Mamma mia!: Saint or Sinner?
The Italian mamma embodies all the paradoxes of Italian life. A beacon of self-sacrifice, she always gets her own way. An apparent martyr to her family’s needs, she commands the same family without question. She is able to make life both easy and incredibly difficult.
It’s no wonder that “Mamma mia” is the most used phrase in the Italian language!
Italian Mothers: The ultimate home-maker.
Far more than in America or the UK, Italian mothers in the twenty-first century tend to be home-makers while their husbands go out to work. A recent survey showed that it’s quite acceptable in Italian family traditions for the average young son in Italy to spend around fifteen minutes a day with his father but several hours with his mother.
It’s not surprising, then, that he learns to take every cue from her: how to dress, where to go, what to eat, who to see. And such is the attachment formed in childhood that it continues into adult life: one in three married adult sons sees his mother every single day, and seven out of ten unmarried men still live with their mother at the age of thirty-five.
Italian ‘mothers’ boys’: The Growth of the ‘Mammoni’.
In other countries that would make them the object of jokes and derision. Not so in Italy. Here, there’s nothing strange about men wanting to stay with their mothers for as long as they can – even when they have married – and it’s applauded as the right thing to do. The average age for an Italian man to marry is thirty – one of the highest recorded in United Nations statistics.
And that’s given rise to a growth of what have become known as ‘Mammoni‘ – men who are still tied to their mother’s apron strings.
A recent story in a Roman e-magazine told of an Italian lawyer in his thirties, a prominent and very powerful figure in an intensely male and competitive world. Recently married and with a baby due, he still takes his dirty washing to be done by his mother who also irons his shirts, buys his underpants and gives him food to take home in case his new wife can’t cook…
Is this the archetypal Italian mother stereotype? Perhaps. But it’s having a very real effect on Italian marriages.
Italian Mothers and Marriage.
For a shocking three out of ten Italian marriages is now failing specifically because of the unusually close attachment of men to their mothers.
Psychologists conclude that boys in Italy being indulged by their Italian mothers well into adulthood makes them too emotionally immature to deal with the demands of a relationship with another adult woman in the shape of a wife:
“The husband is used to being adored and when he doesn’t get that unconditional love from his wife, he goes running back to his mother.”
Italian Marriage: Does it have a future?
Perhaps that’s why recent United Nations statistics have shown that the marriage rate in Italy is now at its lowest ever ebb: Italy is twenty-third out of twenty-seven countries (the United States being at the top of the table) in terms of how many people per head of population are marrying per year.
Will this trend continue? As with many things Italian, there are regional differences: the south of the county is still a more patriarchal society than the north, the cities are more accepting of women and men having equal rights – and responsibilities – than rural districts.
So does Italian marriage have a future? That will largely depend on the new generation of men in Italy and the ability of the younger generation of women to change a mindset that has existed for generations.