My Italian Family And Religion: To Be Or Not To Be, And Why Is Jesus Punching My Kids?

Corcovado jesus

Corcovado jesus (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

I woke up this morning with anxiety about babies. Wait. Let’s start again.

I’m a big fan of compromise. I like getting my way like everyone else but I’m also a guilt driven person and getting my way often makes me feel like shit later. Coming halfway, meeting in the middle, helps me feel like something has been resolved without making me feel like an asshole in the process. My friends and siblings are, for the most part, similar so I haven’t had to deal with too many “my way or the highway,” types. I avoid rigid people, or at least I did until I married F.

Our relationship has always been pretty fair. We both give and take and resolve our (many) arguments with compromise or with Rock, Paper, Scissors. It’s a pretty good system. We see eye to eye on almost most issues except for ones involving his parents. Now, most of you who have been reading for a while already know that my in-laws and I were in full on battle mode for the first few years my husband and I were together. There was a lot of pushing and pulling with zero compromise. According to them I was in Italy so I was no longer allowed to be what they view as “American.” Now, for those of you who aren’t expats you’re thinking right now, “It’s true. You’re in Italy so you should adapt to whatever they do.” Being respectful of someone’s culture is one thing, throwing your own culture and mannerisms out of the window and trying to be one of them is impossible. The truth is that culture impacts every single thing that you do from the way you say “hello” to the way you listen to someone who is speaking. For example, Americans usually watch someone quietly while the other person speaks. Italians kind of actively listen, they make matching facial expressions to accompany the story, or they nod the entire time as if they are urging the speaker to move forward. Simply “listening” to someone comes off as odd. Often while F’s parents are talking I’ll simply listen and then the mom will throw her hands up in the air and go, “She doesn’t understand anything I’m saying,” which is odd because I’d have been responding back to her  with words. I’ll look around and go, “The fuck!? Did I forget how to use words again!?” Then I’ll realize that I wasn’t making my listening face so I clearly didn’t get it. This is something I can’t change. It’s not possible. I’ve been listening like this since I was a child and at no point unless I force myself (in a really exaggerated and fake way) am I going to be a more visual listener. There are hundreds of these things that won’t change, so when you’re dealing with people who expect you to be exactly like them or else, life can get pretty shitty. They haven’t fully come to terms with the fact that I am “unfixable” because I’m from a different culture (a REALLY different one, not only am I American but my father is Iranian which brings another level of complication, too), but they’ve realized that they don’t have a choice really because MARRIAGE BITCHES! So we all deal with each other, for now.

So, if we deal with each other for now, what’s the fucking point of this post? Well, my husband and I have started talking about possibly having a baby at some point in the near future. Maybe next year, maybe the year after (my vagina is still afraid of babies, plus I’m worried that one day I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and my kid will be standing at my bedroom door but then it won’t be my kid it will be a zombie kid and the shitty zombie kid will eat my face off).  But I’m not only afraid of physical things like pregnancy-babies pee inside of you because they aren’t potty trained and have terrible manners-but also things that are relevant after the baby is born. The part where we have to be parents. I have the same concerns as most people, I’m sure, like what if Oliver eats my baby, or what if my baby doesn’t like The Last Unicorn, but lately I’ve also spent a lot of time thinking about culture, mine versus his, and how difficult it might be for us to raise well-rounded children between two totally different worlds. Also, I’m honestly really freaked out about how the fuck I’ll raise a baby around his very rigid, uncompromising Italian family without murdering anyone. When I think, “baby,” I immediately see screaming, arguing, crying, and some talk about my baby burning in hell, you know, the usual.

