents. And the reason I started to work with parents was because I would have all of these children come into my classroom that had behavioral issues. They had challenges that they would be moving through and we would work on them and then they would go home for Christmas break, Thanksgiving break, Easter break, and they would come back with those same challenges.
So I started to really think about how much power parents had in informing and connecting with their children. That’s when I started wanting to work more with parents.
I was fortunate that in the university that I was attending at the time, they had a family life education program that focused on working with parents. And after that, I got trained by a woman named Ruth Beaglehole, who at the time was the founder of the Echo Parenting and Education Center in Los Angeles. Did a 100-hour training with her, which was fantastic, rooted in social justice, non-violence, and it was just fantastic.
After that, I’ve been working with parents since 2013. To me it feels like the blink of an eye, but I’ve just loved it. And I really focus on Latinx parents, Latino parents, because that’s my experience having had a Mexican immigrant mother, a Mexican immigrant father. My experience was very different than my white colleagues. And my husband is white. And so thinking about his family’s experience and my family’s experience being so different, I started to really think about the ways that culture impacts parenting specifically, and Latino, Latina, Latinx culture is very unique. It’s not monolithic, but it is really important to start to look at parents through that lens of culture. And so that is really what lights my fire and why I work with Latinx parents specifically.
Janet Lansbury: And what are some of the common challenges or differences that you’ve found in your work?
Leslie Priscilla Arreola-Hillenbrand: In Latinx, Latino, Latina culture, there is this “funny joke” that is made sometimes about how Latina mothers, specifically, parent their children with this weapon called la chancla, which translates to the sandal or the flip-flop. And so if you just Google la chancla, you’ll see memes, you’ll see baseball teams named after la chancla, you’ll see restaurants named after la chancla. And it’s funny. I mean, people do laugh that we have this authoritarian stereotype of mothers, Latina mothers specifically.
So as I started to explore why there’s this stereotype… And it’s not the full truth, Latina mothers are very warm also… I started to understand that the historical factors were really important when we think about the way that Latina mothers, specifically, and Latino fathers raise their children. And so there are these stereotypes that they’re very authoritarian, that they use la chancla, that they use very physical ways of disciplining. And that was my experience definitely. And it was the experience of a lot of my cousins. It was the experience of a lot of other people that I knew growing up that also identified as Latinx. And so I really want to dispel this idea that this is a cultural phenomenon, but I really want to emphasize that this is actually in response to historical oppression, that this is in response to colonialism and that we did not historically, as indigenous peoples prior to colonialism, utilize these very authoritarian methods and this corporal punishment style of parenting.
Janet Lansbury: So that’s because historically children would be punished by society for going outside of boundaries in a more intense way that parents had felt like they needed to be protective? Is that what you’re saying?
Leslie Priscilla Arreola-Hillenbrand: Absolutely. And we still see that now. I mean, you think about a parent that maybe is undocumented and goes out to the grocery store and their child starts to have a tantrum or act out. That parent is going to have a very different visceral reaction than somebody like me or somebody like you, who doesn’t have to worry about undocumented status. So it’s almost normal and natural that would want to keep their children safe, want to keep their family safe by doing some of these parenting practices. It’s not for us to really judge. I think that there is a lot of judgment sometimes that comes in towards Black and Brown families who utilize these kinds of strategies. But for me, it’s really important, again, to just contextualize and to understand that the systems and the layers outside of those families are very different than maybe white or more affluent families may experience.
Janet Lansbury: How do you help young parents or newer parents to understand their story and be able to change the cycle or change the pattern?
Leslie Priscilla Arreola-Hillenbrand: That’s a really good question. I really had to step into accepting that I was going to get a lot of pushback because one of the huge values that we hold as Latinx people, and I think other cultures as well, obviously, is this notion of respect and respecting our parents. And I had some trouble acknowledging some of the harms that were done unto me as a child by having a very authoritarian mother who experienced mental illness, who had a lot of trauma as a child, and who projected a lot of that trauma onto me. I had a really hard time acknowledging the fact that I was harmed as a child. It wasn’t until I started going to therapy and really unpacking and thinking about myself as that young child and remembering those feelings and remembering those sensations that I had, that I started to understand that it wasn’t either/or. It wasn’t either I blame my parents or I heal. It could be both. It could be — I could acknowledge the fact that they did the best that they could with the tools, with the resources, with the models, with the systemic supports that they had. And I could also acknowledge the fact that I was harmed as a child, that I experienced my own trauma and really honor that story.
