8 Tips To Surviving Your Italian In-Laws

I can see their point.

I can see their point.

You’ve moved to Italy and met a man who is different than anyone you’ve ever known in your life. If you’re partner is anything like mine he’s probably emotional, passionate, loving, a great cook and is embarrassing in the PDA department. They’re also dedicated to family which is usually bittersweet. On one hand, family values are important and it’s something we might lack a little in the US, on the other hand the devotion to parents can be exhausting and a form of contention. In many cases it can be a deal breaker. The lawyer league of Italy reported that the “Mother In Law” is the number 1 cited reason for divorce in the country a few years ago. I would be interested in the view of a man who is married to an Italian woman (I think it’s less of an issue, honestly) but my experience and from what I hear, most problems arise for women who marry Italian men.  As a fellow expat friend of mine put it, “It’s like the mother has a vagina made like a black hole and for his entire life the son is fighting the gravitational pull to be re-wombed.” Yep. Sums it up, but it’s not just the mom in my experience. Sure, for years the Italian mother has done so much for the family that she’s rendered everyone pretty much dependent on her, but to be honest everyone in the family has their own hold on the man of your dreams. In my family, my mother-in-law fought our relationship like a champ, my father-in-law never fought it but he tried to “educate me” on what’s expected of wives in southern Italy (indentured servitude). It took about four years for us to come to terms with the fact that we all had to coexist, I sure as shit didn’t want to be a “nice Italian girl,” and I didn’t want people to touch my underwear or lingerie, EVER. My family is unique (insane) in a lot of ways but many of my friends have confirmed that they’re also “typical” in many ways. After four years or tears and battles, we kind of figured out how to co-exist. Mostly.

1. Don’t be sweet and passive. Women are pretty much groomed to be sweet and passive in most cultures but Italian culture is a little different. People mistakenly believe that all Italian women are dominant spitfires who run their homes but that’s not necessarily true all the time. Italian culture is surprisingly misogynistic (what culture isn’t?) but Italian women are allowed to be more passionate and feisty. Yelling and speaking ones mind is something that happens a lot in Italy and often more than in the US (were people are encouraged to repress ill feelings until they can strategically dismantle someone). If you do the, “yes ma’am, yes sir,” nice, quiet thing, it’s only a matter of time before the entire family decides you’re a freak and starts walking all over you. In my family, my in-laws are really bothered that I don’t nag my husband. My father-in-law especially takes my calm, quiet approach as some sort of mental disability or as a lack of love for my husband. If I loved him, I would yell at him more, probably in public, and maybe call him fat in front of his friends cause that’s a thing. I would also iron his sheets.

2. Follow their lead. Watch what everyone else in the family is doing and try to be useful. They’ll appreciate it. If your family is like mine it probably looks like this: The men sit on the couch being lazy as fuck while the women run around the house like maniacs trying to do everything. Unfortunately, if you have a vagina and you marry into an Italian family they totally expect you to be running around with the women being stressed. I’ve tried sitting it out but I just got yelled at and told that I will be a terrible mother. I AM lazy but also I don’t think it’s cool to wait on lazy fucking men. I’m not a maid. My happy-medium to this is forcing my husband to help out. This in return makes the women scream at their own husbands to “look how useful Francesco is, why can’t you be more like him!?”

3. Eat but never try to cook. Food is important in Italian culture (no new info, I know) and no matter how great of a cook you are, you’ll never be better than your husband’s mother. Forget about it. Just praise the mother’s cooking and avoid cooking for them. Even if your dish is professional quality it won’t be good enough. Praise, praise, praise, but forget about doing the whole, “let’s bond over how we both cook,” thing. Your food is dogshit. That’s it.

4. Set boundaries. A friend of mine put it best, “Italian families see each member as an extension of themselves, there are no boundaries.” In my experience it’s completely true. It doesn’t seem to occur to people that you might not want them to come stay at your house for the entire duration of the only vacation you have for the entire year. They’ll struggle to understand why they can’t just buy you orange curtains that they think would look good in your house. Why can’t they inform you when you gain or lose weight? They are just trying to help! If you’re not Italian, you’ll probably struggle with your mother-in-laws need to rush over and baby your boyfriend/husband when he’s ill, you’ll probably struggle with spending every vacation with his family, and with the family’s overbearing opinions about your decor, life decisions, sex life, choice of mop. You want to be fair and  understanding that family means a lot but being understanding doesn’t mean that you have to be okay with being controlled and dominated. If you don’t set boundaries right away you’ll just become frustrated, bitter, and explode. My rule is if I wouldn’t let my own parents do it, I don’t let them. Being Italian doesn’t get to be an excuse for having no consideration for my lifestyle or culture. If I have to respect them, they have to respect me, that’s it. I’m not saying you should be mean to your in-laws, but I am saying you should be honest with them. Tell them “no,” or explain why you don’t like it when they come over and clean out your freezer while you were in the bathroom for ten seconds peeing. No.

