The “Mi Pobre Hijo” Syndrome

by Latina Fatale on 03/23/2011 · 11 comments

in Feminism, Motherhood

Child labor 7/26
“Patriarchy has no gender” -bell hooks

As feminists we often hear about patriarchy, sexism, and how women have been oppressed by men. We talk less about how women also perpetuate patriarchy by reinforcing sexism and stereotypical notions about gender roles. Even women who have managed to raise strong, independent daughters may be guilty of having different expectations for their sons. I like to call this syndrome the mi pobre hijo (my poor son) syndrome.

Not too long ago my boyfriend, his mother and I were sitting at the kitchen table chatting about his brother having just placed a bid on a foreclosed house. His mother gave me an apple to eat and I stood up to wash it off at the kitchen sink. As I was standing there, she said, “Oh, mi’jo [my son] wants a plate of food”.

I turned around to look at him because we had just eaten prior to going to her house. He stared at me with a smirk on his face, because I’m sure that he was well aware that shit was going to soon hit the fan and sparks were going to start flying. He knows that I can’t stand the mi pobre hijo syndrome.

I said, “We just ate. He doesn’t want anything”.

She said, “Oh, yes he does. I know he does. He needs a plate of food.”

You’ve got to be kidding me.

I said, “If he’s hungry he can make a plate for himself”.

She said, “Oh, mi pobre hijo!!! (my poor son). You don’t even care if he starves to death.”

I flipped around and told her, “Your pobre hijo just ate and isn’t going to starve to death. Your pobre hijo is almost forty years old and if he wants something to eat, he can get it”.

I sat there for another twenty minutes and listened to her whine about whether or not I would ever marry her son, how we should live together, when will we ever have children, why will I not baptize my children with her religion if we ever decide to have children, and so on.

It’s not that I am opposed to giving my boyfriend a plate of food. I’m just opposed to treating a grown ass man as if he is a young, spoiled child.

This kind of mentality has been shoved down my throat since I was a small child. My mother was a strong and feisty woman who was a single mother. I can remember being so small that I had to use a chair to wash dishes when I asked my mother for the first time why my brother never had to help with the housework. “You need to learn to take care of yourself because sometimes men will leave. Men, on the other hand, will always have a woman to take care of them. It’s like they are children,” she said.

Even as young as eight years of age, I knew that it just wasn’t fair. “Why don’t you teach your son to be different then?” I can remember thinking, as I stood up on the chair washing dishes as a young child.

Over the years I have seen this happen over and over again with women in my family and even feminist friends. I’ve seen far too many women treat far too many young boys and men as if they are invalids and young children. My mother frequently laments about “Oh poor him” when talking about something that my brother has to do that I could have done blindfolded. I’ve heard far too many conversations between women about how their grown husband is like “having another child”. When women treat young boys as if they are invalids or a “golden child”, are we really surprised that so many of them grow up to be sexist men?

As a woman, did your parents ever have different expectations for you than they did for your brothers? If you have sons, have you ever found yourself reinforcing the pobre hijo syndrome? Where is the fine line between nurturing sons and coddling them?

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Me and the Mexican March 23, 2011 at 10:42 pm

I so LOVED this post! It was great and re-inforced why “I” am teaching my son
1) to respect a woman
2) i am not his servant
3) he can cook and clean
and sooooo much more!
I love my suegra but i can’t imagine having to hear mi pobre hijo because i’m sure those words she would be saying once she found out that i will fight him tooth and nail to prove my equality! Hahahahaaaaa!!!


Latina Fatale March 24, 2011 at 10:57 pm

It’s great to hear that women are raising little male feminists! xoxo


Michelle Curtis March 25, 2011 at 12:18 am

Since, I am the youngest and perhaps because my dad sees me as his 5-year-old daughter I am still treated by my dad as though I cannot even make a pot of coffee. As much I love him once in awhile making coffee for me or getting dinner ready, I also want some independence and if the coffee isn’t made at 6 a.m., dad you do not need to get up, I can make it myself. I don’t know how to tell my dad that I am 22 and I can do things myself. Yes, I do still need you and I still do love you, but I can also make the coffee and heat up my dinner by myself. I think in my experience, life has been my poor daughter who needs help with everything.


Chantilly Patiño March 27, 2011 at 5:59 pm

LOVE!!! Thank you so much for bringing up this touchy subject! I’ve thought about this a lot, never with a name though. But my husband was practically an infant when I met him and I felt it was such a burden that I had to pretty much “raise” him myself before we got married! On top of that, in my own family, my mother also babied our brother. We three girls were always doing all the labor, dishes, laundry, housecleaning, etc. My brother would sit and watch tv all day by my mother’s command. He didn’t have to help. One day he came up to me, teasing me, I was only 7 or 8. And he told me off that he didn’t have to help because house cleaning were girls work! That’s only the beginning of all the torture, but I could have killed him. Regardless, the same thing goes on today as he’s an adult and still depends on mommy and can’t do a thing for himself! I don’t think it fair to young women to have to work so hard to “raise” a husband when their mother’s (and father’s) should have set them straight in the first place!!! Thanks for this post!


Claire March 27, 2011 at 7:47 pm

It can’t be easy to stand up against that – but I very much admire that you do.


Flor Olivo March 27, 2011 at 9:33 pm

Loveeee this post. I have been struggling with this dilemma for a while now. I have two boys and a girl. I think I’m doing pretty good on the empowering my daughter sector but I have found myself enabling my sons lately. My mom is horrible at this. My husband is definitely a “pobre hijo”. His mom is eternally sympathetic of the wife he choose. he he. Pobresito, lo mando a trabajar :( Lucky for me thought, he is very conscious of that privilege and is actually great at making our boys aware of their responsibility to empower women. We have to admit at times men are our best allies in the struggle for equality, men who acknowledge their privilege and live day by day checking it.

Here’s a link to posts on the topic:


xman June 3, 2013 at 11:35 am

My mother always wanted girls, so we boys learned to cook, clean, iron and sew in their absence. I’m glad of it. If my mother, who is a very traditional woman, had had a single girl, I fear this dynamic may have played itself out for me.


Too accurate June 9, 2013 at 11:41 am

I think this is what drove me to marry a non-Hispanic man from a very DIY family. I plan on teaching my future mixed babies, regardless of gender, to be self-reliant.


Lucy S July 19, 2013 at 8:05 am



Lucy S July 19, 2013 at 8:04 am

Although my parents are from Mexico and they were very poor as children they both agreed to raise both daughters and sons with the same expectations. All of us were encouraged to go to school and I was never asked to serve my brothers food. I witnessed my cousins having to do that and I always found it a bit shocking. My boyfriend is White and was not raised with the same cultural expectations as the above mentioned. I feel pretty lucky that in my living quarters, whether when living with my family as a child or now living with my boyfriend, I have always been treated as an equal.


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