So understanding that it was hard for me to make that acknowledgement, put me in a place where I understand where other Latinx parents would find it difficult to make some own acknowledgements, because it feels like we’re disrespecting our parents by making those acknowledgements. And so I would have these experiences where I would be working with Spanish-speaking immigrant parents in elementary schools, and I would get a lot of pushback even in person saying, “I’m not going to say that my parents did anything bad.” They’re telling me that their parents would have all of these really harsh strategies for parenting them, and yet they would say, “My parents did it and I deserved it.”
That to me was really painful sometimes because I, at that time, was and I still am very much a child advocate and I don’t believe that any child deserves any kind of violence. But as I started listening to their stories, I realized: Okay, if I’m going to really clear and grounded in working with Latino, Latina, Latinx populations, I have to understand that this is something that we may have trouble with in making this acknowledgement.
And so in the work that I do, we talk about those historical aspects. We talk about that systemic awareness of all the other things that are impacting our families. And to me, one of the really important things to do is to hold those dualities. Hold the duality that our parents did the best they could, and it could have still been really harmful. And now, we’re not moving into judgment of them. We’re not moving into judgment of ourselves when we end up slipping and when we end up repeating those same patterns with our children in anger or in frustration or helplessness, but we’re really holding ourselves in compassion.
I think for me, one of the most powerful tools has been to reparenting myself and to guide others in reparenting themselves. And really thinking about ourselves as children and this idea of remembrance. Remembering those feelings, those sensations, those experiences can put us in a place of self-compassion that then ripples outwards towards our children and ripples outwards towards our parents even.
And I’ll never say to somebody, “You have to forgive your parents. You have to move through your process in this way. You have to heal in this way.” I really truly believe that everybody has their own path and their own process to follow. But for me, it’s been really powerful to turn that self-compassion and that empathy inward so that I can offer it to my children, so that maybe it will translate into offering it to my own parents and to my ancestors really.
Janet Lansbury: Wow. Yeah, that’s powerful. I feel like every young parent has a version of this, no matter what their culture is, where they’re from, and what their past is. It could be maybe less traumatizing things than being physically punished, but I feel that we all, myself included, have things that we want to do differently or things that were harmful to us that we want to change. So this process that you’re talking about, I feel translates to every parent.
Tina Payne Bryson in her book with Dan Siegel, The Power of Showing Up, talks about how important it is to learn our story and to own our story so that we can start to do this reparenting that you’re talking about. This was my story, and yes, my parents, they were the result of their story and so on and so on through my ancestry, all these cycles, but this is my story. And once we own that, then we can make the decision to do the very challenging, brave task of doing it differently. And in doing it differently, that in itself can help us to heal, right? At least it did for me.
Leslie Priscilla Arreola-Hillenbrand: Yeah, absolutely. I think something that you said that was so key is that this is such a brave thing to do. It’s to turn the mirror inward and to think about, “How do I show up for my children?” At the root of everything is that self-reflection. I’m very fortunate that one of the first books that I read was Parenting from the Inside Out by Dan Siegel and Mary Hartzell. That book was really revelatory to me in that I knew that there were certain things about my childhood that didn’t feel good, but it contextualized it for me in terms of what was going on in my brain and what was going on in my body and the way that I experienced those memories. And so now I think that after I’ve now made that commitment to own my story and to own my narrative, now I can think about what things do I do as a mother to my three children that align with my intention and not with my wounds.
Janet Lansbury: Right. We can start to separate that out.
Leslie Priscilla Arreola-Hillenbrand: And it’s not easy as you know.
