Children In Italy vs The US

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 more 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 teenagers 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., sweating is even discouraged for fear of 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.

2. 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 plenty of 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 30, they still can’t take care of themselves at all.

3. 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. 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.”

4. 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.

7. 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.



23 thoughts on “Children In Italy vs The US

  1. OK, I’m gonna disagree with almost everything you said. Fulldisclosure: I have a 22 year old daughter who lived in the US til age 7, then in Italy until 12, then back to the US and then part of high school in Italy. And she is hands down the MOST FREAKING AWESOME KID on earth-partially as a result of her bi-contintental life. 1. RIsk: Agree that there seems to be a huge lack of entreprenurial spirit in Italians overall, but when I compare my kid’s decision making skills to other American kids and to my daughter’s Italian friends , they seem to be make better decisions in general ones for the reasons that you state. Perhaps a bit more thoughtful. 2. The independence thing (while to a certain extent is true), you need to understand that there is a whole freaking generation of American kids ages 30 and under here in the US that can’t do shit either because we f-ed up as parents and helicoptered them to death, or they were given trophies for everything. On contrast, there is far less coddling in the school system (and in families) in Italy (where yes-you can be shamed publicly for not doing their homework). When my daughter returned to the US for middle school and high school, she was very resilient and had great study habits. I think the Italian mixture of total adoration but tough love makes for a good kid!

    So my advice: pump out a kid and drag him/her back and forth a few times and they will be fabulous!

    • Eep! This wasn’t a finished post! I was writing a draft and somehow it published. Shit. I’ve yanked it out until I can finish it. Thank you for the comment and I think you’re right. Sorry about the dodgy, unfinished post. That’s never happened before. Maybe too much wine😉

  2. Yeah, you really don’t want to be the mother of “that kid” (the little shit who grows up to be a big shit)

    I like how the Italian families are very close, but is it true that when you marry an Italian guy he comes still firmly tied to mother’s apron strings? I think an Italian mother in law would scare the bejesus out of me, possibly beating me if I didn’t feed her precious son properly etc…
    Is this true??? I think another trip to Italy is in order…line me up some single men! (without overbearing mothers)

    • Hahaha. So sorry about this post, it wasn’t finished and somehow published itself. Eep! But yes, in my experience Italian moms are often that way. Not always, but often. My mom InLaw is a total pain in my ass. I love her, but she’s definitely overbearing and suuuuuper controlling. But also living in her own batshit way.

  3. Right on, when I was growing up in the 50’s in Chicago, I would go downtown Chicago by myself at the age of 9. At age 10 my parents put me on a train in Chicago to visit my Italian aunt in LA. Yes, 2 days on a train by myself  this was in 1954. Keep up your good work. Cheers, Michael

  4. I think you hit the nail on the head, at least with the American generalizations. I have two kids here in the U.S. but have spent a good deal of time abroad and have a Brazilian husband–many of these contrasts exist between the U.S. and Brazil, too. (I love the added detail of the drawings, too!)

  5. Love this analysis. An Italian once lost her shit on me for allowing my daughter (then 8) to jump off a park bench. She was certain my child was going to die and from what I could make out, she thought that I deserved to die too.

  6. We are living this now. We live in Boston, but go back and stick our 6YO boy in school in Torino for a month every year. We are now trying to move to Torino for a number of family issues and we have frankly been a bit worried. Here is our list:
    – Eating – Italy has gotten worse (high levels of child obesity), but kids at least learn how to eat there.. My kids friends eat only white/tan food (e.g., fries, chicken fingers). Fruits/Veg are pretty much nonexistent.
    – Deference to kids – In the US, we see many parents who can/will not lay down the law… I think many want to be their kid’s friend rather than parent.
    – Inability to be focus – American kids (at least in Boston) are constantly shuttled from activity to activity and the schools make learning FUN.
    – Interacting with Adults – In Italy, adults really talk to my son. He is expected to hold his own in a real conversation. I can see that Italian kids are much more polished and thoughtful. American kids, on the other hand, are completely intimidated by a conversation.
    – Independence – I generally agree with what you say on this, but I’ll also agree with the others who say that kids today don’t have nearly the independence that I had. I read about how this plays out in adulthood… ugh.
    – Sex Roles – Today, I pretty much do 90% of the housework. So, I guess I can counteract the Italians on this one. BTW – Our Italian friends find me crazy. The women dream that their husbands will do what I do around the house and the men think I’m a gender traitor.
    – Connections to Society – My wife has many bad things to say about the US, but she always talks about how people will help a stranger. In Italy, the connections are tight, but are more constrained to friends/family. People think I’m crazy when I pick up a trash in the street in Italy. I also feel like a hero helping people with strollers there as most people just turn away.
    – Tolerance of immoral behavior – I may get beat up on this one, but I think Italians are more likely to close an eye to someone lying/cheating/stealing. In my experience, there seems to be a kind of cynicism among Italians where they believe that most people (outside of their circle, of course) are bad and it is futile to call out bad behavior. Actually, this is the one we fear the most about going to Italy. Our son has a very strong sense of justice right now. I’ve seen him get pushed around on the playground trying to defend others – I don’t want him to lose that.

    So, I think the key is to stress the best from each society. Suzanne’s comment above really made me smile as we hope this is how things play out for our boy. I think we already see it when we contrast his behavior and attitudes to his contemporaries both in Italy and the US.

