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Children In Italy vs The US

written by M.E. Evans June 22, 2016

As you guys know, Francesco and I don’t have kids of our own yet. (Or of someone else’s. We haven’t stolen them, either). Mostly because pregnancy scares me, almost as much as squeezing a giant creature out of my vagina. If you ask me, birth and childrearing do not even remotely invoke the fear they deserve. Aside from the coin-toss that is pregnancy, will I be deathly ill, or feel like a goddamn queen, there’s the whole “ouch my vagina,” birth and the “I hope I don’t die,” birth. If all of that isn’t scary or weird enough, there’s that whole commitment thing. Once you birth the baby, is it healthy? Is it not? And if it IS healthy, is it an asshole? Will this kid grow up to volunteer at homeless shelters or will it be banned from school zones? Am I raising a Dolly Parton or a Donald Trump?

I think about this a lot. Probably too much. Also because there is a whole additional layer of having children for me. I’ll have mixed babies, Italian, American, Persian, and they’ll grow up multiculturally between Italy and the US (I grew up in a multicultural family, so yay, that’s fun). I spend a lot of time analyzing other people with kids and observing cultural differences between the American kids I know and the Italian ones. I both like, and loathe, elements of both cultures. And with my in-laws in town (sister in law, her husband, and their kids) it only seems to be appropriate to chat about some of these differences. I’ll be generalizing, of course, so try not to implode.

  1. Risk.

American kids are raised to take risks. We grow up playing in the dirt, finding insects, riding bikes, rolling around on the floor with a 100 pound dog, river tubing, and, in the west, a ton of camping and hiking among wild animals.

Pros: Americans kids are bold and daring. They’re not afraid to take chances and later in life that risk-taking behavior is great for their career. They’re not scared to put themselves out there, try new things, or start a business.

Cons: Americans can be really fucking stupid and reckless or when they’re college age because they aren’t afraid of taking risks. This is bad when you have some independence and haven’t emotionally developed. They’re seriously, embarrasingly, dumb.

The Italian kids I know are seriously discouraged from risks of any kind. No going barefoot on grass, in a river, no rolling around with dogs, no running around the forest and inspecting bugs. Being reckless or getting dirty are usually punished harshly. Sometimes to a super crazy extent i.e., I saw a woman yell for sweating because it “causes illness.”

Pros: Teenagers take less risks. You don’t see teenage Italians being nearly as reckless as teenage Americans.

Cons: Italians take much less risk as adults in terms of career and business. Also, being afraid of even the smallest risk can be incredibly boring. Let’s be honest.

  1. Independence

Americans pride themselves on independence. We have babies and are like “okay, grow up now baby.” My mom basically had me and then I had to chew through my own umbilical cord and then make my own bottle after I killed another baby with my bare hands for its onsie. Jokes. But, truly, I was expected to dress myself by two, by five I could easily help my mom a bit with chores, and by nine I made my own lunches and watched my younger siblings.

The pros: American kids are really mature and capable. That independence carries into adulthood and allows kids to feel safe and confident on their own.

The cons: We tend to only think about ourselves. In developing independence we don’t develop interdependence and we give very small fucks about our family a lot of the time.

From my experience, Italian children are not allowed any form of independence at all until much, much later. I’ve seen Italian 9-year-olds in strollers and I’ve seen people still dress their 7 year olds.

The pros: Very interdependent and family oriented which is great. They rely heavily on mom, and family, and they freely give back to the family, too.

The cons: That heavy reliance on the mom can be really difficult on the mother who, generally, works full time, does all of the housework, all of the cooking, AND most of the parenting. Plus, it can carry well into adulthood and become a Mammoni situation where at 50, they still can’t take care of themselves at all.

  1. Diversity

The United States is a multicultural country. Kids are used to other people being different from them, they’re used to different kinds of food, the idea that people might be of different ethnic groups, religions, etc. I am NOT making the argument that in the US people are less racist, but that children are used to differences on some level, even kids who grow up in hillbilly cities. Most of the kids that I know are from really diverse families. Like me!

Pros: Kids grow up with the idea that people are different from themselves and it’s okay.

Cons: Can’t think of one

Italy is not a multicultural country in the sense that other cultures are accepted. It’s very homogenous with most of the population being Italian, catholic, etc.

Pros: Everyone is the same! Yay! All of your friends did communion, there is a strong sense of tradition, and everyone loves pasta! It’s fun to sit around and talk about sameness. I’m not even being sarcastic here, it’s actually cute to watch F sit around with friends while all of them talk about their identical upbringings. It reminds me of like black and white t.v. shows in the fifties.

Cons: Differences are not widely understood or even accepted among children. The smaller the city, the more, “Yee-haw everything that isn’t like me is bad.”  My niece uses me for show-and-tell. Like, “hey look guys! My aunt is a FREAK. Listen to her speak in tongues. Also, she eats food that isn’t pasta and it’s DISGUSTING, probably.”