Janet Lansbury: No. Yes, I know. It’s a lifelong process. I think I learned some things this summer about myself from when I was a toddler that I had just thought were me. Like you said about the parents who were physically punished — they feel like they deserved it. That’s what happens, right? We feel like it’s us. And to realize: well, no, actually you had a sensitivity that maybe even your siblings didn’t have, but it’s not that there was something wrong with you…
Leslie Priscilla Arreola-Hillenbrand: Yes, it is that shift away from: There’s something wrong with me. There’s something wrong with me that I’m shouting. There’s something wrong with me that I’m slipping back into these patterns. It should never be about that shame. It should always be about: I’m noticing. That observation. I’m noticing myself shouting. I’m noticing myself becoming triggered or activated around these things. And now what do I need to do for myself in my body?
And so much of what I talk about has to do with reconnecting and reclaiming our bodies, because through 500 years of colonization, and I’m speaking specifically about cultures that were colonized, we have been so disconnected from our bodies that to understand our sensations and to bring compassion inward towards those sensations is revolutionary, I think. And to really bring breath as our strength and bring grounding and all of these concepts that, I think, ancestrally we knew were strengths. And after being parented in these ways and being passed down some of these ways that we have been disconnected from our bodies, I think that that’s a really powerful thing to be able to do for not just colonized peoples, but I think for everybody — to really honor our processes and to honor our bodies and all of our experiences.
Janet Lansbury: I have to say that a statement that I get that bothers me is that the type of respectful parenting that I teach and what you’re teaching is for white people only.
Leslie Priscilla Arreola-Hillenbrand: Yes.
Janet Lansbury: Or it’s for privileged people only.
Leslie Priscilla Arreola-Hillenbrand: Yes.
Janet Lansbury: There is some truth in that, in that, yes, it is a privilege in itself to have the mental bandwidth to consider what you’re doing as a parent. If you’re struggling to get food on the table and shelter for your children, of course… Although sometimes people in those situations are doing a lot of things “better,” but you’re not going to be able to take a thoughtful approach maybe. But it’s still available to you. It’s available to everyone. The idea that people could be shut out of these ideas that make your life easier with children, that make it work better, that help you raise the kind of children you want to raise and have the relationship with them that you want to have, the idea that people are shut out of that really upsets me. Or that people think that.
Leslie Priscilla Arreola-Hillenbrand: I hear that a lot, because again, there is this resistance and there is this claim of “hitting kids is just our culture.” You get this in Black families as well. “Hitting kids is just our culture. That’s just what we do.” And there’s not this understanding that there is this long history of perpetuating the oppression that we experienced as a people. And so for me, it’s the question of: Do I want to continue to raise my children in a way that they feel oppressed, that they are fearful of authority? Or do I want to parent through the lens of liberation and wanting my children to experience their autonomy, to experience their independence and their freedom to be and to unfold into the sovereign beings that they are here to enfold into?
And so, you’re right. It’s not inaccessible to think about the brain. It’s not inaccessible to think about the power of taking a deep breath, just that in and of itself… The greatest tool that you have is just your heartbeat, the air in your lungs. I mean, that reconnection to your body is so important and it’s something that I don’t have to teach people that’s new. I think it’s just something that we have to remember that we have. It’s just: Oh yeah, I actually do have these tools. I actually do have access back to myself.
I think to bring in that social justice piece, it is for some of us that are more privileged — because I am a Latina, but I am white presenting. And so it’s up to me to advocate for those who are actually still marginalized and who don’t have the space. And so this is where we talk about getting involved in politics and the activism that we can create around supporting families so that they have more and more access to some of these tools.
Janet Lansbury: Yes, I’m so happy that you’re out there doing this work.
I want to think a little now about something that’s maybe a more sideline issue, but I’m sure there are lots of others like this that stem from cultural beliefs and end up making certain aspects of parenting harder. One that comes to mind and that comes up a lot for me in the consultations I do with parents is that here are cultures where the parent is failing — the mother specifically is failing if she’s not getting the children to eat a lot of food, a certain amount of food. This is part of the parent’s identity as a good mother that her children eat a lot. And the stress that that puts on the parent to try to make something happen, that usually backfires, because we all know that stress is an appetite suppressant, or it can be. I guess, for some people it’s the opposite. But for young children to feel this tension when they’re trying to eat, it just makes it harder. And so that becomes a cycle that the parent gets stuck in.