The religion thing will be an enormous form of contention for us, enough that I’m already dreading it. I’m not religious. However, my MIL is a BIBLE TEACHER. You see where this is going. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for other people being religious. Weeeee! Whatever makes you happy, guys (unless it involves Kool-Aid, or child-brides). Religion just isn’t for me and if my kids are going to be religious I’d prefer they wait until they can read books and make their own decisions. Every family has it’s own level of religiosity but my in-laws take it to a kind of a terrifying level for me. Our niece has obsessively drawn crosses on things since she was four (at one point I actually worried her head might start spinning as she dug her crayon into the art paper like a maniac, followed by a picture of my husband who she had crucified). A few year later I asked our niece what happened to her leg and she replied, “Jesus pushed me down and hurt me because I told a lie.” Because, you know, Jesus is an asshole and has nothing better to do than bully seven year olds (WTF?). My first thought was, I cannot have children. If my own child said that to me I’d flip my shit and I would be forced to call Jesus’ dad because that’s just bad parenting and maybe he needs to spend less time governing other peoples kids and more time hugging Jesus who is clearly lashing out. Then God would get defensive and smite me and everyone would be like, “Thanks a lot for the locusts, M.E., YOU ASSHOLE.” What a sad, scary, horrible thing to believe that a deity would hurt a child for lying.

My family is a bizarre mix of muslim, catholic, Mormon, agnostic and atheist, so I was raised pretty big on religious freedom and making your own personal choices. Some of my family members are super religious, others aren’t, and we all gat along just fine as we respect each other’s differences. Francesco’s family has been Catholic since the Romans abandoned paganism to come on board the Christian movement. They won’t understand any concept of religious difference or children making decisions at a later age. Catholics baptize at only a few months old and the child is referred to as “catholic” from that point on until maybe they are adults and start saying they are not (which is everyone we know). I don’t really want that. I don’t want my kid to have a religious or spiritual identity until it’s something they choose for themselves. How do I do that with people pressuring, freaking out, crying, and throwing an epic meltdown over it? It’s also a sure thing that the minute my MIL gets near my kids she’ll start on them about how if they do something wrong Jesus will bite off their ear or punch his/her mom (me) in the face.

This is only one of many, many possible fights that I see coming my way. I can be sure that spanking, food choices (I am not a fan of sugar for breakfast), air conditioning, and playing will also be the cause for many fights. After-all, what kind of mother would let her kid go out into a field and roll in mud. ME! That’s who! Being dirty is fun and mud is badass when you’re a kid (or when you’re thirty-two and you’re all MUD! And you’re husband is all NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!). Except when you’re in Italy and the kids are dressed like they’re forty and ready for a fashion show and rolling in mud would be on par with throwing your kid from a balcony. Totally makes sense because dirty kids and thrown from balcony kids are both unloved.

This is not to say that my own parents won’t have their own shit to say. My father is muslim so he equates drinking in front of children with acute child abuse. A glass of wine at dinner? Your baby will be addicted to CRACK! Why don’t you just shoot your baby full of heroine!? This is why my sister and I fuel him by saying things over dinner like, “We need to buy some weed and vodka for when we take the kids to the beach this weekend.” The difference is that I have no problem telling my own parents to back off. My husband however was raised in that old southern tradition that your parents are always right and that questioning them is disrespectful. I mean, it’s awesome that he has so much respect for his parents, I love a man who respects his family, but once in a while I need some backup and a “no, mom, you can’t hang out with our baby Lasagne if you tell her that God will kill her parents if she doesn’t do her homework.” So…that’s where I’m at right now. If he lets his parents unpack and repack my luggage he’ll probably let them send my kids off to bible camp at three months old, too.

Advice? Xanax? Is anyone else worried about a zombie baby eating their face off?


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38 thoughts on “My Italian Family And Religion: To Be Or Not To Be, And Why Is Jesus Punching My Kids?

  1. Zombies are not real, they only exist in your head. Tell the vagina that other vaginas have been pushing babies out for centuries. It is safe. Connect with other expat (american) Moms married to Italians. I feel certain they could have some constructive advice. Good for you to consider all angles. It is a BIG deal.

    On Wed, May 28, 2014 at 1:00 PM, Living In Italy.Moving To Italy. Loving

    • Christine,
      Everyone knows that zombie babies are real.
      I have talked with expat mom but they make it more scary because their advice is usually this: RUN! RUN AWAY! GET OUT NOOOOOOOOWWWWW!!! Having kids is a huge deal for me because I’m a little paranoid about screwing them up. I’ve never really wanted them before until I married my husband. I’m a little older, 32, so I feel ready to be a parent but not that ready to raise them against an army. You’re right about other expats though, at least they can tell me about their own experiences and laugh, or not even other expats, I guess just people who have went against the grain in the their family.

