February 12, 2007

Independence and family

I have a particular Italian family (PIF) starting at the top with a particular Italian mother-in-law (PMIL) who I stopped to visit in Verona yesterday. From the beginning we have never had a typical Italian mother-in-law -- daughter-in-law relationship. She had been terrorized by her MIL and had sworn that she would not do the same. For the rest, I play deaf and don’t pick up on any interference that conveniently falls outside my radar -- being foreign does have its advantages.

But family is family, and the Italian one has its own particular cultural make-up. The fundamental Italian unit of survival is clearly not the individual but the family and the web of relationships and reciprocal obligations that tie its members to each other make for different concepts of the individual, and consequently what independence means and how it is achieved.

Americans find it very difficult to view the very Italian cultural concept of independence coming about within the family (instead of away from it) as a valid way to become a mature adult. We tend to put on our inherent cultural blinders when viewing very different cultural reality.

While recently raising adolescents, I was surprised and uncomfortable at how my Italian peers let their children have so much freedom to explore while my American friends (mainly New England suburban moms) set curfews, hand out chores and use any available means to send their children the message that they should move out at 18 if they wanted to have some freedom. As parents we feel uncomfortable being accomplices to the experimentation process, we see its proper place off somewhere in college, out of our sight. I slowly learned to envy Italian parents who can stand by and let it all happen under their noses without feeling like they have to interfere, while actually enjoying the spectacle!

In the end, independence is more a psychological than physical state and appearances can be deceiving.

I love watching adults with their adult parents that have moved on from the parent / child relationship to establish new and mature ones. Maybe the Italian route to independence while staying within the family leaves more room for all family members to mature, create new relationships and finally achieve a new and different family balance.

A domani from Trento,

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