Maybe because my mom is coming to visit me, or just because the new Dolce&Gabbana campaign for the Fall/Winter 2015 is entitled Viva la Mamma, today’s reflections are on the differences between American and Italian moms. Since I moved here, 2 years ago, I met many native moms and many Moms with an Italian accent, that is those Italian women that for many reasons, had to move to America with their children.
The good news is that mothers are the same all over the world. However, the moms with an Italian accent have something that I have not found in American mothers. They have something in common, a core of Italian-ity in their behaviors that might contribute to the myth. Strong and neurotic, very complex and contradictory, they seem to bring those characteristics also when not living inside their home country.
But what makes Italian moms so different and special in some way? The food they prepare? The sense of abnegation for their children? I do not know. But I do know that around Italian moms there is, and there has always been a lot of talks, both to put them on a pedestal to be venerated like the Virgin Mary or to mock them as the biggest nuisances.
So, after having observed motherhood in different cultural environments, I have sorted out my personal list of motherhood, The Italian Way.
THE ESSENCE OF BEING AN ITALIAN MOM IN 6 POINTS:
- ONE MOTHER X 1.29 KIDS
One of the first features that struck me when I met American mothers, was the number of children they have. This is because it is a fact that Italian moms are mothers of about 1.29 children each, according to the latest birth rate statistics, where Italy ranked the 207th out of 224 countries in the world. So, forget about the myth of the Italian mom with tens of whining children at her feet. It does not exist in reality.
Take the latest Dolce & Gabbana’s campaign and compare it with the infographic with real figures: impressed?
- THE COFFEE CONNECTION
Another cultural difference is the NET: we tend to create a group of friends around which we gravitate. We spend time together, sharing advice, meals, rides to the grocery, shopping, and many coffee meetings. It is very common to visit our friends’ houses, sometimes without an official invitation. Friends are our second family. And our children grow up together, with a relationship closer to the one cousins have than friends.
- ITALIAN MOMS, THE CHURCH GOERS
Speaking of the Catholic church, among the Italian community, this is another fact. Even if I do not have official statistics, I can report a recent conversation with the priest of my parish. I was complaining about how hard it is to bring my sons to the Sunday Mass and that my husband does not practice. Moreover, I was admiring all those beautiful families in church and thinking that even back to Italy, it is rare to see the whole family together on Sundays. The priest said: “Among our parishioners, Italian families are notorious for being just the mom the church goer.” Ok, so it’s not my family, it’s just because we are Italian.
- THE YELLING ITALIAN MOM
I know it is not a good thing to do, but I can’t help doing it. We shout our kids’ names (of every age), at the grocery store, playground, library, at home from one room to another: MATTEO! GIULIA! SIMONE! The higher the tone, the more troubles for the kid! There is something I have not figured it out yet: Are Italian kids deaf or do they simply ignore us?
- “I CAN HELP YOU” … MEANS “I DO IT AT YOUR PLACE”
There is a general misconception that Italian moms cannot understand: Helping your kids to do something, does not mean doing it at their place! However, when it comes to homework, Italian moms have all my sympathy. As showed in the chart below, Italy has a notorious record: the hours students (see the moms!) are busy with their homework.
Due to the amount of independent study-time that Italian kids have, and knowing how poor the organizational skills of kids are in general, moms often end up helping/doing a part of the assignments. I imagine all those moms, sitting next to their kids, blaming the teachers, the educational system, every single day. God Bless Finland, that lifted moms from the burden of homework!
- THE NONSENSICAL WORRIES OF AN ITALIAN MOM
Every mom in the world cares for her children, and worries about things. But the worries of an Italian mom have some obscure root that it is difficult to trace back.
“HAI MANGIATO?” / The “have-you-eaten?” worry. Food is the obsession number one, inquiring not only if, but also what and how much of it, her child has eaten.
“CHE TEMPO FA?” The weather is obsession number two. “Was it cold? Were you hot?” are the questions answered with an “I don’t know” in most cases.
“LA CANOTTIERA!” / “Wear your undershirt”. This is not an invitation, it is an obligation. There is this general rule that not wearing an undershirt makes you prone to get the most deadly diseases. However, just in case I am wearing it…
“NON CORRERE CHE SUDI” / “DON’T RUN OR YOU WILL BE SWEATING”. This is my favorite nonsensical worry of every Italian mom. I thought it was a great advise to follow when my 3 y.o. son used to run around in the outdoors. It was almost mathematical that he run, he sweat, and he got sick the following day. However, my American au-pair once pointed out: “Maura, why do you say that? That’s what kids are supposed to do, running and sweating, right?” Ok. I have learned a life lesson that afternoon at the park. Kids are allowed to sweat.
“ASCIUGATI I CAPELLI“ / “DRY YOUR HAIR”. As a corollary of the undershirt thing and of the sweating issue, Italian moms will always at least try to have their kids dry their wet hair. No matter if it is summer, with 85 degrees, we do not want our kids to get rheumatic pains or pneumonia. You never know.
Well, yes, Italian moms have some peculiarities that make them interesting. Strained between tradition and a more liberal and laic approach, women with an Italian Accent are fighting their own battle with great dignity. Maybe wearing a 3-inch stiletto heel!