  2. OMG, I can’t stop laughing! I hate to say this, but as a 50 something year old Italian American raised Catholic, I believe I am as guilty as your mother-in-law. My daughter can attest to the fact that I constantly said “God will punish you” if she did something wrong, and sure as shit she would trip over her own feet, walk into a door or have some other crazy crap happen to her. Being the wonderful mother I am, I would laugh and say “See, I told you so”. I think I still say this to her and her brothers when they piss me off. At this point, I think your only way out of this situation will be to stay in the states until your children are at least 21. Oh, and lie about having them baptized and sending them to Sunday school!!!

  3. Lordy, lordy, lordy…… you are doomed on this issue, girlfriend, unless your husband backs you 100% all the time. Italian grandparents are relentless when it comes to their grandkids. They tend to ignore the parent’s wishes and raise the kid with their values as if it were the second go-round for them. It would be wise to set ground rules with your husband before you have kids.

  4. I have to agree with Joanne on this one. If your husband wont back you up, it will be hell. Children tend to magnify the culture differences by 100 times or so. It won’t just be your inlaws telling you how to raise your kids, but the entire neighborhood, and anybody that you pass on the street. I have 2 kids, and am very lucky to have great inlaws and a great husband, but it was still very hard to adjust. We now live a bit in the country, so life is better, but when we were more in the city, I ended up telling DH that I was not sure how long I would be able to stay here. I could not go across the street from our condo without at least 3 people telling me that my teething 2 year old was too old to have a pacifier. I even had somebody take it out of his mouth once.
    No matter how agreeing your husband is with you, the ways that you were raised will come out big time. For example, I came into the room one day to find the kids running on top of the dinning room table, shoes and all. I flipped out but DH saw no problem with it, since he did it when he was little.
    Whatever you guys decide, GOOD LUCK!

    • That’s very true. The key is that my husband and I (FRANCESCO!) map out everything, agree, and stick together. What I’m worried about is the incessant nagging. The in-laws have a magical ability to use guilt and nagging to eventually chip away at them. With a lot of things I’ve been very patience but with my kids I know that I won’t be. I have a difficult time even listening to their advice on my dog.

      • Decide now with Francesco if you are going to christen your kid because it will be a HUGE issue in his family…….. HUGE!

  5. I really want to start a blog on my experiences on Italy, but have no idea how to create a community and have people actually read it.
    In the meantime, I’m enjoying yours and am in the same boat! While my MIL is a little more understanding, the woman is an avid church goer, prayer, and respects all and any Catholic holidays, traditions and beliefs. I was raised with an athiest and an enlightened Buddhist/Christian…we were open to decide for ourselves. Having babies is scary not only for the religion (not to mention it growing INSIDE of me), but for being raised in Italy…I love it here, but I have to say, they’re a bit in the stone-age and I’m not sure my fiancee’ has any idea of what really lies abroad. Anyway, I take peace in the fact that when I was young, what I felt more then any religion or belief was the love that my parents had, and that’s what my fiancee and I have and what I know our kids will feel. At the end of the day, your little family is a team, and no matter what others think…that team is a lot stronger then any outside influence. Cheesy? Maybe. But, love is a pretty extraordinary power. Use that as your “religion.”🙂 Good luck.

    • Until you start you’re own blog you’re more than welcome to contribute to mine. I take guest submissions.😉 You’re right, raising kids in Italy in general seems a little daunting. Very sweet advice about love. Thank you.

  6. Dear M.E, I love this post, this honest evaluation of all or a large majority of the issues! Sadly, I have no answers for you. I never wanted to pop out any puppies of my own, but once I acquiesced to getting married, I thought I might have to offer the whole package. My husband never wanted children, but was embarrassed to come out and say that. Anyway, there are too many people in the world, but I doubt Italians want to lower their birthrates even more and my guess is that adoption is not good enough to save your vagina. If you want the whole “gotta wake at 6 am to get the snot wiped off the kids’ noses before they head off to school” (after the whole amazing time of babydom: “my husband can hear any noise except our baby’s cry in the middle of the night; but even if he did, he would simply nudge me and remind me that I am the one with the boobies”), go for it and figure it all out one day at a time. At least if you do kill your MIL, you will have more time to write while in prison.