  7. Oh yeah, I forgot a two other issues… We are creeped out by the velina thing on Italian TV. There seems to be no time when it isn’t appropriate to post a leggy, scantily clad 19 YO on a TV show. Bizarre. #2 – Americans have a super power of not giving two shits about what others think of us. Italians live in terror of “la brutta figura” to an exaggerated degree. I see them as being slaves to others’ expectations at times.

  8. I’ve never seen “plenty of Italian 9-year-olds in strollers” in 25 in Italy. Never. I think it’s a bit unfair to write it as if it was something which happens on a regular basis, if what you said is true, it is an exception.

  9. We were there a week ago, and it was a nice change for us, to be without the kids and to be among friends and family. But I could not see myself raising kids there, I think there is a dominant way for raising kids and if you are different it may be hard socially for parents and children. A lot of moms struggle with their identity and if I constantly felt judged I’d crack. This may be completely off topic but I felt cold shouldered by girls my age, like it was too much to ask to have a conversation. Honestly if it weren’t for the support I get from my network of mom friends I wouldn’t be able to parent nearly as well! We need eachother!

  10. You are hilarious. I’m an expat, no kids, same terrors, a lil north of Florence. Have never seen any public discipline ever in a restaurant so I do my own glare at the anarchy which is usually met with stare back and tongue-stick out. I’m sure the rest of the post would have mentioned the total missing sleep schedule of Italian kids and because there are no naps, that witching hour if you’re out on a Saturday afternoon between 3-4pm wait for the echoing howls across the land as kids unite in over-tired misery… Which turns into little asshole behavior at the dinner table…at 10pm. Would move that waaaay up on the list. And the diversity thing, you’re very kind in your phrasing!
    Another thing I would also add is that masterchef Jr. Italia… Soooooo much better than the States. Guglielmo from season 3. Love that kid.
    I like your style.
    **But do people really comment on blogs (this is my first) saying they disagree totally then basically agree with it two sentences later? If so, blogging comments deserve a nationality…and for sure are Italian.

  11. I’m a registered nurse and mom. #1 I can promise you that your vagina will be fine, yes it stretches to allow the birth of your child, but it will go back to its original shape/size.
    #2 I’m a single mom, I went through the entire pregnancy alone and in the beginning (before it was real to me) I didn’t want her. Then something happened, I was in the bathtub and my daughter gave a tiny kick and I saw the ripples in the water….all of a sudden it was real, there was a tiny human inside me. It was amazing and I loved her instantly at that moment. Sometimes it’s takes time for new moms to get excited about being pregnant, but the love that you have for your child is greater than anything in this world!
    #3. There are NO bad kids….only bad PARENTS. If you see a rude, selfish kid, then you will find a rude, self-centered parent. Kids need love and attention, not a parent looking checking Facebook on their iPhone and ignoring their kid. Here we n the US, if you go to a restaurant everyone is on their phone….and their kids are using iPads to keep them entertained.
    #4 Being multi-cultural is wonderful, your child will have more experiences with food, religion, family values. He/she will learn to appreciate and embrace differences in human population, rather than just want to be the same as everyone else.
    It’s good that you are critical of your thoughts on being a patent. It shows that you know it is a life long responsibility and a true commitment. Being a parent is the greatest gift I could have ever asked for. When I held my daughter for the first time, it was the most emotional and overwhelming experience of utter love. It was an instant bond.

  12. I’m a New Zealander married to a Roman. We live in NZ but We have lived in Italy with our three kids and everything you said is spot on about the way people parent their kids there. But it won’t make a whole lot of difference to you. As long as your husband understands your culture , ithe differences are fun. When you have kids, you will do it the way you believe is the right way and your family will be unique. Just as it would be in the States. Having kids is a leap of faith, the craziest choice you’ll ever make and if you think about it too much, you’ll never do it. Also everyone in Italy will give you crazy foreigner leeway, which means you can do whatever you want! I embrace that. Loving your posts. Keep ’em coming!

  13. Pretty spot on on the Italian side, even though I have no kids, merely from observing little Italians and their parents. Child sits and eats, mom on one side, dad on the other, and states: “Aqua.” “Pane.” And is given. And kids in strollers till age 9 is NOT an exaggeration. They are in there until they are tall enough to dunk.

  14. I love this post! I personally have found all of these to be true after living in Italy for years and marrying into an Italian family like yourself. I really identify with the “Diversity” observation and how homogenous it is here. In Italy, in addition to being born here, you also have to look Italian in order to be considered Italian. It’s very important to specify a person’s “origini” when identifying them. Back home in California it’s basically the norm that you were born in the US (and therefore American) while your parents were born somewhere else. Nobody questions your “Californianism” based on your looks, while here I often have to explain where my parents are from before they accept me as “American”. As if we were all supposed to be blonde or wear cowboy hats.

  15. This is HILARIOUS! I came looking for help on what to wear on my upcoming trip to Italy but I’m not disappointed after reading this. Any tips you have for what to wear in the Amalfi Coast, Venice, and Rome from September 8-22 is greatly appreciated though😉


  16. There is probably only one reason you should have a baby in Italy.

    When your 3 month old is constipated, your Mother-in-Law will come over with a twig of rosemary, dip it in olive oil and tickle your child’s butt while whispering encouraging poop words.

    and it WORKS!

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