Is there a moment of realization, catching yourself in the act kind-of-thing, where your tone of voice slightly matches the pitch and speed of your mother’s? 

Oh my god, you’re just like your mother. 

Of course, you’re going to inherit many of the same behaviors, values, and morals as your parents. And if your mother hammered them into you more than most, through your extra-close relationship… that’s still fine! You’re totally not your mother. Even if you speak really fast and vulgar Spanish to your siblings when they do something wrong–

Maybe you are kind of becoming like your mother.

Look, I know the idea of becoming your mother sounds scary. I don’t particularly mean it in an insulting way. It is just simply bizarre, to notice you’re becoming that younger version of her.

La maestra para la clase de vida es tu mamá

But how does that play out when your mom is overly dependent on you? She may expect you (and teach you) to be more than a sister, a daughter, she expects you to be a mom. 

This dependent mother-daughter dynamic is challenging when you’re a teenager. There are many young female teenagers experiencing what you do in your own home. Their eyes are yours, seeing your world shift from childhood to sudden adulthood – skipping what you thought would be teenhood.

Let’s make it easier to understand how this happens, and how others can relate if and when you choose to talk about your experience. 

What makes a mother depend on her daughter?

“Does it look like I have money?”: how financial struggles impact our mother-daughter dynamics

Has there been a time when mini-you asked your mother for a candy bar in the grocery line? Do you remember the response immediately afterward? 

Was it the glaring–the kind of look expressing disbelief you were asking  a question? Sometimes, it might have been a straight-up, firm, no-excuses answer of: “No.” 

Others may recall the memory differently, but regardless, it was the same ending; you were not getting that candy bar. 

Do you know why? 

Many Hispanic Families in America undergo financial struggles. 

A researched publication assembled by the National Research Center on Hispanic Children & Families gives a rundown of statistics on Hispanic Families’ financial status from 2013 to 2018.

Taken directly from the publication, the figure represents the amount of fathers and mothers, immigrant and nonimmigrant Hispanics, who work, but still live in a low-income household. This shows that so many of our parents may work so hard, and yet still struggle financially. 

Compared to non-Hispanic peers, children within Hispanic families were more likely to live in low-income households; specifically “twice as likely to live in poverty as white children…” Approximately “11 million Hispanic children lived in or near poverty in 2014.” 

I can throw these figures, quotes, and statistics all I want, but what does this have to do with mothers and daughters? 

Financial struggles contribute to “parentification”

Understanding your family’s struggles likely adds to the individual pressures you feel as a teenager. It’s a crucial variable to consider. 

In an interview with a Mexican mother supporting a family of six, she relied on her eldest daughter for childcare when both parents worked. In Hispanic low-income households, children often take on adult duties, emphasizing the reliance mothers have on their daughters.

The research publication from above also states: “Low-income Hispanic fathers spent substantially more time on paid work and less time on housework or leisure…” Mothers, more present at home than fathers, often play a significant role in disciplining and shaping their children, especially their daughters. With the research in mind, let’s talk about another driver of dependent mother-daughter relationships: tradition!

“Marianismo” and traditional gender roles


Have you heard of it before? Combining many cultural definitions in one concept, machismo reflects the pride in masculinity of a Hispanic man. It’s a hyperbolic phrase representing what makes someone “a man”: dominance, aggression, and everything else you roll your eyes at.

But have you heard of the term “marianismo”? It’s the opposite term: femininity. 

Political scientist Evelyn Stevens created this term, marianismo, to shed light on gender roles and expectations of women in Latin America. 

Machismo’s emphasis on “protecting” women diminishes their independence, and contributes to marianismo. This sets up the dependency of growing daughters, and creates distinct standards between Hispanic sons and hispanic daughters.

The traditional role of the “dutiful daughter”

Brilliantly, PhD candidate Juliana Martinez wrote a dissertation titled: “My Mother Needs Me! Is It Possible To Stay Connected While Being My Own Person? The Object Relations Of The hispanic ‘Dutiful Daughter.’Her dissertation captures the details of hispanic mother-daughter dependence.

In the beginning of her dissertation, Juliana speaks about the role of a “dutiful daughter,” a result of familial traditions and marianismo. Hispanic households within the U.S. often oblige daughters to take care of their siblings and participate in chores their brothers can ignore. According to the research she conducted, her study showed that “girls are more likely than boys to take on the responsibility for family duties in Hispanic households.” 

Earlier, I highlighted that mothers, being more present at home, often have a greater influence on the family than fathers. And as Juliana states, “Latinas are faced with the most demanding role of the Latina parent-child relationship.” 

How does this relate to your relationship with your mom? Your Hispanic mother might adhere to generations of tradition in raising you, her daughter. She may be influenced by her own mother’s beliefs. 

It may seem natural to her that you’ll fulfill the same role she did. The question is, do you wish to conform to a marianismo role, or do you aspire to forge your own path?

