Ahhh, holidays. Tis the season for a deluge of Italian Mother Guilt™. Don’t get me wrong, Italian Mother Guilt is the gift that keeps on giving year-long. But the holidays inspire a particularly persistent flow of guilt from mother to daughter and/or son, which really adds to the cheer, if you ask me. Where did Italian Mother Guilt come from? I’m glad you asked.
Once upon a time an Italian mother and a Jewish mother were dining alfresco in the piazza, one-upping each other with tales of obedient, successful children. But after a second glass of wine, the Italian mother admitted, “I’m having trouble getting Maurizio to listen to me. I cook him all his favorite foods, but he still insists on having a mind of his own.”
“Oh, you don’t have to worry about cooking for him,” boasted the Jewish mother. “All you need is a little guilt.”
Don’t worry about cooking?! This woman must be crazy, thought the Italian mother. She lifted an eyebrow and took another large gulp of her wine. Just then, the Jewish mother’s 30-year-old son strolled over to their table.
“Mom, I just wanted to let you know that I’ve decided to take over the family business. Also, I’m bringing home a nice Jewish girl on Sunday for your approval, but I know there will never be another woman like you. Love you!” He kissed her on the cheek and walked away.
The Italian mother turned to the Jewish mother and leaned forward. “Go on, I’m listening.” And so Italian Mother Guilt was born.
This holiday season, my mother decided the perfect Christmas present is to make me feel like an inadequate parent. Here’s how the Italian Mother Guilt has played out so far:
I’m not a fan of them. Love receiving them, can’t really be bothered to send them out. For the past two years, my mother has taken it upon herself to make Christmas cards of my son and send them to me to mail to a pre-approved list of family and friends. You know, to save face. “Everyone sends Christmas cards,” she reasons. “How can you not send them?” (Funny enough, I don’t remember seeing any Christmas cards from my childhood. Somehow, I made it into adulthood feeling loved.) Unfortunately, the Italian Mother Guilt has worked like a charm, and I mail those suckers out accordingly. It’s the dignified thing to do.
My cousin has started doing this with her kids, so naturally my mom wonders why I don’t do the same. “You need to start creating traditions for your family,” she says. Because decorating the tree and the house, giving presents, going to parties, bringing my son to a Christmas theme park, and driving him down a street called Candy Cane Lane, where every house makes the Griswalds’ decorating efforts look quaint, is not enough. You’re right, Ma. I’m ruining Christmas for my family.
My mom grills me on the topic of Santa on an almost daily basis. “Are you telling my grandson about Santa? Did you ask him what Santa should bring him for Christmas? Does he tell Santa what toys he wants?” Yes, Ma, I talked to him about Santa. We saw Santa at Home Depot last week (though we saved the official Santa lap dance for the Christmas theme park), and dragged our nearly three-year-old over to meet him. My kid said hi, but was more interested in the light fixtures. The concept of Santa has not quite solidified. However, my mom seems to think this is due to a failure of communication instead of disinterest. She couldn’t help but mention how my cousin’s son, who is a year younger than mine, goes up to the Santa statue in their house every night and gives Santa a kiss before whispering “tractor” in his ear. Thanks, mom. I’m a bad parent AND my son is slow.
All this talk of Italian Mother Guilt has me realizing what I should get my son for Christmas. A guilt-free childhood! Except I’m pretty sure my son will publish a book of my screw-ups before he turns 10. I’ve got it coming to me.