How to Talk to [Mamí & Papí] about Anything

Abuela Is Against Trick-or-Treating

Episode Notes

Conny and her 4-year-old daughter love Halloween, but since celebrating the holiday goes against the family's religious beliefs, Conny's mom strongly opposes it. And therapist Catalina Fortich is back to share tips for handling healthy conflict.

Our expert this week is Catalina Fortich, a marriage and family therapist with her own private practice based in South Florida, Safe Place Therapy. Learn more about her work here. If you loved this episode, be sure to listen to She's Stuck in a Family Triangle and When They Want More Family Time But You Don't.

We’d love to hear your stories of triumph and frustration so send us a detailed voice memo to You might be on a future episode! Let’s connect on Twitter and Instagram at @TalkToMamiPapi and email us at And follow us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and anywhere you listen to your favorite podcasts.

Episode Transcription

Juleyka Lantigua: 

Hi everybody. Today I'm speaking with Conny. Conny is raising her young daughter with help from her Nicaraguan mom. She feels so grateful and so supported, but her mom's Christian evangelist faith creates tension every year when Halloween comes around, let's get into it.

Conny: My name is Conny Quintanilla My nationality is Nicaragüense and I'm first-generation American. And we called my mom, Abuela. 

It's the three of us, I'm a single mom. And we live all under one roof. So, my daughter is like a sponge, so she hears me call her Ma. So she calls her Ma. I'm, "Hello, but I'm Ma, she's Abuela." So I call her now Abuela too, so she could pick up on Aguela and I don't have an ego problem that she's calling somebody else Ma. I am blessed that I have her as my partner in crime, as my Shero, as a team mate, we're tag teaming on raising my daughter. I'm the modern one, she still wants to do the old school way. I pick and choose my battles at this point, because I don't need her to quit on me.I can't afford a quitter. This is what I say is, "Do I really want to argue about it?" You know, I'm just going to let this slide, but I'm glad that she's around. I'm glad that my daughter has that influence, that old school upbringing where, you had manners, just stuff that was wholesome, and we're putting that on my daughter too so I'm happy about that.

So all that is great until we hit a very sensitive subject that is called religion. My mom is a Christian Evangelist. I'm more of a contemporary Christian nowadays, but I grew up with that Bible. There were certain things you don't celebrate. You don't celebrate Halloween because that's a demonic holiday, we celebrate the demons, and all the bad stuff, and the devil and all that. 

It was always a constant battle for me growing up. However, I had a cool aunt who would rescue me at a certain age and would, "You know what, we're going to pick her up for the weekend." And she already had a costume for me, whatever my cousin was, I was the same. I will finally be able to trick or treat like a normal kid and be able to... But it was always behind my mom's back. 

That's me growing up. Now, fast forward to my child. She had her first October in daycare and she was coming back with a bunch of stuff from Halloween. And my mom is literally on the door and just separating that, anything Halloween leaving that in the car. We're not doing that. Nope. We're not doing that. And I'm, "Mommy, it's fine, it's okay we're..." "No, in this house, we don't celebrate that." 

My mom will make it a point to put a sign up there that says, "There's no trick or treating in this house we are the house of the Lord." My mom will take it upon herself, I'm not lying, take it upon herself to take out the nativity set and start decorating Christmas on Halloween day. I mean, passive aggressive, what? That's how serious this was.

I was, "Mommy, I understand, and I respect it. But I need you to respect me and my daughter. She is my daughter, I want her at the end of the day, when she gets older, her to choose, if it's something she wants to celebrate, participate in, whatever." Well, and it was a very heated discussion that day to a point that I was like, "Do I really need to kind of jeopardize my support system here?" 

One day we were watching Coco. I love Coco. Me, living in LA for 12 years, I became a lot of friends with Mexicans and my Mexican friends go into Día de Muertos celebration hard, I love it. We're watching it at the house. My mom comes from work. She's like, "Was that... What are you allowing her to watch? No, this is not Godlike." And of course all that in Spanish.

And my daughter is so confused, and her face. Now for a while, my daughter was afraid of watching Coco. She was, "Oh no, no. Abuela doesn't like Coco. That's feo, that’s feo. 

Now that my daughter's getting older, my daughter started asking questions. "So tell me again, Abuela, what is wrong with Halloween?" And I'm like, with my tea, literally sipping the tea. "Go ahead." Yeah, because I want to know exactly too. I have forgotten! What is so wrong about Halloween?” And at the end of it all she's explaining about God and the devil., and this is my daughter: "I still don't get it, but I'm going to let you be Abuela, I'll be back." And I'm just seated, I'm muted. I'm like "there you go.” My mom now is, "Okay, I get where you're coming from. I won't be that strict. I just need her, if she's going to get dressed up, she needs to be Bible characters." It came to a conclusion that I was, "Okay, we're talking, we have now a conversation going. Negotiation has presented itself on the table." 

