Let’s not hide behind excuses. We Italian mothers are known throughout the world as more affectionate, more pampering, and more attached in every possible way to our children and that’s despite their age. But, as the old poem by the Roman poet Trilussa says, ‘Quando ce vò ce vò’ which translates as ‘You’ve just got to do what you’ve got to do’. And, shock horror, between a caress and a kiss there isn’t an Italian mum (or dad) who can say they haven’t slapped their children at least once.
A while ago a British university did some comparative research on the attitudes of mothers in Italy and in the UK towards their children.
During an experiment a child was asked to perform a slightly difficult task for his age, like lacing up his shoes. The mothers were supposed to watch. After a short while, seeing the son struggling, the Italian mum could not help intervening, firstly encouraging, then explaining what he should do, and finally getting closer and closer and helping him with her own hands. The British mum, on the other hand, was simply helping her son with words, but she never touched him and left him to get on with his task by himself.
The research is supposed to prove that Italian mums are more physically involved with their children and cannot stop themselves from touching them on every possible occasion. The result is that Italian kids feel loved and cared for, but they remain more insecure and dependent, while British kids develop a stronger sense of independence but lack the strong physical bond.
This is nothing new, to be honest. We Italian mums are the only ones responsible for the phenomenon called mammoni, or mummies’-boys and we know it. I’m generalising here of course, because I proudly count myself among the unusual Italian mothers, having always encouraged my son towards independence as soon as possible.
What the research does not say -or does not reveal is that not only do we caress, and stroke and kiss our children all the time but we slap them too, contravening all the best childrearing advice. Something that here in England would cause the immediate intervention of a Child Help line, in Italy is considered common sense.
In England The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health opposes hitting children in all circumstances. In Italy similar organisations keep repeating the same concept, but have more difficulty endorsing it. Despite the discussion about how useless and even counter-productive a slap can be, there is always someone, and it’s usually a man, who says that a smack from time to time does no damage and sets boundaries. And even Pope Francis, after one of his public hearings, last February, gave his blessing to the sculacciata, the light spanking on the bottom, as a fair and right way of educating children. A very different attitude from Pope John’s famous sentence ‘Go home and caress your kids on my behalf’. This Pope seems very favourable to the use of hands: first he approves punching the offender, and now he clearly backs spanking disobedient children. Do you remember the bible saying it’s better to ‘Turn the other cheek’? Well, we can forget that then.