#SpotlightTuesday Latina actress-turned psychotherapist, Lina Acosta Sandaal on #stopparentingalone

Lina Acosta Sandaal and I met via Facebook Live while doing a project together for MomsRising/MamásConPoder. All the while we were talking about bilingualism, I had this strong feeling that I had seen her before. As I was working on this blog post, I found my answer. Before Lina became an expert in all things parenting, she was an actress, and lived in Los Angeles in the mid-late nineties. She was part of Rick Najera’s Latinologues a great comedic show about Latinos in the States, and played Norma, in HBO’s Real Women Have Curves, among many other theater and television roles. Today, Lina is an expert in child and adolescent development and childhood mental health and the founder of Stop Parenting Alone, a parenting and supportive psychotherapy organization based in Miami. She has two children a boy and a girl, and they are being raised with two languages and three cultures: Colombian, Cuban and American. They enjoy watching shows dubbed in Spanish and eating all the great foods from every culture.

MB: You were born in Colombia and came to the U.S. when you were seven years old. Were you raised bilingual and bicultural?

LA: Actually, I was brought up monolingual. I have two siblings, and I came to the United States the youngest, at 7 years old. They were already teenagers so they had a strong sense of being Colombian. I was the only person in the household that was being influenced by both cultures, the American culture and the Colombian culture. The mistake my parents made was to make me choose between being Colombian or American. When I went into my teen years, that forced sense to be Colombian “or else,” made me get rebellious against my own culture. This happens often, and it is important for parents to accept that their children have two different cultures. As I got older I started to accept both cultures, but for most of my teenage years, in middle school and high school, I rejected being Colombian. It was a direct result of my parents forcing me to choose one of the cultures.


MB: What was your experience when you first came to the U.S.?  Did it take you a long time to find a cultural balance?

LA: I remember arriving in the Miami airport and feeling disappointed. I think I thought that all of USA was Disney World, but the airport was just another gray building.

It did take a while to find a cultural balance. My childhood and teen years I spent trying to choose one culture over the other. I had a hard time understanding and accepting that I was bicultural. In the summer when I was in Colombia they called me La Gringa and in the states I was Latina. I didn’t belong anywhere. My high school Spanish teacher was the first adult that helped me understand and accept being both Colombian and American. Slowly I realized I will always be on a bridge between the two cultures and that adds to who I am and my identity.


MB: You went to college in Boston? How was that experience?

LA: Growing up in Miami and being a light skinned Latina, I was never aware of being a minority. The Latino community holds privilege in Miami, unlike any other city in the country. That changed immediately at my first orientation at Boston University. A girl I sat with most of the day found out that I was Colombian and the next day ignored me. All of a sudden I was a person of color, “an other,” and that was a shock to my system. It drove me to join organizations like the group Latinos Unidos, and it was the first time that I got a taste of advocacy and speaking up for the needs of those who may not have them met.


MB: In addition to having a Masters Degree in Clinical Psychology, you are an actress. How did you go from acting to a being a psychotherapist?

LA: That’s actually a pretty easy transition. If you’re a good actor you have to wonder why the character is making the choices they are making and how a feeling would create the character to take the actions they take on the script. These are all aspects and ways to understand another’s experience and that in a nutshell is part of what psychology is. I have always been curious about why people do what they do. I have also been very fortunate to have had many amazing psychotherapists along the way that got me through hard patches in my life. When I had my daughter, I was so scared to “mess her up.” That was the final push towards getting my psychology degree. I wanted to be the best mother possible.


MB: How are children affected when parents emigrate and leave them behind for a period of time before being reunited?