I believe where my mom... Where it comes from, above all I think is her faith, her religion, every positive thing that happened in her path. And mind you, she was an immigrant when she got here. She didn't know English, she was brand new. And I think her faith in God and her faith and her religion and the way that every person that was a pivotal point in her life, was somebody that was brought to her by her religion. So anything that's going to steer us away from being a family of faith and a household of faith, she's going to go in there with swords, ready to fight, ready to battle. 

We've come a long way from a few years back. This year, believe it or not, we're going to be villains, Disney villains. I did a costume, a little dress rehearsal with my mom and mom was like, "Good enough, not too demonic, not too devilish. I'm okay with that."

Lantigua: During our interview, Conny's humor and wit about all of this had me dying with laughter. But as funny as her story is, it also made me think about how we, as first gens, handle conflict in our everyday lives. Disagreeing about Halloween costumes or trick or treating may seem inconsequential. But what do small disagreements say about how we handle our family relationships? To help us figure it out, I called in an expert.

Catalina Fortich: Hello. My name is Catalina Fortich and I am a licensed marriage and family therapist, working here in South Florida in the Western Broward area. And, I am in private practice. Glad to be back.

Lantigua: You heard Conny's story. What did you hear?

Fortich: I heard a very unique dynamic between herself and her mother. I actually really enjoyed this interview because she is just a hoot. I want to be her friend, just her attitude about the whole thing. And I think that, that's gotten her a long way. There's a lot of love and appreciation in that dynamic with her mother, which is probably why they've gotten this far and being able to, compromise and negotiate a lot of these differences.

Lantigua: One thing that I really loved was that she's sandwiched in. Actually, between two really strong women, a very young one and a much older one, but pretty strong and she manages to compromise for both of them. And at that, oh, so smart,

Catalina Fortich: Such a smart thing is such a hard thing to do. It speaks to the foundation of the relationship. One of the strengths that I think obviously we pointed out her sense of humor. The love and appreciation that she has for the role that her mother's taking on with her, and her ability to hold the big picture right? To hold the good, the bad, the challenging, and say, "Okay, there's a lot at stake here, and I have to be open-minded and really mindful and intentional about how I approach all of these things with my mother." Which speaks to her open mindedness and her desire to really value her mother's perspective and not necessarily want to change it, but really have the mindset of, how do we get a win-win situation out of this? How do you get a little bit of what you need and how do I get a little bit of what I need? And that is so key to having healthy conflict.

Lantigua: One of the things that I really loved about the conversation with Conny was that, she shares her mom's values around religion, and spirituality, and the place that God plays in their lives, but in the practice, is where they differ. And I was, "Oh yes, this is realistic." And I've really, really enjoyed that. Can you talk about how we can arrive at a place with our families where the core values are shared, but it's in the practice where we're having difficulty?

Fortich: Yeah. And, I approached listening to this, like I would any couple relationship, right? Where it's inevitable to have conflict to have differences. John Gottman, Dr. John Gottman, if you're a couples' therapist, you know the name, right. John Gottman, he's researched couples. And he speaks of perpetual problems that are unresolvable. And that's the percentage that he came up with is 69%. So 69% of our problems in relationships are not solvable. And so you ask yourself, how do you still have a healthy relationship where 69% of our problems are not solvable and it comes down to, and it boils down to how we're having the conversation. How we're having the conversation matters more than the conversation.

Once we are able to understand that, then we have realistic expectations of each other. And, some of the things that I think are really important in having healthy conflict, because again, conflict is inevitable: curiosity, I would say very important with mutual respect, and again, with realistic expectations of "We might not get our way here, we might need to compromise." And we do so when we can hold the other two, right? The curiosity and the respect.

Lantigua: Okay. So first of all, I love how you just talked about them. Mother, daughter, as a couple.

Fortich: They're are a couple.

Lantigua: Tell me about that. Tell me why it's important to have that perspective on it.

Fortich: Relationships are obviously an exchange, right? They're a system they're a dyad. Relationships have fundamental things that are very common and that, they impact each other in very predictable ways should I say. Many times actually, the problems that we have in our relationships are because we are unconsciously relating to our partner as if they were a parent. In this case, it's an actual parent that you are relating to. And how difficult is that? Right? How difficult is that to delineate that I am a mother to my young child and you are my mother, but can you, you know, respect the boundary between being a mother, but at the same time, I respect you as a co-parent? Oh my goodness, thank God she has a good sense of humor.

Lantigua: Right. So the other thing that I really liked about Conny was that sometimes she just observes the dynamic between her mom and her daughter and just lets whatever's going to happen, happen. What do you think about that strategy?