    Had my husband wanted kids, I would have sucked it up for the love of him. And I would have fallen in love with my kids and taken on the huge responsibility of bringing a life into the world and doing my best to help it thrive and enjoy life. He didn’t … I mentored a child in need instead.

    And I make art… I think now that I am too selfish to have a kid because I love making art and get distracted as it is. But yes, I still wonder what the love of a child would be like… and if I would have risen to the challenge as well as I would hope to. Good luck and thank you, Kelly Borsheim

    • You know, I never wanted to have kids until I married my husband. I’m similar in the sense that I’m an artist, I write, etc., and I enjoy traveling. Thank you for sharing your story here. I love when people leave comments and tell everyone a little about their own personal experience. It’s always useful and very sweet.😉 Thank you.

  7. I understand you full well. I too am married and been living on and off in Milan. I’m much your senior. My husband just passed on after 29 years together, 27 years married. Through his profession, we lived in various countries.
    No children as he was the baby (affectionately speaking).
    Tough marriage I have to admit but lovable at the same time. Went through all the snide remarks of his family and friends but I’m so grateful that I had the grit to tough it out.
    I’m Indonesian snd my family too consists of different religious background. Modlem, Catholic, Pritestant, Hindu, Buddhist and even Bahaii. Yet, respect is our code of ethic.
    Nobidy tries to brainwash, manipulate or denigrate one another.
    I love your sharing about life here because I’m so with you.
    Be who you truly are. Do what your heart tells you and use commom-sense.
    A very important ingredient that I have applied in all my life especially here in Italy. Most of all, respect yourself.

    • I’m very sorry to hear about your husband. I can’t even begin to imagine how hard that must be for you. Thank you for sharing that with us and for your very sweet advice. Self respect is definitely key to living abroad. That’s very true.

  8. Oh, oh God. Double, no, TRIPLE up on the birth control. No FRIKEN WAY will you come out of this without being a gibbering, drooling idiot. NO WAY. Or you wait until you move to the States to have children and don’t bring them back to Italy until they’ve graduated.
    You are WAY more accepting than I am, I would really freak out on the in laws in your place.
    My best advice is to not have any babies until you are REALLY SURE that you are ready for it. Babies are hard enough as it is on new moms and marriages, you don’t need all the extra shit from your inlaws added into the mix.
    I wish I could be more positive, I’m sorry.

  9. I feel for you! I (a mangia cake) married an Italian fifty years ago and it was hell when our first child was born! I was too skinny to nurse the baby, I couldn’t do anything right, my husband and I fought and I cried but we had two more children and here we are fifty one years later enjoying our grandchildren,four boys twenty, nineteen, twelve and eleven I never interfere if I am asked for advice I give it but never intrude. We are all one big happy family! Go for it it will all work out!!!

    • Yes, I can imagine! My in-laws are very caring and sweet but they are very ethnocentric. Their mentality will surely be that I’m American, therefore I don’t know anything about children and I need to be educated on what to do and what not to do. But I’m sure you’re right, it will probably just be at first and then it will dissipate after a while.😉

  10. oh boy am I with you on this one–I am living a very similar life. I am afraid of zombies, children and my future italian in-laws ( I have already been told that quinoa is not a food). Compromise is good but staying strong on your views are key haha!

  11. I dont have the same concern about the zombie part hahaha but I do understand you when it comes to raising a child in two different cultures. In Brazil we are more close to the family, here in Germany people are too reserved…among other things, like the language…is going to be very weird seeing my children speaking perfect German and I will still be suffering with this impossible language hahaha anyways, when your baby comes, you will love it, and a lot will change!🙂

  12. No baby face eating worries but I think you’re wise to be concerned.  Most divorces ( in the US happen over money, sex and child rearing…it’s tricky.

  13. First, I have to say that I absolutely love your blog. I stumbled upon it through a random search, read it and got hooked. You’re fabulous !