Leslie Priscilla Arreola-Hillenbrand: That was very much my experience as a child with a mother who grew up in poverty, herself as a child. And so when I wouldn’t want to eat my food, I would have to sit there and force myself to finish my food. And it wasn’t because my mother wanted to make me suffer. That wasn’t her intention, but she wanted to make sure that I was grateful for the food that I had and did not waste any of it. The by-product of that, however, is that now I have a really hard time tasting new foods. I have a really hard time when I don’t finish a plate. Actually it was my husband that was the first one that told me after we had been dating for a few years, “If you’re not hungry anymore, you don’t have to finish your plate.” And I looked at him like he had three heads like “What do you mean? I don’t understand what you’re saying to me.” Because that wasn’t my experience.
And so it is true that sometimes because of those blueprints that our parents have had, great-grandparents, et cetera, that we have lost that autonomy to decide for ourselves, “What feels good to my body? When am I full? When am I cold?”
Another stereotype of Latinx parents and maybe other cultures as well is, “Go put on a jacket.” It’s like 75 degrees and it’s freezing outside. “You have to go put on a jacket.” And it’s like, “No, I don’t want to wear a jacket.” You’re made to wear this jacket because of the experiences that our parents had.
I do want to emphasize, our parents did not have the space to make these reflections, to really think about what was actually happening. My mother was, again, grew up in poverty, came to the US when she was 14, started working right away. And so that was a big chunk of her childhood. So when she started parenting me, and I’m sure that this is the case for many other children of immigrants, there wasn’t this rootedness in that reflection. A lot of patterns get repeated, including the food patterns, including this idea of wanting to protect kids and making sure that they’re warm all the time, et cetera. So, it’s not just Latinx culture. I’ve heard about it again, yes, from Asian cultures, from African cultures, et cetera. So it’s really interesting to see all of these connections between all of our cultures that sound very similar to each other.
Janet Lansbury: Yes.
Right now we have got this sort of renaissance that can also be very overwhelming of information and support for parents messages and tools, and it’s wonderful (although, again, it can be overwhelming). But nobody was doing this stuff when my mother was a parent. It was supposed to be instinct. It was supposed to be that you just do what you felt and you should know everything and know what to do.
Leslie Priscilla Arreola-Hillenbrand: Yeah, and you had to work really hard. You had to just keep hustling and you had to keep doing. And so I think like for some of us, I can speak for myself and for some of the friends in my community, we don’t know how to rest. It’s really uncomfortable for us to just take a break. Especially for mothers, we feel like we always have to be doing something. And I think about my mother and her working really hard all of her life, and her mother working really hard all of her life. Even if it was just “raising children”, there was still this aspect of never stopping. So I think one really important thing, I think it has been for the parents at least that I work with, is to reclaim rest, to really allow ourselves to have that space to be able to reflect or sleep or whatever.
I have two children who are under three right now. And so I’m all about the sleep, whenever I can get the sleep. But not feeling guilt about it, because there are times where I’m going to go off for a little while and I have this like tiny pinch of guilt about going and resting. So it’s really important or at least it has been for me to really reclaim this idea of rest for parents, not just in Latinx culture, obviously, but I think as a whole in parenting.
Janet Lansbury: Right, not just working yourself to the bone.
And so what do you have coming up that you’re doing? What are your programs that you want to share with us? You do coaching workshops. How can parents enjoy your wisdom and soak it up and learn from you?
Leslie Priscilla Arreola-Hillenbrand: Yeah. I have these two offerings that I cycle. One of them is called the Decolonized Nonviolent Parenting Course about raising our children. We talk about brain science. We talk about trauma. We talk about anger. We talk about our own narratives and it’s very profound. I think a lot of the stories that come to the surface in those groups are very much about our own childhoods and not too much about our children, which is the point. And I feel like when we start to reflect on our childhood, it just makes us a little bit more intentional about the way that we want to raise our children.
And then the other offering that I have that is an eight-week long course is a reparenting class. That one is specifically for Latinx or BIPOC folks who want to come and really do this work of reconnecting with our inner children, developing the sense of our inner mother or inner parents, and really reconnecting to this idea of a greater mother. I call it my future abuelita or my future grandmother self. Other people may call it source or spirit or whatever it is, but really reclaiming this idea that we are supported and that it is okay to rely on each other in community and as a collective in order to progress our healing.
