Monday, June 25, 2012

Italian Mothers and Italian Mother-In-Laws

As I have embarked on the journey that is motherhood, I have learned some very valuable lessons - like not running over to my kid the minute they fall, otherwise they actually will cry....

Or how very cool ice cream can make potty training sound to a 3 year old...

And even the really important lessons - like what kind of mother I want to be to my sons and daughters when THEY are parents.

You see, I got lucky since my mom is a pretty typical Italian grandma that yells at my kids without any qualms......and I LOVE IT!! Saves me the work, right?!  But I know not all people LOVE that as much as I do.  Will I have to hold myself back when I am a Grandma?  Will I reserve myself with my son's future wife (you know, the wife he will choose from my pre-approved list of my friends' cute daughters) since SHE is the mom and I shouldn't step on her toes?

Yikes! (yes, I just said Yikes, and yes, it is still a cool word)

That is a scary thought.  I am used to being the boss around here, and besides how could ANYONE else step in and raise the flesh of my flesh better than I?  (By that I mean my grandkids, since I'm pretty sure I will still think I know everything when I'm 60)

And what about spoiling my kids?  You know Italian Mothers are known for this one.  It was true for me, but I make my kids do EVERY bit of work they can around here, after all I am the queen of Laziness, remember?!

Well, I have a reader who has her own issues with an ITALIAN MOTHER IN LAW!  Although this mom-in-law may not be trying to raise her kids, she has done a heck of a job raising her Italian son to only be happy with her very own cooking.  This has made it nearly impossible for his non-Italian wife to please his palette!

From what I hear this is the true story with Italian men.  I married an Italian guy - kinda. His DAD is Italian, not his mom, so there wasn't too much competition on that end.  But here is a portion of an email I recently received:


I've read your blog quite a bit, snatching a few minutes here and there. I wanted to contact you privately because something you wrote struck a chord with me.  I'm a non-Italian married to a full-blooded Italian for ten years.  We have six children, four boys and two girls, ranging from age nine down to a two month old. 
I was reading your post on your children's birthdays, with all the stipulations your kids like to make for their birthday dinners.  It made me wonder if everybody is like that.  My husband's mother was such a great cook and spoiled him so rotten that I cannot do anything to please him.  Nothing steals my joy so much as seeing him sit down to dinner with the usual disappointed expression on his face.  I'd bake and cook 'till I'd drop, with a kitchen that was a disaster, until I was muttering all the things I'd like to do to him under my breath!  What a life.
 I finally decided my health and sanity were more important than trying to cater to him and I gave up on him.  I am so tired of cooking and wearing my patience and health thin.  Now I save time wherever I can, use whatever ingredients I have on hand to put together simple healthy meals, and I TOTALLY ignore my husband!  And I actually can laugh again, enjoy life with my kids, and know what it's like to finally have peace and joy once more.
My point is that this isn't a pleasant way to live.  For the sake of your kids' spouses someday, please don't set up a situation in which nobody can compete with a large pot and a big spoon.  There were days I used to sit there staring at the big sauce spoon and the big sauce pot, just hating them because I knew I couldn't compete.  I have since learned that there are things I can't change.  

Our tenth anniversary is coming up and I know we'll go to another fancy Italian restaurant in which the conversation (or monologue) will center around the merits of the various dishes.  Then we will watch Ciao Italia together and I will give him Mary Ann Esposito's latest cookbook as a's sort of a symbol that I know when to give up and bow out graciously....marriages get a bit crowded when you have to share it with other interests.  I used to try to fight it, but learned that it would be better for me and the kids to learn where my place is. 
Please take this in the spirit in which it is sent -- I love your blog and it's really cute, just wanted to mention this.

Long time reader, first time commenter

Here was a part of my response:

Thank you very much for your comments!!  Lucky for me, my husband's mother is not Italian, only his father is.  Also, the Italian cooking is fabulous on my side of the family, not his....and yet I do not even live up to my family's standards!! You see, I am a generation removed from the large families of my great grandparents.  My parents, Aunts, And Uncles did not have a lot of small children running around like I do, and therefore had more time to cook!  You know as well as I do - that cooking is not easy, especially with picky palettes and lots of them!

However, birthdays are the one time I let my children pick their favorite meal and spoil them rotten!! I do NOT cook like this every day - and believe me, whatever I'm cooking is what's for dinner - like it or not!  I am simply too busy to do otherwise!  There is an old Italian saying that says, "Mangiare Cuesta Minestra, O Saltare Cuesta Finestra."  LIterally, it means "Eat this soup or jump out this window!" -  A take it or leave it mentality!  I live by this:)

I understand your frustration and believe that it is not ALWAYS the case with Italian husbands, perhaps often but not always.  Food for Italians is  a memory in and of itself.  SO the food that your husband goes on about is really a memory and a feeling.  It is LOVE for Italians!!  I guess what I am trying to say is that your husband may inadvertently insult you with his disappointment in your lack of Italian cooking, when in actuality he's simply reliving and relishing a memory that is so hard for us Italians to part with.  A smell, a taste or a song is meaningful to all people - it's humanity's way of recognizing familiar things.  For Italians, we recognize much with our stomachs - with our palettes, if you will! I don't know how else to describe it...

How do you describe it?   Am I doing my son a disservice by making him homemade Italian meals that his future non-Italian (yikes!) wife cannot compete with?


Anonymous said...

I love that saying! "Eat this soup or jump out this window" -- definitely adding that to the reference library of witty sayings to pull out at a moment's notice!

Luv ya! :-)

Anonymous said...

Long time reader,
Your comment made me feel sad. I am an Italian mother with two daughters I have always praised their efforts, they are great cooks. I have two granddaughters and now we have a grandson, I will make sure he grows up with the "eat soup or jump out the window".
To una Mamma Italiana, I am 60 and I do think I know everything. Perhaps I will need to re think this.

Thank-you ladies,
First time reader.

Anonymous said...

I'm not particularly Italian, but I didn't live so far from the border, and I don't think you have a problem. Your recipes are just very tasty American, not really anything I would call "Italian." The fact you call it "Italian" is a give-away that it can't be authentic because cooking varies so much according to region. People in Milan, for example, use more butter than olive oil. Always make me smile, to see how third or fourth generation Italian-Americans romanticize their roots but can't even understand the local dialect of their forefathers, let alone "standard" Italian. So even if your food adheres to the monolithic, romanticized roots of your past without actually tasting like anything standard in "Italy", it's just good food with much love that you don't have to worry that non-Italians can't reproduce.

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