  1. Discipline

The Americans that I know all discipline more or less the same way. Quietly, with crazy mean glares, and long term guilt and disappointment. Whether or not you choose to spank goes about 50/50, but regardless, the above is pretty much across the board. If you’re at a restaurant and your kid is being an asshole, an American will often try either 1) reasoning 2) glaring or giving a “you’re dead to me,” staredown or 3) will remove the child to either talk with it or beat the crap out of it. My mom used to take me to the bathroom to spank me before returning me to the table. In any given restaurant you’ll see American parents quietly glaring at their children who are expected to silently sit at the table for any given duration if they’re older than 1.

Pro: Kids are less irritating as shit in public.

Cons: I’m not sure if it’s fair to make kids act like adults. I don’t have kids so I have no idea but I remember being a kid and it was super boring and kind of torturous.

I’ve seen Italian parents scream shamelessly at their children for the entire restaurant to hear. The parents screaming can often be louder than any noise the child could have possibly made. Also, Italian children are not expected to be silent because Italians accept, usually, that children are children and should not be held to the same standards as adults. If you’re in the south, you’ll also see parents hitting children in public along with screaming at them. I haven’t seen that in the US since the 80’s. In Florence and the north, I’ve never seen anyone publically hit a child or yell at them. The kids are just kind of doing whatever.

Pro: The whole restaurant can join in on the fun of publically shaming a child. Kids are really resilient to screaming and to discipline in general. Italians are pretty difficult to embarrass. I like that.

Con: People like me who enjoy quiet have to listen to people scream at their children in public. Also, the kids will sometimes come to your table, dump your salt all over it, then leave. And the mom will be all like, “I’m sorry, he’s a child,” and I’m like, “FUCK YOUR CHILD.” But I only say it in my head.

5. Appearance

Americans often give zero shits about what their kids look like. I have wealthy friends whose children look like Mogely from the Jungle Book.

Pro: When appearance isn’t a huge deal the kids might grow up to be less superficial.

Cons: Your kid looks homeless and smells like pee, dudes.

Italian parents care obsessively about their child’s appearance. Children dress like they’ve just walked out of a goddamn catalog and it’s pretty adorable.

Pro: It’s fucking adorable. And, when they grow up they dress well. I really like that my husband doesn’t wear basketball shorts and tank tops as outfits. He looks nice all the time, and eye candy is awesome.

Cons: Even toddlers are superficial as fuck. You’ll here three-year-olds criticizing people’s weight, what they’re wearing, and just being judgy as shit. “She looks hideous, she should wear this,” sounds terrible coming from a child. Or anyone. It’s just mean.

  1. Nudity

Americans are puritan. The very idea of nudity seems to send our entire country into a rabid frenzy. Even when it comes to children. We demand that children “cover themselves,” as if they’re adults. Little girls, oddly, cover their imaginary boobies at the beach. It’s weird for little girls to wear bikini tops at the beach. She’s two, dudes, she doesn’t have boobs yet. And if she does, get her ass to the doctor asap because she is obese as shit.

Pro: Not sure.

Con: Sexualizing children by expecting them to cover their bodies the same way we do adults.  What exactly are they hiding? People get weird about 1-year-old babies here. “QUICK! AAAAH! HIDE IT’S BABY BUM.” Also, body shaming. Really, why is it such a big deal for children to “hide,” their bodies? And, in my opinion, even demanding adults to cover up to the extent we do is weird. I mean, you can find nude beaches all over Europe and nude parks in Germany and NOBODY IMPLODES. It’s just boobs and balls, guys. And don’t even get me started on breastfeeding. Boobs are made for babies, guys. You will not die from seeing a boob. YOU WILL NOT. Sure, I don’t want to be grocery shopping next to some guys free swinging dong, but we also take it waaaay too far in the U.S. I mean, peeing on the side of a road can land you on the sex offender list here. As if raping a woman and pissing are even remotely similar offenses. Stop being crazy.

Italians are pretty modest in how they dress. Much more modest than we are in the U.S. in a lot of ways, however, nudity is not a big deal. At all. When you go to the beach you’ll see naked children all over the place and rarely does anybody put a top on a little girl until she hits puberty and actually has something to cover up. Even then, you’ll see women go topless on occasion because they don’t want to fuck up their tan with shitty lines. And women will take a boob out any time to feed a hungry infant (cause that’s what boobs are for). It’s totally not a thing.

Pro: Nudity isn’t a shocking horror for the population. Kids aren’t ashamed of their bodies and they seem to fully understand that they’re children, therefore innocent, therefore not required to wear clothes in the same way adults are. Infants can get fed without a suffocating towel over their tiny faces, or the smell of some old lady’s ass wafting into their tiny nostrils from a  bathroom stall next door.

Cons: No idea. Seems kind of awesome to me.



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