Tag Archives: Italian Mother Guilt

The Single Stupidest Argument I’ve Ever Had With My Mother

My mom and I have butt heads many times over the last thirty-grumble-grumble years. Many, many times. A good many of them were emo-teenage arguments, like “You don’t understand me!” or “My life is so hard!” or “Why won’t you let me close the door to my bedroom?” Many more were about my wedding. (“I really don’t want to invite your sister’s cousin’s daughter who knows your hairdresser, who you also invited.”) But the thing we’ve argued about the most is how to parent my son.

I’m just going to rewind that back. How to parent MY son.

Yes, my mom has the wisdom of many more years of motherhood than I do, which is why I often listen to her advice. I know she’s a fantastic mother and a wonderful grandmother—that cannot be argued. What can be argued is how I choose to feed, bath, dress, educate, and entertain my child. And mom has something to say about all of them. She wouldn’t be an Italian Mother if she didn’t.

This particular argument started when I (mistakenly) called my mom to vent about what a pain in the ass Lucas had been that day. It was then that my mom offered her patented “he needs more stimulation” formula, which usually involves me spending lots of money of crap he never uses.

child at christmas
Looks pretty stimulating to me.

Let’s take a moment to unpack that word: STIMULATION. The word stimulate means to make more active, to cause something to develop, or to make a person excited about something. Here are things that should be stimulated: hair growth, a passion for learning, the economy, nipples. Here’s what my son, the most energetic, non-stop-party person in the universe doesn’t need: stimulation. Love, affection, attention, fun, support, guidance, yes. Stimulation, no. If I stimulated that child any more than he is already naturally stimulated, then he’d make a double espresso with a sprinkle of crack look like warm milk.

So when I called my mom to say “Lucas was driving us bonkers today,” and she said, “He needs more stimulation,” you can bet that it pinched a mommy nerve. Here’s how it went down.

Mom: He’s just bored. He needs more stimulation.

Me: We took him for a walk around the neighborhood, then to the park, the he rode his bike up and down the street, then he played basketball, and we ended the night by watching two movies!

Mom: Well, he’s probably sick of doing those things. He needs more stimulation.

Me: Wha? Like what?

Mom: Like some new toys. I’m sure he’s sick of his old ones.

Me: We just had Christmas!

Mom: But he needs a train set. Every little boy needs a train set. I’m going to buy it for him for his birthday.

Me: I…no he doesn’t NEED a train set! We have no place to put it!

Mom: Well, I’m just saying. He’s bored.

Christmas LEGOS. Very stimulating.
Christmas LEGOS. Very stimulating.

I’m not lying when I say we discussed this “needs more toys” and “train set” issue for 30 minutes, starting off at regular Italian volume (loud) and ending with the two of us yelling at the top of our lungs at each other while my dad tried to mediate and my husband was in the background shouting, “And tell her we already bought him a train and he doesn’t play with it!” It was a total melee. Over a fucking train set.

Basketball hoop: ultimate stimulation.
Basketball hoop: ultimate stimulation.

I’m sure a good part of it was me being frazzled at my son’s behavior and being couped up in the house for the last week and a half while my office was closed. I was exhausted and cranky and craving my old routine. On top of which, I had made every effort to make my child’s Christmas magical, but somehow, Italian Mother Guilt penetrated all of that. My mom saying “Lucas needs a train set” became “You’re not a good mother.”

Would my mom ever say those words to me? No. In fact, she has even told me I’m doing a good job. (GASP!) But the curse of Italian Mother Guilt is that it doesn’t matter what you did or what your mom said before. Every argument is seasoned with “You’re not a good mother” in the same way we season our salad dressing with oregano. I bet her mother did it to her, and her mother did it to her mother before her. Every Italian mother of the past was doing it right, and every Italian mother of the present is totally fucking it up.

I’m sure I’ll guilt my son about other things, like “When are ya gonna get a job and move out of here?” But the guilt passed from Italian mother to daughter is as thick as lasagna.

In a way I’m sad to miss out on this important tradition of proving my superiority in all things motherly. But mostly I just want it to be known that Lucas doesn’t really need a train set. He’s already getting the best gift my parents could give him: they’ll be here to celebrate his birthday.

Italian Mother Guilt

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:

Christmas Cards
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.