5. Set boundaries again but this time with your husband. And again. And again. And again. It’s important to get your partner on board with what you need and how you feel but sometimes that can be difficult. It was difficult for my husband to set boundaries with his parents because he’d never, ever done it before. If they’re fine with their mom going through your laundry hamper or coming over to re-fold your laundry, it doesn’t mean you have to be okay with it. Tell them how you feel. Trust me, if you don’t you’ll become resentful and start screaming things during fights like, “What!? Hungry? Call your mom over! She can whip out a tit!” Another issue is that the concept of age is different in Italy. Thirty is ancient to an American but very, very “young” in Italy. My family really struggles to allow my husband to make decisions for himself because he’s “too young,” and my husband often feels like he can’t handle large decisions because they’ve convinced him that he’s too young and I’m like, FIFTEEN YEAR OLDS IN MY COUNTRY MAKE BIGGER DECISIONS! FOR GOD SAKES JUST CHOOSE A MIXING BOWL! That happened at Ikea once when we were first dating and no shit he called his mom to help him get “the right one.” It’s not like this now. After he initially stood up to them it became second-nature and now we’re a team and we hold hands and scream, “NO YOU CAN’T….” at his parents and it’s awesome.

6. Learn to shrug off criticism. There will probably be more nagging and criticism than what you’re used to from your in-laws. Just accept that they probably dish out the same amount to their own children, know that the rest of us are dealing with it, too, and laugh. You really have to have a great sense of humor. Sometimes it’s difficult, I know, about the ten-millionth time that my ma in law told me that I dressed terribly and am always “a mess,” I started to feel really bad.  After a while I realized how hilarious it was and just started to laugh. It helped that my husband jumped in and set some boundaries.

7. Don’t try to fit in. You’re not Italian. Even if you speak Italian fluently, dress Italian, look Italian, you’ll never be Italian. There will always be things about you that noticibly sets you apart and that’s probably why your partner married you to begin with. I know it’s a stupid cliché but really, truly, just be yourself. Eventually, after years, you’re weird expat shit will become endearing. Probably. I’ll let you know when that happens.

8. Love them. I know it can be difficult even if you’re not an expat, but try to love your in-laws even if they are annoying as shit. I promise you that I can win the contest of “who had it harder” and I still manage to love mine. I try to remind myself that our problems are part cultural, part insanity, and part them just trying to be good parents to their son by protecting him from the evils of the world (ME). My father is an immigrant (Iran) and he’s every bit as batshit crazy as they are and his weird way of “loving” is offensive and downright boundary-crossing (in a different way, he sends my husband pics of them together at midnight with “miss you” under them but that’s another story) but I know that he means well. When they drive you crazy just try to remember that it probably comes from a good place, or fear, or tradition, or brain-washing and it’s not personal. Except when they grab your tits and tell you they suck and then ask everyone in the bridal shop how “she’ll possibly find a dress because look at how small her boobs are!” That shit is totally personal.

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34 thoughts on “8 Tips To Surviving Your Italian In-Laws

  1. 9. Pretend not to speak or understand what is being said to you. When being criticized, look confused and perplexed. Ask “Che Significa?” and say “Spiace, ma non ho capito” until the person who is being helpful gives up. Ignore the hand gestures that ensue sort of behind your back.

    • HAHAHAHA! YES! If I’m being honest I do this a lot. My in-laws think that my Italian is a lot worse than it is because I just pretend like I can’t understand them most of the time. My favorite thing is, “non ho capito. Per favore, lo spiegare a Francesco. I have to pee.”

      • Brilliant! I wish I had received this info years ago, it would have prevented much heartache😉 One of my strategies is to get up as soon as I finish my meal (before the espresso) and go and do the dishes in order not to be involved in the long after meal conversation that can potentially turn into an argument.
        Praising the mother-in-law’s food is a must. Several times. During the same meal. At every meal. And the praise works better if it’s accompanied with enthusiastic mmmmmhs.