Fortich: I think again, it speaks to whatever foundation is there, right? She trusts her mother and she knows, and again, the core values are shared. So she knows that ultimately her mother has her daughter's best interests at heart, so does she. And stepping away a little bit from Conny and more of where maybe that foundation isn't there and things are a little bit rockier, I think that if you maybe don't trust as much your parent, but they are still in that role of co-parenting with you, then you have to have a little bit more of conversations about those boundaries about, Okay, maybe we need to have conversations about certain things away from our daughter, or, and your granddaughter, before we have them in front of her. So that we can have a United voice and that she doesn't see this conflict going on back and forth. Right, because we don't want to confuse the child, but we still want to be able to have these conversations. So, I want them to know that there's things that they can do to find that common ground and to still have healthy conflict at the end of the day.

Lantigua: So beyond picking their battles, which is something that a lot of us sort of resign ourselves to doing, how can we proactively try to nurture more open collaborative relationships? Because this is what's at the core here. There is an interdependence, a chosen interdependence between them. And so you have to find a way to collaborate and compromise.

Fortich: I think that what you said there, first and foremost, is important. Is right, knowing this is a choice. At the end of the day, we are mutually benefiting from this. We have to navigate these things intentionally. Where actually there's benefits to conflict. I think there's a myth here that we all hold that conflict is somehow something to be avoided and to run away from. But it actually-

Lantigua: Say it louder! I say to my team all the time, conflict is necessary for growth.

Fortich: That should be, every couple's mantra should be that, every relationship, right? I mean, it's so ingrained in us to avoid it. We run from it, so first and foremost, I always try to explain that, conflict is growth. Like you just said. So, what does that even look like? What does healthy conflict look like? So that's why my favorite word is curiosity. And that's my Instagram handle is @catgetscurious. Curiosity is the foundation of empathy and of so many things. And so people will immediately defer to their defenses if they don't feel understood. So you want to prioritize the understanding and you can do that with some questions. I even thought of some questions that they could ask each other. Conny and her mother, if they went in to it with curiosity. 

So one of the questions would be, ‘Why is this so important to you?’ The second question would be, ‘What's your biggest fear?’ So many times we're operating from fear, which is why defenses come out. So I want to understand your fear. Third, what is negotiable? And ‘What's not negotiable for you?’ And this is another one that I think is really important that I think would be very, probably even validating for Conny, is if mom would even ask the simple question of, ‘What was it like for you to grow up, feeling different?’ Because then she understands, this is not just about me wanting to go against the grain and you know, be a rebellious child. This goes deeper and all of our conflicts are deeper and we need to understand that. And until you go deeper, you will stay on the surface, fighting about context and not about what really is underneath.

Lantigua: I'm about to start crying because I just imagined my mother ever asking me, what was it like to grow up being different? It would freeze time.

Fortich: Yeah. So important.

Lantigua: That's Incredible. Okay. So final question is how can families who have this dynamic of interdependence, willing interdependence, how can they continue to nurture the long term stability and harmony in their home? So that there's an understanding about each other's limitations and each other's capacities, before we get into a conflict about a decision that one of the parties made?

Fortich: Those are the fundamentals, right? The foundation and remaining respectful of each other's perspective, remembering that, the end goal isn't to change somebody, but to understand them. Right, to stay in that place of understanding and curiosity and compromise. Again, going back to the realistic expectations, if you knew that 69% of the problems are not going to be changed, and you're just going to hit your head, in frustration for the rest of your life, that somehow, we're doing it wrong. You maybe you're not doing it wrong, maybe you just don't have the right end goal. Stay there with the end goal of understanding, compromise, open-mindedness, because you will revert to your defenses. If you feel attacked, or if you feel your values are attacked. So if changing somebody is your go to, change that right? You’ve got to change that intention and that objective and let curiosity, understanding, and the relationship be the foundation of how you approach any of the conflict that you might have. Every conflict is going to have different themes and different content, but it's usually underlying the same kind of messagings that internally you're kind of fighting with, which is, ‘Do you hear me? Do you understand me? Do I matter?’

Lantigua: That is so powerful. Thank you so much.

Fortich: You're so welcome.

Lantigua: All right. Let's recap what we learned from Catalina:

Embrace conflict, conflict is inevitable and necessary for growth. Don't run from it, welcome it. Love it for the gifts awaiting on the other side.

Go for understanding not change. Reframe your goal and rethink your approach. So you learn to understand the other person, instead of wasting energy and time, trying to change them. 

And remember: go deep. Don't get distracted by the surface arguments. Instead, try to identify the underlying conflict then go from there.

Lantigua: Thank you for listening, thank you for sharing us. Thank you. How to Talk to [Mamí & Papí] about Anything is an original production of LWC studios. Virginia Lora is the show's producer. Kojin Tashiro is our mixer. Manuela Bedoya, is our social media editor. I'm the creator Juleyka Lantigua. On Twitter and Instagram, we're @talktomamipapi, please follow us and rate us on Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Pandora, Spotify, or anywhere you listen to your favorite podcasts. Bye everybody, same place next week.


Lantigua, Juleyka, host. “Abuela Is Against Trick-or-Treating.” 

How to Talk to [Mamí & Papí] About Anything, 

LWC Studios., October 25, 2021.