Mothers’ and daughters’ perspectives

Below, I’ve compiled interviews featuring mothers and daughters discussing their teenage experiences. These quotes explore not only mothers’ views on their daughters, but also how their own childhoods influence their parenting. 

Most importantly, I aim to highlight the commonality of dependent mother-daughter relationships. If you resonate with these stories, I want you to know that it’s okay to feel the way you do.

Jennifer Jimenez (37 years old), Mexican, Mother of 3

First, Jennifer was asked about relying on one of her daughters for responsibilities around the house:

She is the one that is always willing to help, she’s considerate of trying to help relieve added stress on me. She’s very open to helping out, and keeping a good attitude. She won’t mope around or hesitate.

Notice how the “dutiful daughter” term in Juliana Martinez’s in her dissertation comes to play a little bit–Alexis is her mother’s helping hand for the family; she is appreciated, but what was the cost to her teenage emotions?

Alexandra Pineda (19 years old), Mexican, Eldest daughter

Having explored the perspective of the Pineda family’s mother, we now shift to her eldest daughter, Alexandra Pineda, who offers a distinct view of their relationship. She also discusses her perceptions of household responsibilities and the associated details.

My mama placed a lot of trust and secrets in me, I think in a way so my little siblings could be children.

When I was little, I loved it. I felt like I was an adult more than a kid, and I loved being able to help my mama whenever I could. 

When I reached my teen years, I felt a lot of resentment towards her for it. Since my parents were separated a lot, I got told things, explained things, and really took on the role of raising my siblings. When I got to around 14-15 I didn’t want anything to do with them. It wasn’t that I didn’t love them, it was more like I felt like I had spent enough time with them.

Alexandra mentioned responsibility for tasks like assisting with homework, ensuring discipline, and maintaining hygiene for her siblings: Please don’t get me wrong. We weren’t neglected, but there are memories I have of definitely having to be more of a parent than a sister.”

I feel like it did prepare me for a lot of the world, but at the same time, I do know that acting like an adult since you were a kid definitely shifts the way you interact with those around you. It has for me.

Jennifer and Alexandra represent one of numerous Hispanic mother-daughter pairs exhibiting an almost dependent relationship within their household. However, many more examples exist, each showcasing just one side of these relationships.

Marisela Vega (37 years old), Mexican, Mother of 4

Marisela shares that she places responsibilities on her two eldest daughters, Genevieve and Savannah. But she hones in on the oldest, Genevieve, because …she gets it done as soon as possible and does the job very well. I don’t really depend on her because she’s the oldest, but because of what she’s done to prove herself responsible and good for specific chores.

Marisela reveals that growing up with her own mom, she was depended on greatly for chores and motherly duties for her younger sister. She states that she has followed some of her mother’s patterns. 

Michelle Martinez (39 years old), Mexican, Mother of 3

In Michelle’s answers, she simply and shortly states that while growing up, she had an eldest sister who her mother depended on for responsibilities like cooking, cleaning, and watching over her as a child. 

She believes her mother’s reasoning for choosing her sister for these chores was because of her being the eldest female.

Maria Martinez (36 years old), Ecuadorian, Eldest Daughter of 3

Maria has no children, but she was born and raised in Ecuador where she was the oldest sibling and the only sister of two other brothers. 

She states that her mother depended on her for responsibilities in their home:It was the nature of the world and my brother was meant to protect me.Marianismo and machismo dynamics come into play once more.

It felt normal to me. In Ecuador, everyone went through that.

What can you do when being more than a daughter feels like too much?

You have to remind yourself that from the beginning, you were and always will be your mother’s daughter. That title, that reward, that connection has never left you. If you can see yourself as your mother’s daughter, your mother will see you as her daughter’s mother. This is powerful to understand. 

It’s easier said than done when you wish to tell your mother all the pressure she forced upon you. I have given a history lesson to allow you to understand the why’s, but that does not mean history should repeat itself if it means disrupting the mother-daughter relationship. 

Take the why’s and change them. It may not have to be now, it may take sacrifice, but if you are worth it for whoever you wish to be in the moment, there is nothing wrong with change. 

If it may be in the cards for you to bear your own daughter, just remember what your mother taught you. For better or for worse. 

Hasta mañana…

Dependent mother-daughter relationships, though challenging, are not uncommon and resonate across diverse Hispanic family experiences. Countless stories align with each other, and it wouldn’t be surprising if you resonate with these experiences. 

The stories of Jennifer and Alexandra, and more are few of many that highlight the intricate dynamics within these families, where shared responsibilities and dependency often define the bonds. While their experiences may be unique, the themes of navigating expectations, cultural roles, and evolving dynamics are universal. 

Importantly, this type of family dependency extends beyond just mothers and daughters and exists in various cultures. The shared threads of love, sacrifice, and dependency shared here by hispanic interviewees, create a tapestry that many can identify with, fostering empathy and understanding across cultural lines.

So, if you can relate to these stories, please know that others can understand. It’s ok to talk about your experience, even if it’s complicated.