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Soaring Divorce Rate: Blame Mamma?

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January 7, 2010 Cultural Musings, Culture & People 3 Comments

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?

l orange garden wedding rome Soaring Divorce Rate: Blame Mamma?

A wedding in Rome

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 Observer

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Currently there are "3 comments" on this Article:

  1. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    [...] article relates to our post on how Italian mothers may impact on the divorce rate of their sons, where it was suggested that [...]

  2. Anonymous says:

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    I have to agree with this article. I move from America to marry my husband so we could be together forever. Yes i am young and realized before marrying him that it was too fast. Call me an opptomistic i thought everything would be alright until i moved here in Massafra,Italy. The moment we started living together his parents lived with us for 4 months because we are near the sea. She is absolutly possesove and controlling. I grew up having latin/american ways because my parents are Puertorican. But even this latin culture is way too much for me. We had no space at all. His parents were always with us no matter where we were. His did and still does insist on doing everything including, cooking, cleaning, etc. When she lived with us for those 4 months i had/have to compete with her. I would have to wake up at the crack of dawn just to clean my house so she doesnt, and even after i cleaned it she cleaned it again. I always help her because i am very insistant too. I am very determined person who usually gets want i want. Until i come here and i have to literally be treated like their child instead of an adult and a married woman. When im talking they feel free to interupt me whenever. The men here are completly spoiled and given whatever and whenever they want. Even if the woman is sick she has to clean cook and practically be a slave for the man. Im all for taking care of my man but also given some respect. The men here are always nervous and angry espeically when they dont get what they want or hear what they want to hear. I even discussed this with my husband because we have had nothing but problems and somehow always involves his mother. His mother even goes behind my back and tells people my business between my husband and me and that im the reason why we are having problems. My husband always takes his mothers side and even went a week without speaking to me when i tried to tell him she was interferring. I feel so negelcted and alone here. I finally learn the language after being here only 6 months and after i learn italian they all now speak the dialetto (dialect). I feel no matter what i do it will never be good enough. And my husband will never want to understand anything because he is so attached to his mother. For me being family oriented is a beautiful thing but there needs to be a balance once you marry and have your own family. The relationship between man and mother is sickly to me. Not only are the men so reliant on there mothers but now the women are becoming the same way. Staying living at home until there 40 or even when there parents die and do nothing. Not clean, cook, no independence what so ever. By far the worst experience i have ever had in my life, and as of now im going home to my country and i dont believe in divorce or i didnt but now i feel its the only solution for this problem. Its a big culture difference and italians should just stay with there race and americans with theres, sadly to say :/.

    • pat says:

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      Sorry you had to go through all this.
      I checked where Massafra was and this is in Italy deep south and Italy is split in two culturally different parts : North and South.
      In the north you have a good economy, jobs, easier family relations and far less corruption. Many people in northern Italy actually would like to split and have their own country as they are fed up to support the corrupt southern Italy.
      In southern Italy like in Greece or sometimes Spain the difference between the husband and the son is not clear and seen from abroad it does look like emotional incest. Actually it is. A friend told me that in southern Italy it was like mothers
      Another problem Italy has is that it is a gerontocracy where young people get consideration when they reach 40. That attitude damages Italy economically as young talented people are silence or simply leave. In a way it’s a sort of vampirism where the old feed on the young. This went worse because of Berlusconi.

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