LA: That type of separation can be incredibly difficult for a child, but most families leave their young children with caregivers that they have known most of their lives. They are primarily left with their grandparents. It’s important to understand that children can have more than one primary caregiver and for these children, the grandparents and extended family become their parents. Do they long and fantasize about being with their parent in the states? Probably, but we make a mistake if we make blanket statements about all those children suffering. The parents who migrate to the United States to send money back to help their families in an economic situation that few of us can imagine go through an excruciating process while making that decision. I was humbled to meet these types of parents in my work in Los Angeles. Those who I spent time with taught me that like all parents they were making the most loving decision they could make based on their circumstances. That is always my experience, whether a parent is driving a Range Rover or recently crossed the border with a coyote, all parents make the best possible decision based on the information they have and the circumstances that surround them. This is why my center Stop Parenting Alone is based on a core belief that I have: When parents have the right information, they always make the best choices for their children.


MB: Tell us about Stop Parenting Alone. What kinds of support do you offer parents?

LA: Stop Parenting Alone ™ is a Miami-based parenting & therapy center. We apply information and research in attachment theory, interpersonal neurobiology, child-parent psychotherapy and real life parenting experiences towards the goal that each family find their authenticity and become their truest selves. Our mission is to change the world one family at a time.

Our services include family, couples, dyadic psychotherapy for age groups 0-24 years old and their families. We regularly help parents with one on one parenting consults where they can get personalized information on social emotional development and parenting tips to best help their children thrive. Finally, we have an online parenting support subscription where parents can have their questions answered in a private group and live every Tuesday at 1pm EST by me a child development expert and mom. It is my response to what parents need most: respect of their time, information and quick effective answers to day-to-day stressors.

MB: Are these services offered in both Spanish and English?

LA: Yes. All of our services are offered in both languages. I hope to also have Creole and Portuguese speaking therapists soon, since those are the languages most spoken in Miami. When we speak to a therapist we tend to speak more emotionally and connected when we speak in our native language.


MB: In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge in raising bilingual/bicultural children?

LA: Its different for different types of parents.  If you are newly arrived in the United States the biggest challenge is accepting the dominant culture and watching it influence your child.  Many parents mourn and feel as though they don’t recognize their children when they pick up the traits of the United State’s culture.  Helping a child bridge between the two cultures is incredibly difficult when you were not raised in this country.

For parents who are 1st generation and beyond helping the child be bicultural comes more fluidly, but maintaining the two languages can be very difficult.  Most parents who were raised in the States tend to express themselves in English and when they attempt to speak to their children in Spanish they find themselves not feeling authentically themselves.  Also they tend to not stick to one language as often as the child needs to hear it to truly reap the benefits of attaining a dual language.  Once the child is immersed in the dominant English language, the second language tends to lose its use and value.


MB: Can we harm the development of a child by raising them with two or more languages?

LA: No. Raising children with multiple languages has many benefits.  Multiple studies show children have higher flexibility in problem solving and cognitive skills. They also show effective social emotional skills like impulse control due to the constant practice of inhibiting the use of one language to communicate in the other.


MB: Do you think Latino/Hispanic parents are more reluctant to ask for help than parents from other nationalities?

LA: I think parents in general are reluctant to ask for help. This is because they buy into the myth that if they ask for help then they are bad parents. Parents also tend to believe that children will “outgrow” behavior which can be true for some things, but for most behaviors it can become an issue or a strategy that later can be incredibly difficult to fix.


MB: What is your message to these parents?

LA: Information is power. When you understand your child’s developmental and emotional world parenting tasks and disciplining become easier. Also we need not raise a child alone, this phenomenon is a new one. In cultures and times past, there used to be four adults to one child. This is because raising a child is incredibly tasking and difficult. We must take care of ourselves and make sure that we fill our tank so we can care for them. The best way to express is the over used example- the oxygen mask goes on the adult first- it’s overused because it’s true. If you have nothing to give, all you will give to a child is resentment, a sense that they are a burden and stress.


MB: When can we see you next on television? In film?

LA: I doubt you will see me on film anytime soon.  On television you can see me regularly on Telemundo with @AdamariLopez on her segment about learning to be a parent on @Telemundo national morning show, #UnNuevoDia.


Knowing that we can become better parents and that we don’t have to do it alone is a comfort for parents anywhere. In any language, in any culture! www.stopparentingalone.com 


Bai,Bai for now,