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I Rebelled Against My Strict Mother

Photograph by Denise Cortes

When I was growing up, my mother was the tía that my cousins didn't mess with. She's the one who would put your bad behavior in check. She would rally up all of the cousins and make us do chores. It was common knowledge that Tía Luisa did not play.

Often, my cousins would give me the pity stare. Sleepovers, bike rides down to the corner market, walking to the park with friends — they knew her answer would most likely be a stern "no." I secretly envied the other kids who had a smidgen of freedom in their lives.

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Still, as a young girl, I never questioned her strictness. There was a measure of comfort in her rules and the boundaries she set in my life. I knew, without a doubt, that my mother loved me more than her own skin and she wanted to keep me safe.

"You have no business being there, Denise. I've been there and done that. Trust me, I've lived it," she would say to me. This was my mother's constant statement to me over the years.

As I got older and craved more independence, it got harder and harder to thrive under my mother's rules. What was my mother going to do with her all-black wearing, artist, feminist daughter that loved to dye her hair purple? I felt like I couldn't really live until I left for college, where I proceeded to do all the stupid and irresponsible things I thought I was missing out on while I was living under her roof.

Whereas my mother ran a tight ship, my ship wakes up whenever my eyes open and we pontoon around the bay in our underwear and feel the sun on our backs, eating yogurt and granola, if that's what we feel like.

Don't get me wrong. I adore my mother. There is no other person on this planet that loves me and advocates for me like my mamá. I just knew that when the time came for me to become a mother, I wasn't going to be as strict. That's just not my nature. Now that I'm a mama to six of my own children , I've raised them the only way I know how: a way more liberal outlook on life.

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Photograph by Denise Cortes

Was my more liberal outlook on life a direct result of growing up with a strict parent? Perhaps. But it was never intentional. I'm just a much more laid-back type of person. My mom might call it "loosey-goosey." Whereas my mother ran a tight ship, my ship wakes up whenever my eyes open and we pontoon around the bay in our underwear and feel the sun on our backs, eating yogurt and granola, if that's what we feel like.

I want my children to be free to be who they are, even if who they are may not be the person I wanted them to be. That's life. And to me, that is true love as a mother: loving your kids even if they are different from you.

That's just me. All of my parenting choices have stemmed from my desire to have freedom — freedom to give birth at home, freedom to have a large family, freedom to homeschool, and so on. I just want to live on my own terms, and that goes for my children as well. I want my children to be free to be who they are, even if who they are may not be the person I wanted them to be. That's life. And to me, that is true love as a mother: loving your kids even if they are different from you.

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The irony of this is that my children still feel the sting of my mother's strictness. It makes me chuckle. My mom has not let up. She hasn't slacked on her strictness just because they are her grandchildren. They love and adore her but they know she will put them to task on all things, from chores to college applications. I've heard their pleas for help and I just laugh at them.

"You guys are preaching to the choir. I lived with your grandmother for 20 years!" I can't help but chuckle.

My mother and I are definitely different people, and the way we have raised our children shows that difference in a big way. In the midst, there remains a strong thread of love. We both ardently love our children and if we arrive at the same exact place — happy, thriving children — using a different route, I'm OK with that.

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Explore More: advice, siblings, parenting styles, mamá a mamá, familia, Latina Mom
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