The strong, catholic family values apparently prevalent across all levels of italian society have deeply impacted on the way in which the country is viewed – by italians and foreigners alike. However, changing reality may be quite different than the static prejudice arising from such observations. One way in which Italy’s society may be changing is indicated by the sudden and explosive rise of divorce rate over the last few years.
The article “Mamma’s boys fuel Italy’s soaring divorce rate” by Barbara McMahon, published by the Observer in 2006, places a high proportion of the blame onto interfering mothers-in-law. Another stereotype – but what is there to it?
McMahon quotes a poll by the research institute Eures, which revealed that “a divorce happens every four minutes in a country once regarded as a bastion of marriage. In 2002, Italy recorded 50,828 divorces – a 45 per cent increase from 2000.”
It appears that “marrying too young, squabbling over money and meeting new partners are often cited for the rising divorce rate but three out of 10 marriages fail because of the unusually close attachment of Italian men to their mothers.”
How so? “Living in the same house or nearby, she puts strains on a couple’s relationship by meddling in their affairs, finding fault with her daughter-in-law and treating her grown-up son as a child. ‘In Italy there still exists a sort of mother love that is excessive,’ said psychologist Dr Annamaria Cassanese, who says she sees many disillusioned daughters-in-law at her practice in Milan. ‘It is a very Latin thing, deeply embedded in our social structure. For example, you will see mothers crying at the weddings of their sons, but they are not crying for joy, they are crying because they feel devastated. Their son has chosen another woman and it arouses very complex feelings, including jealousy.'”
Cassanese’s insight is that there are two extreme types of Italian mother-in-law. “One refuses to give in to ageing and sees her daughter-in-law as a rival, the other has dedicated her life to her family and expects payback for life. Among the wiles of the latter type of mother-in-law is offering to do chores such as cooking, ironing and babysitting. ‘This can often be the beginning of an invasion, in which the mother-in-law slowly takes over and undermines the woman in her own home,’ she says. ‘What starts out being portrayed as something that is helpful degenerates into outright intrusion such as going into drawers and pulling out shirts that are not ironed “her way” or monopolising the kitchen. Wives feel like strangers in their own homes because the mother- in-law is always there.’ The fact that many Italian parents help out their children financially by buying them apartments or cars can also lead them to expect something in return, adds Dr Cassanese. She said many couples still obey invitations to eat with their parents three or four times a week.”
So why do the husbands/sons allow their mothers to interfere so much? “The concept of mammoni – sons who cling to apron strings – is well known in Italy and it is not uncommon for men in their thirties and forties to live with their parents. The reasons are partly economic but also come about because boys are indulged well into adulthood in a way that would not be acceptable in other countries. Italian men who remain close to their mothers are emotionally immature, according to Dr Cassanese: ‘The husband is used to being adored and when he doesn’t get that unconditional love from his wife, he goes running back to his mother.’ She has counselled women who complain their husbands phone their mothers too often, discuss marital difficulties with them and make them feel marginalised. She said struggling Italian couples should try to seek professional help to get their marriages back on track before the damage becomes irreversible.”
May the italian mamma – whom the rest of the world has stereotyped as the ideal (if a little overpowering) mother – at the same time act as the ferocious mother-in-law, deviously controlling her son’s affection by ironing his underwear (another stereotype)? Or are Italy’s men not strong enough, or even generally willing, to live without the constant logistical and emotional support of their mamma?
Let us know your experience in the comments.
Source: The ObserverRate this article by clicking here.
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