Creating positive experiences as a family: creating memories together that can be part of the new family history, such as new rituals that can become uniquely theirs. My experience usually has been that these families have a real shortage of joy and frolic in their lives. Work and economical security have become their main goal in life for a number of them and the stress of survival and the hardships of their life does not encourage learning how to relax. Parents sometimes expect the same from their children: “they have come here to study and that is what they should be doing.” “At their age I was already working so hard”. Some of their adolescent children struggle with their demands to forget that which is most important to them: to be able to go out and spend a relaxed time with their friends as often as their studies and work allow it. Girls particularly seem hardest hit by their parents need for them to stay at home. “En la calle lo único que vas a encontrar son problemas“. “In the street all you will find is problems”. The “best” child is invariably the one described as the one who stays at home and does not socialize.
The newly arrived youngster is promptly curtailed in their freedom in ways that they perhaps did not experience at home. Of course this is greatly motivated by the parent’s desperate attempts to protect their sons and daughters from the dangers of the urban life in the neighborhoods where many of these families live. Drugs, gangs and teen pregnancy being the most feared enemies of the parents’ dreams for their children, particularly at this point in time when many of them are here to run away from those great dangers, as those violent forces have grown in their invasion of their lives and communities in their home countries. Nevertheless, they may still seem to have forgotten, or do not know how to have fun or relax together as a family, in this new country, except maybe for watching Spanish TV or going shopping, as their frustrated youngsters complain. Often they will respond well to some coaching in this area, with suggestions for cost free activities that they might enjoy and which are available near their residences. Some of these parents’ life experience has been one of only hard work both here and often also in their own country and they are so tired at the end of a week that is difficult for them to find the energy to do something new. As a consequence of all these barriers, these reunited parents frequently feel lost in how to allow their adolescents learn to handle gradual increases of freedom in safe and responsible ways, which of course is not an easy task for any parent. They are scared of this very new and challenging environment of the big American city and this is compounded by their undocumented status, which constantly places them and their children at great risk, as any problem with the law, even a small infraction, could immediately result in the possibility of deportation, a devastating tragedy for the whole family. They may also have memories of the violent environments they have experienced before coming here and the lessons learned there, which translate into a great fear of trusting people they do not know well. Conversely, they do not know ways in which they can keep a sensible control, instead of giving up completely in total desperation, as they at times do, particularly with their sons, in fear the youngsters will run away, or increase their acting out of control. Thus, for the reunited family as with many a family with adolescents, parenting skills are very important, more so when parent and child have not had the usual gradual give and take of those families that have “grown up” together. The parenting skills training, however, cannot be the same as that of the main stream middle class family, but it should take in consideration the real dangers the kids are facing living in often violent and perilous environments and be sensitive to the cultural differences and cultural histories of these families. Along with a key element, which is taking into account the special issues brought by the prolonged separation that the family needs to resolve in order to experience a successful parenting experience. Therefore, it has to recognize and empathize with the difficulty the lack of trust between parent and child plays in building a solid team relationship between them, basic for discipline to work, hence it has to make available the needed help with slowly building that trust. The ideal outcome is one of building the confidence of the parent in their ability to parent this adolescent and learning how they as parents have a right to ask from their teens that they also need to earn the parent’s trust in them by honoring the limits the parent sets for them, in order to receive their wished increment in freedom of movement. Trust is an earned privilege that all parts involved have to earn in this equation and that it is their obligation as parents to be on the look-out to protect them and the family as a whole, from dangers unforeseen by the adolescent. Simultaneously, it has to communicate to them as the parenting trainer that you understand how difficult and scary at times enforcing the rules is for them, given that they are just starting to build a relationship with their child. Or, they might politely agree with your well- intended efforts to empower them, but feel like a total failure inside, which is exactly the opposite of what they need. In fact this might be one of the many times you can ask: “Tell me more about how this is particularly difficult right now for you”, and work from there. And this maybe one of the many times in which the wise parent trainer needs to engage the suggestions of solutions that may have worked for the other parents in the audience that may have a deeper understanding of parenting in the world of the undocumented immigrant family than any trained expert who has never lived that experience.
Finally, the parents and the kids have to become aware of the different laws to abide and their responsibilities in this society, which may be different, or more strictly enforced from the ones at their home country. In particular information that empowers parents and may increase awareness of consequences for the adolescent in preventing problems with the law, for example curfew laws for minors.