    I am not an ex-pat living in Italy, but I am an Italian American and completely understand the blind allegiance to Catholicism and rigid adherence to customs from “the old country”, as they would say. I had more than a few promises that Jesus would put “fire in [my] mouth” for saying something bad and if you happened to stub your toe or hit your head following a spiteful or mean comment, well, “That was God ! See how he punishes?!!” For reals.

    I am a mother of two young kids and I am “lucky” in that my parents and in-laws live far faaaaaaar away. I do not have to deal with intrusive opinions or nagging. The downside is that they (the kids) aren’t really getting to experience the richness of who my parents and in laws are as people. And its tough going it alone without extended family to help. Big time. And I miss them. Even the annoying stuff😉

    I want to believe that if your in laws really are sweet and caring and your husband has your back 100% that you will find a way to navigate the shit that awaits. It actually sounds like a pretty awesome foundation. I certainly couldn’t say that when we started out !

    Wishing you and Francesco all the best with this big life decision. I’m rooting for you !

  14. First: sorry for my english. I’m an italian girl and i often read your blog because i love the way you write (go on and write your book please! i’ll buy it immediately!), but it also helps me to learn english and to understand what people think about living in italy and about it’s’s very interesting!
    Anyway,let’s talk about your deal. My parents are atheists but i was baptized because of my grandparents. Obviously, when i grew up, my parents let me free to decide if i wold be religious or not (i decided on my own for the others sacraments like the holy communion). I know, it’s not fair, but it’s quite normal in Italy. My grandmother on my mother side is very religious: she never came into my aunt house because my aunt never married but lives with his man! So my parents have to strike a balance and they decide to baptize me. Now (i’m 24 and i’m atheist) i have no problem with my grandmother: she has understood that she can’t change my choice. stop. Anyway i think that the most important thing is how you and your husband will raise your children: i’ve spent a lot of time with my grandparents when i was a child, but i’ve never believed that jesus would have pushed me if i had lied! This is also because my parents didn’t allow my grandparents to decide about my education or my religion: they were very rigid and serious about that. You’re right: i think you’ve to fight, say “no” and establish limits, but you’ll have to do some compromise…especially with you’re in-laws🙂
    Good luck and go one!
    p.s. sorry, sorry for my disgusting english.
    you know..italians.
    but i’m trying, i’m trying to learn!

  15. Pingback: Misogyny And This Asshole Giovanni From Italy Is Educating Women On Infidelity #yesallwomen | Living In Italy.Moving To Italy. Loving In Italy. Laughing In Italy.

  16. Perhaps take a minute in your MIL’s shoes. For her, Catholicism is about the status and fate of your soul. Taking care of that is more important than taking care of the body and so your idea is the equivalent of someone saying “I’m going to let my kids make their own choices about brushing their teeth.” By the time they are older and ready to make adult choices, they may not have teeth left… So it isn’t that she wants to irritate you (though that is the side effect), but rather she wants to make sure her grandchild is taken care of mind, body, and soul.

    • I have definitely taken time to step back and think of her point of view. It’s really a lose-lose situation in many ways. My POV on why I don’t want my young children indoctrinated into the church would require me to get specific which I don’t like to do because I don’t ever want anyone to feel like I’m attacking their beliefs. This space is about the expat experience, culture, etc., not about attacking the catholic religion. Everyone follows their religion differently, some more severe than others, some more open-minded than others. While it seems harmless that my MIL may want to save my child’s soul, I find it very, very damaging for my child to be terrified of some vengeful deity. I believe in teaching empathy, not fear. I’d prefer my children behave for reasons other than, “because Jesus will push me down,” which is the route that my in-laws prefer. I’m also very against the church’s stance on gay marriage, I have gay friends who will have a vital role in my children’s lives and never for a moment do I want my children to be told that their aunt or uncles are sinning perverts. I also have a very different stance on sexuality than the church. I think that allowing a priest, a grown man, for example, to talk with a child about masturbation is sexual abuse. The guilt that accompanies it is also damaging. Now, if she wanted to baptize my child and then left the “morality” teaching up to me, which would be, “be a good person so your life is good and so you don’t harm others.” I’d be fine with that. Frankly, that’s the main points in the bible anyhow and I’m more than happy to teach my kids to be loving, kind, and good people. I will not teach them that touching themselves is wrong, that gay people are “sick,” or that they can do wrong things and quickly repent to fix it. I’d rather them learn that there are often unfixable, permanent things that can arise from being unfair or cruel. My in-laws, since they are more extreme in their religious beliefs than many, would instill a great deal of fear and guilt in my kids, which frankly I think is damaging. Its not really because I have an issue with them believing in something larger than themselves. Again, this is not me saying that this is all catholic people, I’m specifically talking about my in-laws. I have many, many religious friends who are the most kind, open-minded, God is love, peace and all that, types. These are, however, not the things that would be taught in my family.

