I am half Italian, my father was born in Italy, and my husband is Italian, so in fact my children are ¾ Italian. We grew up with a lot of the Italian culture but I was raised in Australia. Even though I have lived in Italy for over eight years and my children were born here, I still can’t get used to the way Italian’s parent.
I am not saying there is a right or wrong way, all cultures are different and all parents are different. The way you raise your children can depend on a number of things including where you grew up yourself, what culture you come from, who your friends are, and just the type of person you are. There are some things that I have had to become flexible on along the way but there are certain things I just can’t budge on.
Here’s why I am not like the average Italian mother:
1. My kids go to bed before 8pm
While all of the Italian kids are roaming the streets until midnight sometimes, my kids are at home tucked up in bed. In Australia it is considered a normal bedtime, some might even say late! Either way, my kids sleep better when they go to bed early and they’re not as grumpy when they wake up the next morning.
Also, I like to have some quiet time in the evenings, some ‘me time’, or to spend time quality time alone with my husband. Whenever I say this to my in-laws I get the “oh but having kids is a sacrifice” speech. Sure I have sacrificed a lot for my kids and I wouldn’t give them up for the world but it doesn’t mean I can’t have some time for myself in the evenings.
2. My kids eat a ‘one plate meal’
My kids are not on an Italian diet and don’t eat pasta every day, at least when they eat at home they’re not. Of course when we are at Nonna’s house they are fed a 3 course meal including a huge plate of pasta, followed by a second course and then some sweets. But at home, it is usually a one plate meal consisting of meat and three veg.
3. I underdress my kids
Italians love to layer up. Even on a 25 degree day it is common to see adults, and kids, in jeans and jumpers, and jackets, just because it is May. They seem to have this thing about months, if it is not summer you can’t wear shorts and sandals. I am forever being told off for not putting enough clothes on my kids. I also let them them run bare foot around the house, if they don’t want to wear shoes I don’t make them unless we are going out. I love being barefoot and so do my kids.
4. I don’t take my kids out for dinner
Many Italians don’t eat dinner until after 9pm and if we go out, we won’t usually get our meals until about 10, which goes against point number 1, where my kids go to bed at 8pm. So they rarely come for dinner with us, they usually stay at nonna’s, (where they are fed a three course meal for dinner and allowed to have double gelati). They are probably also up later than 8pm…… though I will never know!
5. I let my kids run wild in the playground
My boys, especially my four year old, loves to climb trees, stand up on the swings, and run up the slide so I let them do what they want (within reason). Many Italian mothers at the park look at me thinking I am neglecting my kids, because I am not hovering over them every moment making sure they don’t fall over. How else will they learn? Yes they often fall and graze their knees, they’re legs usually have a bruise or two, and sometimes I have to rescue them when they have got stuck between something, but to me, that’s all a part of being a kid.
6. I have two boys and I make them do chores
Italian mothers like to do everything for their children, and I am not saying that is a bad thing, of course all mothers want the best for their kids. But I was brought up helping around the house and I have started my kids early too, even though they are boys… eek! They may only be young, but my four year old puts his folded clothes away in his drawers, and my two year old cleans up his own toys. Sure I will help them out, but I don’t run around cleaning after them every minute.
The point I have become most flexible on is probably their bedtime. During the summer when the sun is still shining at 9pm it is quite difficult to put the kids in bed early, especially on holidays so they tend to become more Italian during the summer months. Other than that I am usually quite consistent on the other points.
When I go home to visit my family in Australia they tell me I have become more Italian when it comes to parenting, yet when I am in Italy parents tell me that I am very Australian. I guess I have adapted a little and I am a bit in the middle. I don’t know who I am anymore!
Chontelle Bonfiglio is an Australian mother of two boys living in Italy. She is a writer, blogger, and creator of Bilingual Kidspot, a website for parents raising bilingual or multilingual children.