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Una Mamma Italiana
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Raising an Italian Man
Find out how this writer is attempting to do the impossible
On a warm day at the end of September, in the early hours of the morning, I gave birth to my first child, a son. Although I'm an American, I'm a child of an Italian immigrant, and so is my mother. My blood is 100 percent Italian, and we've always had close ties to the Homeland. In fact, I spent so much time in Italy that I ended up marrying a native Italian, who still lives between the United States and Italy three years after the wedding. Together, we made this Italian baby, who now needs to be taught what it is to become an Italian man.
Of course, although it didn't always seem like it, making him was the easy part. Now, we have to raise him. From the moment we found out we were having a boy, which was early on in the pregnancy, I was fearful of this part of the deal. Italians, especially Italian mammas, have a bad reputation for creating man boys who never leave home, never grow up, and never get responsible. They are perpetual Peter Pans. They are more in love with their mammas than anyone else, which is part of the reason they never take on a wife or children. Or they do take on a wife and child, but they never make them their top priority; essentially, their families are left to fend for themselves, while babbo plays video games and has his mamma do his laundry and pay his bills. In Italy, they call these men mammoni. I don't want that kind of life for my son. I want much more for him – and for my husband and me.
Where to begin? It's easy to say that you want to raise an Italian man, but then you actually have to do it. You have to undo centuries of tradition and years of advice from your nonna. Most likely the Italian mammas with sons, who you know personally, have carried on these absurd relationships with their boys – nursing them until they were three years old or letting them sleep with mamma well into their teens, and doting on them as adults (from cooking their meals to allowing them to live at home rent free well into their thirties, forties, or even fifties). There are few, if any, role models. My own parents did a great job with my brother, but they lived in the United States, and raised us as American Italians, which is very different than the culture my husband knows back in Italy and to which our son will be exposed.
Less than a month into motherhood and already I am worrying. When the time comes I want to have the strength and intelligence to quit babying him, to encourage his independence. Will I be able to move on when it's time to stop nursing him? Will I make him do chores – from picking up his toys and making his bed to mowing the lawn and taking out the garbage? Will I teach him to respect others, including women? Will I be kind and respectful myself to the girlfriends and wife he chooses? Will I be wise and strong enough to be a good mother-in-law?
This is not to say that I don't want to help him or that I won't give him love and affection. He needs plenty of that today and for the rest of his life. I will always be there for him. He is my love and my joy. But I want him to carve out his own life as an adult. And I want to give him the tools to do that throughout his youth. At least I know I already did one thing correctly on the path to raising one of the few true Italian men; I allowed the doctor to cut the umbilical cord.
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