While chatting with my daughter A. in the garden, I shared a story with her about our next door girl. I watched an abusive event a couple of days ago. The window of my studio overlooks the garden and the front door of my neighbors. This event is a story out of many that I witnessed during my stay in Italy over the last 5 years. The vicious face of “la mama” within families and parenting in general within traditional Italian society. Maybe one has to be an out stander of Italian tradition and upbringing to see and point out when discipline and parental love are nothing more than abuse.
I looked up while working in my studio, when I heard the click of the front door of my neighbor’s house. My neighbor left the house, seemingly hasty, with a letter and car keys in her hands. While this tall skinny lady swirled like a light feather down her stairs, the front door closed with a bang. She turned around and fire was coming from her eyes. She went up the stairs again, however this time she climbed it in a rude and male way. With one turn of the key she opened the front door on a crack and screamed through the crack at her daughter. The 11 year old daughter and only child, was alone in the house.The mom, my neighbor, yelled at her child that she wasn’t allowed to slam the door. The rest of the screaming I wasn’t able to decode, but it was certainly not a nice chat between mother and daughter. My neighbor closed softly the front door again and left the house on her way to her car. Through the small, but tall window next to the front door, I saw the little girl standing with her head down and arms hanging beside her body, attached to the glass for several minutes. Eventually she moved herself back into the living room. These rage attacks of her mom are common and sometimes more than one at a day. To me this is abuse, for Italians in general this is normal life. The “mama” is the boss within the house and rules with a firm hand, no one is allowed to argue with that.
I asked A. for her perspective on this event and she confirmed that this is indeed “normal” behaviour for our neighbor. Where my other neighbor, a lady from Albania, goes into possessive anger, the anger of the Italian “mama” has always been in this vicious way. So in fact nothing new, although within the light of our current world, possession is only 1 step further. 1 Back chat too much and Italian “mama’s” are feed for journalists and tv-shows. Even murder is only 1 back chat away. Abusing your child and emotionally scarfing them for life is unacceptable. What living example are you as a mother when you rule with the tool of fear? How can we expect these girls to be different from their mothers when their only experience is one of being hit and yelled at? When is Italy going to step out of their traditions that clearly do more harm than good?
Then A. told me about last Sunday when she went rock climbing with 2 girls and their dad. She had not yet spoken about it. When I asked how the climbing had been she only told me about her climbing results. The dad of the girls had been quite abusive in his language towards the daughters. He presumed them as lazy and bad climbers, while they’re absolutely not. Climbing is this dad’s passion and how such things go within families, the children are exposed to it and join in. These girls are teenagers and it wouldn’t be a surprise if they rather stay in bed than hanging from a cliff at 8:30 on Sunday morning. The attitude of this man towards his daughters had left such an impression on A. that she had tears in her eyes while speaking about it. How can a dad be so mean, she asked. Frustration I said, this dad wants his kids to be even better than than he is. It’s only an idea, a picture in his mind and when reality does not meet with his fantasy he gets pissed. And being pissed at his kids as an Italian dad seems to us like abuse. I even dare to say that it is abuse, because the equality equation cannot be made within most of these kind of incidents.
When you look at the reactions of Italian kids you know that it is abuse. I once saw pure fear in the eyes of a girlfriend of A. She and A. had been playing outside in the rain and were completely wet. To me no problem, change clothes and the issue is solved. This girl however feared the hands of her mother so much that she went into a total panic attack. She could reassure us that she was going to be hit by her mom for being wet and even a little bit dirty. At first we couldn’t believe her, but it didn’t take long for us to find out that it was exactly as the girl had told us.
Recently I read some stories written by an Italian lady where she tells how her mother would hit her in the face. At home or in front of people and only to release her frustrations. She pointed it out as typical Italian behaviour, for a mom it’s her right to do so. Maybe this behaviour occurs also in other Southern European countries or Latin countries that have a matriarch system. I have no idea, my experience is within the Italian culture and that’s my only starting point for sharing these stories.
For me this point of aggressive verbal and physical abuse is quite a difficult point to cope with. I simply cannot allow or accept any form of abuse, though when this point is discussed the players of the game do not understand what I’m talking about. That’s how it is and that’s how we do it, they say. It’s the always the same and repeating answer on my question. Abusive behaviour by parents isn’t exclusively for Italians, but Italian culture allows abuse to be in their midst. Humanity will not be killed by mysterious elite groups, humanity will distinct by their own doing if they do not change. Denying abuse for what it is, is denying our own dark side, which doesn’t make it go away. Abuse is abuse and therefore unacceptable.