Latinx Parenting's Leslie Priscilla wants to 'decolonize' discipline and 'the way that we normalize violence on children in our community'

Leslie Priscilla of Latinx Parenting shares how she's working to help families sustain their cultural values while moving away from trauma-based generational patterns. (Photo: Latinx Parenting; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
Leslie Priscilla of Latinx Parenting shares how she's working to help families sustain their cultural values while moving away from trauma-based generational patterns. (Photo: Latinx Parenting; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

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If you're one of the 181,000+ people who follow Latinx Parenting on Instagram, you'll have noticed that each post ends with a handful of hashtags, including #RaisingFutureAncestors, #DecolonizeOurFamilias and #EndChanclaCulture.

The last refers to the chancla, the flip-flop that immigrant and Latinx mothers are frequently depicted wielding either to spank their children, or to threaten them. When Leslie Priscilla, the mother of three and advocate who founded Latinx Parenting, talks about ending chancla culture, she means no longer normalizing fear, shame and violence as parenting tactics.

"Chancla culture is any expression of authoritarianism or power-over dynamics in a Latinx family," the former teacher and behavioral coach explains to Yahoo Life, adding that it's tied "to the way that we normalize violence on children in our community."

"The way that normalization happens is through sharing memes and videos where you usually see a mother or a grandmother holding a sandal, which is what we call the chancla," she adds. "And so that emblem really speaks to this overall dynamic that a lot of families and Latinx communities have normalized about the way that children should be treated. ... It extends way beyond corporal punishment into what I call emotional chancla, verbal chancla. Basically, anything that could hit you or hit your heart or your spirit or your emotions is just as damaging as an actual chancla that's hitting you."

Priscilla experienced this firsthand. As the daughter of two Mexican immigrants from large families, the California native says she was parented by a mother with a lot of her own trauma, and as such grew up in a "fear-based" environment. That meant being spanked and subjected to emotional and verbal "violence" that left her feeling "disconnected" both from her family and herself. Priscilla attributes the depression and anxiety she experienced as a young teen to this disconnection, though the birth of her younger sister presented an opportunity to reframe what parenting might look like in her family. "I wanted her to at least have one person in her life that was going to be really solid," Priscilla says now.

Even so, it was only after studying child development in college and becoming a parent herself in recent years that she realized that the toxic tendencies she absorbed as a child were "a whole cultural thing that extends outward and backwards to our history."

The parenting coach cites the influence of colonization in giving rise to the corporal punishment and fear-based discipline now associated with chancla culture.

"Most Indigenous kinship groups didn't actually use corporal punishment until colonization," she says. "And so within the last 500 years, it's gotten to the point where we have basically learned to use the tool for oppressors onto our children. Systemic oppression of our families and the marginalization of our families puts us at a stress level that makes it really difficult for us to practice gentle parenting and to practice research-based parenting. We live in a constant state of stress that can be traced back 500 years."

As head of Latinx Parenting, Priscilla — who identifies as both Mexican-American and a "detribalized" Indigenous person — leads workshops for caregivers and professionals alike, with themes ranging from practicing decolonized, non-violent parenting; intergenerational healing; children's mental health and more. On Instagram, you might also see her weighing in on the importance of nurturing her "inner niñe" as a form of reparenting, or defending Kate Middleton's parenting from mom-shamers.

"I cannot imagine having that many eyes on me and having the expectation of me to be a perfect parent with a perfect child," she says of the duchess, who faced flak because her youngest child, 4-year-old Prince Louis, was restless during royal events. "I find it really unfortunate that people are not able to empathize."

As someone who speaks out on the practice of using shame as a form of discipline, Priscilla tries to hold compassion for other parents, particularly women of color who are often scrutinized when they are with their kids in public.

"I think women of color get it the worst," she says. "There's the angry Black woman trope and the spicy Latina; there's expectations and stereotypes that we have to battle all the time ... that are reinforced also by our own people sometimes, to be honest with you. We cannot be loyal to the expectations that are being held of us."

That scrutiny adds to the stress that parents feel, which in turn may get taken out on a child. Prioritizing her own mental health needs, Priscilla says, makes it easier to model what self-regulation looks like for her children. She's better able to instill less long-term behaviors to address their conflicts versus snapping and relying on a short-term solution like spanking or yelling, which creates disconnection and "a pattern of fear." But she's clear that it's very much a work in progress.

"The biggest thing to communicate to parents is: You're gonna mess up. We're gonna make a lot of mistakes," she notes. "The expectation is never perfection."

As Latinx Parenting works with the next generation of parents, Priscilla acknowledges that there can be some resistance, or guilt, about calling out what their parents or grandparents might have done.

"Because of our history, we've developed this very strong value of respect and the value of familismo, which is basically the way that collectivism is expressed in our families," she says. "Respect is often misconstrued as fear, and then also people misinterpret our reflection of our parents and our grandparents and the way that they parent as disrespectful, because there is this really strong need to be respectful of our elders. While that respect for our elders is an Indigenous practice, it's something that we still hold very dear."

But it's neither disrespectful nor disloyal to the older generations to want to heal old wounds or move away from practices many now consider oppressive.

"It's also not disrespectful to reflect and to have sovereignty and to be an individual," she says. "For our community, the conversation has to explore those nuances. It's like, if I don't reflect on how I was parented, then I might end up repeating some of the same words and some of the same harm.

"It's never going to be about blame, and it will never be about shame, and I think that people have a hard time with that," she adds. "They're just like, 'but if I say that my parents hurt me, isn't that blaming them?' It's like, no, it's just that you're being an advocate, really, for your inner child in that moment. You're not blaming them. You're understanding them in the context of their culture, their family history, their cultural history — but you can still own what your experience is. And I think that that's been really empowering for me to be able to say: Your experience is different than my experience, but we can still integrate our experiences with one another."

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