    • Seriously!? You’re ADMITTING THAT!? You’re a brave guy! This is the first time I’ve ever heard a guy say that! LOL (I need to learn how to cook, tell your girlfriend to teach me!).

      What is your favorite dish that she cooks?

      • Eheh.
        Yes, i’m admitting that. My mum doesn’t like cooking. Naturally, she cooks and she make some homemade regional dishes better then everything you can buy in a store.
        However she cooks with only a little bit of salt or without spices.
        Instead my girlfriend cooks with very much spices, somethimes too much😛, and much salt. She also like very much cooking!

        So there are many type of dishes that are more tasty when my girlfriend cooks it, for example all the type of meat,

        Probably it’s alla matter of region, the former was born and lives in Tuscany, the latter was born and lives in Emilia-Romagna, and families traditions.

        Recently my girlfriend make a wonderful “Tiramisù”! I like very much desserts!😛

  2. I felt like some new-fangled-Star-Trek-freakazoid from the future just cuz I wanted to buy a Swiffer….and NOT use the 20-year old cloth that you fold up just-so and push around with the super-bristly weird mop-broom. What up?!?!? (A LOT of hyphens required to explain things I just plain do not have real words for.)

    • I can not adequately express how much I LOATHE that rag, mop, thing. My husband and I had an actual argument over it because I wanted to buy something else and he was like, “this works fine! My mom has been using it for decades!” It doesn’t even clean the floor, it just pushes stuff around on it. I can understand tradition, but MOP TRADITION!? It’s got to go.

      • Swiffers work. I don’t understand your antagonism towards them! (Sure, a broom then following up with a sponge mop works better, but) When used correctly, a Swiffer DOES clean the floor!

        We need to send you the Wiki How to happy use of a Swiffer. Your famiglia is correct, it’s a lifesaver… God bless the Swiffer and its inventor… it simply does work

      • Haha, no, I’M THE ONE that wants the damn Swiffer. My mother in law nearly beat me to death over it. In Italy, they just throw a rag on the floor and push it around with a broom. It doesn’t clean. I want the swiffer! lol.

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  9. OMG this is awsome, you just made my day.
    I’m meeting my Italian in-laws for the first time in 2 months and my Italian is pretty much non-existent and I’m pretty sure they’ll think I’m retarded when all I can answer is “scusa, non ho capito, Enrico traduce per favore”.
    So I’m basically just trying to come to terms with the fact that my new name will be something like “that weird feminist foreign harpy who’s keeping my baby away from me”.

    • haha, it seems that you and I share the same title.😉 GOOD LUCK! If your bf is from the North things might not be as intense as they were for me but you never know. I’ve heard of some pretty intense mammoni cases in the north (despite what northerners like to believe). One case, in the north, a mother was actually taken into custody for not allowing her child to run or walk (lest he break into a sweat and catch pneumonia) and the child’s muscles atrophied. Sigh. The Italian mamma.

      • Hahaha yeah, he admits to being a bit spoiled by his mamma, but luckily for me, he doesn’t seem too mommy-dependent.
        Haha plot twist: the mamma in that story is actually your mother in law.

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  11. OMG. I have just been reading your blog. I lived in Italy with my husband for 2 years and it was God awful: I got depressed with the weather in the Lega Nord, had racist northerners treat me like shit, and had a bat shit mother in law come stay with us for months and compare me to previous ex-girlfriends…we moved back to the states…But now me might move back…holy hell….I hope if we go this time will be better.

  12. Haha, as an American woman who wants to move to Italy, make films there and be wed by an Italian husband I love this site and this article! I’m already that passionate spitfire and look forward to being able to breathe, let my hair down and release that fiery sexy side of me! I am actually 11% Tuscan Italian… I say bring it! Dear girl, spill the beans! How did your love affair with Italy start? How long ago? Tell us about the courage of those last scared moments before you took the plunge and moved there! This is the stuff we need! Viva Italia!

    I’m done with American men… done with ’em… I can give an Italian man and his family the real, earthy, fiery woman he needs and they’re praying for… plus I’m Roman Catholic and take it seriously! Tell us the whole story… I am just about prepared to take that step and move, and find him, and be done with it…

  13. I love your blog. I am an American who grew up in Italy many years ago 1966 to 1973. Like you I viewed Italian culture as an outsider and gradually came to understand it. Eventually to love it. I still see my Italian friends and I am still the crazy American!