And so both of those offerings work in tandem because as we’re doing the parenting work, we’re also reflecting about ourselves. And what I found it’s really cool because people will do one of the courses and then they’ll be like, “Well, I actually need a little bit more work with the reparenting.” So they’ll jump into the other course. But it is really neat just to see people’s process and I feel so honored to witness all of these stories.
Janet Lansbury: Tell me a little more about this reparenting. I love this idea of the wonderful grandmother figure that we’re going to be. Can you give me a little about the steps that you take in those courses to reparent? A lot of people ask about that.
Leslie Priscilla Arreola-Hillenbrand: Yeah, I would love to. The main thing is at the beginning, at least of the course, is to remember and to think about ourselves as this child or as these children, because obviously we went through different ages where we experienced different things. And so to really think about ourselves as still having this inner child, this inner niña, as I call her, that still has needs and still gets activated and still emerges every now and then, especially when we are feeling threatened or when we’re feeling unsafe.
And so because so many of us have these relationships with our parents that were not ideal, we haven’t really had the blueprint or the model for knowing how to reparent this inner child. And so what that could look like is we may end up shaming ourselves further and saying: Oh my gosh, I’m so dumb. How could I not think of that? Et cetera. And really using that kind of language, which is really being harsh with our inner child.
So the second part of it is to develop this relationship with our inner parents who can be that safe space and actually communicate with our inner child: “I got you. I’m here for you. I’m not going to let you just flounder the way that other adults may have as you were growing up.” And so it feels kind of weird for people at first to have these dialogues with their inner child, but I model it. Then we go through those processes in the course as well.
And so sometimes it’s really difficult again, because we don’t have the blueprint to know how to be a parent, for those of us that grew up and didn’t have those examples and those models. So we really want to tune in to our guidance, our future abuelita, our future grandmother self, think of ourselves as already having all of those tools that we need to be able to have that safety and to have that ability to reconnect to ourselves.
So I think about my grandmother self, my future abuelita self as wise. I think of her as loving. I think of her as protective. I think of her as being able to hold all of my experiences. And so I feel like I’m constantly moving towards this version of myself that I have access to so long as I have the intention to reconnect with her.
So they kind of all work in tandem. And then we do some exercises around reconnecting to Madre Tierra or Mother Earth. It all kind of comes together.
I really love this model. It’s been really supportive to me. I’ve been reparenting myself for, I want to say since my daughter was an infant, so about nine years and it’s just been really powerful. I draw a lot of strength just from thinking about myself as having these supports and really holding my inner little girl and reminding her that she’s actually okay and that she’s held.
Janet Lansbury: It’s so beautiful and profound.
Leslie Priscilla Arreola-Hillenbrand: It is really neat just to see people’s process and I feel so honored to witness all of these stories.
And I feel really hopeful, Janet. I really feel like this has been a time of strife for a lot of people, but I think in the work that you and I are doing, there’s a lot of hope as well that I’m seeing in the way that we’re raising children, in the way that we’re re-engaging with them and re-engaging with ourselves.
Janet Lansbury: Well, what a gift you are! Thank you so much for being here.
Leslie Priscilla Arreola-Hillenbrand: Thank you. I was so excited to be invited. Thank you so much, Janet. I appreciate you and all the work you do.
Janet Lansbury: Thank you.
And check out her programs and share them with your loved ones — people that you know would need this life-changing work that Leslie is doing. You can learn all about Leslie’s resources at her website, latinxparenting.org. And she’s also very active on Instagram @LatinxParenting.
Also, please check out some of my other podcasts at janetlansbury.com. They’re all indexed by subject and category so you should be able to find whatever topic you’re interested in. Both of my books are available on audio, No Bad Kids, Toddler Discipline Without Shame and Elevating Child Care, A Guide To Respectful Parenting .You can get them for free from Audible by following the link in the liner notes of this podcast, or you can go to the books section of my website. You can also get them in paperback at Amazon, and an e-book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and apple.com.
Thank you for listening. We can do this.