  17. I thoroughly disagree.
    simply because no matter if you have your children baptized or not, they’re going to make their own choice when they’re older anyway. Even the Holy Father himself will tell you that to your face.
    I’m turning 32 next month, married to a non-American and we have 5 kids. It hasn’t slowed us down a bit. It’s all about your attitude going in.
    Hell, I found you looking up the process of getting rid of our shit and carrying our asses to Italy and living there…with five kids and a crazy mother in law, who will invariably end up living with us!
    Abe Lincoln said something to the effect of ‘you’re exactly as hapoy as you decide to be.’
    So be as happy as you want to be.
    No one will ever be mother to your child except for you, no matter how much meddling they do. Trust one who’s stood in your shoes for the past 12 years.
    And I’m going to tell you a dirty little secret about rigid mother in laws and babies. ..once you have a baby, you become her new baby.
    You’re the one carrying and bringing her immortality into the world…she will always love you for that in a way that transcends all the shit you went through before. Trust.

    • Good advice, love. That’s probably true (although, is your MIL Italian? I’m not sure anyone can go up against them affectively, they are professionals). Are you really considering moving to Italy with your kids? You should do it! I know a good amount of expats who have done the same with children and it’s worked out just fine for them. Is your husband Italian? Keep me updated on your move if you decide to do it. I would love to follow this. Let me know if you need any advice!

  18. Hmmm I’m going to go the opposite of many commenters here and say if you’re sure you’d like to procreate with your husband, do it and the rest will, in one way or another, fall into place. I was concerned with many of the same things as you (more our own cultural differences than my calabrese parents’ influence, which is, thankfully, minimal) and waited till we were together for nearly a decade before really deciding my clock was ticking (I was 35 when we started trying, lost a pregnancy, and then my daughter was born about a week after my 37th birthday)…having a kid is the greatest (shuddup vagina!), and honestly, my only regret is that we didn’t start down this road sooner. Best of luck🙂

    • PS That should read “my partner’s calabrese parents’ influence” – oh and reading Katie’s comment below now I will second the lying strategy. My current lie to all who ask is whether my kid is eating pastina. OF COURSE! Ahem.

  19. Pingback: Culture Shock: Part II – Things That Make Me Seem Like an Arsehole in Italy | suddenly italian

  20. M.E, a quick note to let you know that I love your blog! I have been reading it for a while now and much of it has kept me sane since I moved to Italy with my husband last November. Thank you thank you thank you!
    Just letting you know that I linked to this blog post in my most recent post, I hope that it is okay!

  21. We’re a similar couple, but my in-laws seem a little more reasonable than yours. My husband and I have talked about our strategy and decided there’ll be a lot of lying. Am I giving the baby antibiotics? Yes, of course. (no… I don’t contribute to superbugs every time there’s a sneeze). Am I ruthlessly ironing all the children’s clothes? Yes, definitely. (actually don’t know how to iron). Are you doing everything possible to prevent the children from sweating? Yes, I’m forever on stand-by with an industrial dryer should even one bead present itself. (silly me, I thought sweat was a normal biological process to achieve thermoregulation. just one of many examples of Science vs MIL). I look forward to reading your blog about a staged Baptism. I think there are plenty of unemployed Italian atheists that would make good actors!

  22. Pingback: Finding Common Ground With Italian In-Laws | Living In Italy.Moving To Italy. Loving In Italy. Laughing In Italy.

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