    I laughed and laughed at all your adventures. Like you, I know the greatest thing about Italy is not the food, the Architecture or the History. It is the Italians.

  14. Hilarious, especially the tit part.
    Do you have children? I’ll be interested to hear how you get on in the parenting department.
    I think Italian mothers infantilise their boys and lull them into a sense of dependency. The reason for this is that she, the mother in law, needs to feel her worth. Often these mothers have been housewives all their lives and define themselves through their duty to their children, cooking and cleanliness. I think it’s a bit tragic, as in my case, my MIL has very few friends, one in fact, and relies on the family for life stimulus. As a widow she suffers and is lonely so puts all her energy into the family, which is suffocating for an outsider. I think there is a lot to be said about the fact that in Italian there isn’t a word for privacy either.
    My MIL said the other day she can call her son whenever she sees fit. This however imposes on my liberty and I have to restrain myself most nights when she calls, when, just as we are about to sit and eat. Fortunately we don’t live in Italy, but her presence is felt through FaceTime and telephone.

  15. I wish I had read this years ago; then sat down with my Italian husband to watch ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’! lol. Something I suggest to any American woman living in Italy with an Italian husband not familiar with real American culture. It opened his eyes and we both got to laugh about some things that were pretty dramatic and almost broke up our marriage when I lived in Italy.

    Lived in Italy with a man whom never brought a girlfriend home from any culture and still lived with his mother at the age of 34 (even with another apt in the family empty on another floor he could have lived on….); never having lived on his own. It was a very slow and painful process; dating (literally meeting and then having to part before 7 pm or she would call him home-for two years before we married). Ten years later she still doesn’t really acknowledge our family (but loved my daughter when she went alone with my husband as we lived there). Lots of really embarrassing and actually extreme things her and her sister did that made my life miserable. Already treated like an outsider where we lived-the family knew everyone and vice versa, it was made much worse when the family (led by my mother in law after a year of living there) standing outside of our apt balcony and all screaming over each other in italian when my husband was at work. After the neighbors all ran out and watched that there was no chance of acceptance. Other extremes were when she sent La Polizia to our home to check on my husband and my papers as he hadn’t answered her phone calls in over 24 hours. At the time I was devastated. I actually threw his clothes in a suitcase over the balcony and told him to go live with his mother when he actually answered the phone in front of the police, bowed his head and say he was sorry to his mother over the phone as the other officer in the car was trying hard not to laugh. It was extremely frustrating for me and hurtful back then but now I can really laugh at some of the incidents and see myself as the wuss I was instead of taking the phone and telling her to stop calling lol,. That might have done something.

    We now live in America, he is a little bitter with her but I never really gave up on her. I think her history, culture and frankly, my husband. They all had an affect on hurting her and she is alone now without him (another reason she was so hurt when he met me). I worry a lot about her and wish we could find a way to get her to come here to live with us. Actually we talk about it a lot. If we could I would go back in the next couple of years; she will be close to 80. She in amazing shape and swears vehemently still that her and her sister are very well together. But I really worry it’s not good for them and we may not know what can happen should she get to the point of feeling to rely too much on only one person that is also in her later years.

  16. OMG. Thank you for writing this. Living with my wonderful Italian boyfriend in England, whose parents are in Italy and sometimes I really feel like I’m going insane. So many of the comments here are echoing my personal experiences, and it’s nice to know I’m not alone in this.

  17. I’m a persian woman who grew up in Norway and is now planning to move to Italy. Been reading your blog for a few hours now, and this by far is my favourite, specially your father and the picture message, I busted out in laughter 😂😂😂 However I gotta say what you describe here is really similar to Persian culture too, good to know. Thank you!

  18. Holy cow! Nail on the head! My Monster in law (aka Mother in law) has turned a nightmare. She’s told me she’s jealous of me because I live the life she always wanted so she goes above and beyond to make my life miserable. She’s gone through my drawers and broken my vibrator because she didn’t like me having one. SAY WHAT?!?!!! She guilts her grandkids to calling my child a different name (AN ITALIAN ONE) than what I call him. She’s force-fed my child then lied about it to my husband until I had to pull out the ‘witnesses’ card. Going on 10 years and I’ve run out of laughing at them and having a sense of humour. Her and my father-in-law have gone out of their way to belittle me since my son was born and I’ve finally put my foot down and said I’ve had enough! It’s made my hubby and I stronger but doesn’t make for nice family gatherings anymore. *Sigh*

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