What It's Like to Be a Mom In Latin America
Our comadres abroad share the traditions that nurture their little ones. You might just be inspired to try a few yourself.
1. Avoid postpartum plans.
Staying home for 40 days after a baby is born—a tradition known as cuarentena—may give some moms cabin fever, but Grace Gómez de la Rosa, in Barranquilla, Colombia, welcomes the self-imposed quarantine. “I don’t go out during those first days except to our pediatrician appointment when the baby is 7 days old, and even then, I come back home straight away,” says Gómez de la Rosa, who is expecting her third child in July. The break is a chance for Mom and her baby to rest and bond while friends and family handle cooking, cleaning, and other household chores. “When my daughter was born, Mami came every morning to make meals. Even my uncle helped out,” says Ecuadorean mom María Rivadeneira, in Quito, who relished having the time with her now 8-month-old, Mya Rafaella. “I was only focused on getting to know my baby and taking in every beautiful experience with her. It was incredible.”
2. Know how to party.
To celebrate their children’s birthdays, Mexican moms aren’t afraid of making a delicious mess. After blowing out the candles, the guest of honor’s face gets gently pushed into the pastel for a first bite while everyone chants “Mordida, mordida!” “It’s such a fun tradition; everyone enjoys it, including the child,” says Ana Laura Saucedo, who lives in San Cristóbal de las Casas with her 2-year-old son, Andrés. Of course, the party isn’t over until favors are handed out. In Chile, kids are sent home with a practical gift their parents will appreciate. “Some years ago, goodie bags were filled with candy and small plastic toys, but now a guest might receive a fun swimming cap instead,” says Javiera Hurtado, mom of Isabel, 10, and Elena, 8, in Santiago. The trend extends to Colombia, where Gómez de la Rosa gives children plate sets or drawstring canvas bags to transport piñata treasures back home.
3. Mix up merienda (snacks).
Venezuela. A traditional arepa stuffed with ham and cheese keeps little bellies full until lunchtime, says Yarimeh Mora, a Venezuelan mom who now lives in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, with her sons, Luis Eduardo, 5, and Alberto José, 4.
Argentina. In Buenos Aires, it’s all about moderation, so moms will occasionally serve dulce de leche sandwich cookies, known as alfajores, as an afternoon snack, says Alejandra Remaggi, mom of Ana, 11, and Isabel, 8.
Mexico. Corn tortillas are warmed up on the grill and topped with semisoft panela or Oaxaca cheese for a deliciously gooey meal, says Saucedo.
4. Encourage kids to enjoy nature.
When families are big and homes are small, mamás in Mexico use the outdoors to their advantage regardless of the weather. “In San Cristóbal de las Casas, it rains a lot, so I dress Andrés in a windbreaker and boots, and we walk to the town center, where he plays with other kids, splashes in puddles, and people watches,” Saucedo says. “It’s important for him to see pigeons and trees, and to be in touch with and learn from nature no matter the climate.” In Costa Rica, playing outside helps kids develop a lifelong respect for the environment. “I’ve never seen a culture that’s as protective of nature as Ticos are,” says Alice Bertholin Rice, who lives in San José with her 7-year-old daughter. “Here, it rains six months out of the year, but parents encourage their kids to go out and discover the animals. There’s a refuge for monkeys and crocodiles near our home and a sloth sanctuary right by the beach.”
5. Make time for their tribe.
Sundays are for spending quality time with loved ones before the start of a new week, and in Mexico, it’s common for extended family to get together for a meal at Abuelita’s house. “Everyone brings a dish, or they all pitch in to make a meal together on the spot,” Saucedo says. “My grandmothers make caldo de pescado and beef-tongue stew, and at my mother-in-law’s house, we usually have tamales and mole con arroz.” The weekly ritual creates bonding time with loved ones and helps pass on family traditions to the kids. “It’s important for children to spend time with older generations so they can learn about our culture through stories, songs, and crafts.”
6. Believe in home remedies.
Dominican Republic. For big-kid coughs, Mora swears by a recipe passed down from her Dominican mother-in-law. Stir 6 ounces honey with 2 minced radishes and 1 minced red onion, and take 1 tablespoon three times a day. “It’s so good, and it works!” she says.
Colombia. When it comes to respiratory issues, Gómez de la Rosa follows a folk remedy by giving her kids eucalyptus tea-leaf baths to help clear stuffed noses. “I boil eucalyptus leaves in 3 liters of water for a few minutes and let it cool,” she says. “Once it’s at room temperature, I strain the water and rinse the kids with it from head to toe.”
Chile. Infants with swollen gums are given a piece of hardened cochayuyo (Chilean seaweed) in Chile, says Hurtado. “They’re sold in rolls at supermarkets, and moms cut off a 4-inch piece. Babies chew and bite on it and are entertained at the same time.”