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Gracias, Madres – Happy Mother’s Day

This week at the National Research Center on Hispanic Children & Families (Center), we honor the contributions, love, and sacrifices of mothers, in particular Latina madres. When I was a young girl, I remember helping to choose flower baskets as presents for my mother and grandmother. These traditions still hold today, as my parents take my children to pick flowers for me that I place on my front porch. In this small way, or through a shared meal or a homemade card, and in countless other moments, families create memories which are shared across generations of mothers, present and future.

For Hispanic mothers, the idea of sacrificios or sacrifices, in support of a better life and education for Hispanic children, is paramount. Research shows that Hispanic mothers describe sacrificing for their children’s future and instilling hope as a cultural form of parent engagement. Familismo, or familism, is another cultural value held by many Hispanic mothers, which involves teaching children to respect, honor, and consider the well-being of the family above their own needs. Early parenting behaviors among Hispanic mothers may in part bond together adults and children around obligations to each other, and prepare the family for challenges they may face together in the future. With many Hispanic families enduring significant poverty—nearly one-third of Hispanic families in the U.S. are living in poverty— these family ties and sacrifices among mothers in particular are a potential source for resilience for children who face adversity during their development.

New research is also emerging which suggests that Hispanic children are entering school settings with foundational social skills. Many Latino children are socialized by their mothers and other adults in the family to demonstrate a cultural value of respeto or respect; this provides a strong foundation for positive social behavior for children in school and in their communities. Studies of low-income preschool children and nationally representative kindergarten samples find that many Latino children, particularly first generation immigrant children, demonstrate strengths in social skills and approaches to learning that are on par with samples of White, native-born children.


Latino children are demonstrating strengths in socioemotional development; yet, low-income Hispanic mothers are engaging in fewer literacy activities with young children compared with white mothers. While qualitative research has documented non-traditional literacy activities in Spanish-speaking homes, such as writing grocery lists and sorting mail, it is likely that adult literacy and lower education levels[1] are substantial challenges for many Hispanic mothers who are primarily Spanish-speakers.

So, as we consider the impact of mothers and celebrate the strengths and the hardships of parenting, particularly for young and less economically advantaged groups of Hispanic children, we pause on Mother’s Day to take stock: How can we best support the critical role of mothers who sacrifice and place their own hopes in their children’s future? Let us consider how in our homes, neighborhoods, and communities, we can strive to improve support for mothers. Abriendo Puertas, a parent engagement program for Latino parents with pre-school aged children evaluated by Child Trends, led to the adoption of parenting practices, such as parent educational activities at home and parent role modeling. Culturally adapted parenting programs are effective in engaging Hispanic families, especially when they are offered in Spanish. A review of Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood programs conducted by the Center highlights areas where programs may need to be more responsive to the needs of Hispanic parents. Parenting program practitioners, community groups, policy analysts, and legislators can join in the dialogue about how we navigate parenting in the contemporary landscape of the United States.

Will you join this dialogue? Share your comments with us at info@HispanicResearchCenter.org, or join us on LinkedIn at the National Research Center on Hispanic Children & Families group, or on Twitter @NRCHispanic.

Julia Mendez, Ph.D., University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Dr. Julia Mendez is a co-investigator with the National Hispanic Center on Hispanic Children & Families. She will spend Mother’s Day with her three children and husband in Greensboro, NC.


[1] Bridges, M., Cohen, S.R, McGuire, L.W., Yamada, H., Fuller, B., Mireles, L., & Scott, L. (2012).  Bien educado: Measuring the social behaviors of Mexican American children. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 27, 555-567. doi:10.1016/j.ecresq.2012.01.005


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