Family Values Life & Style

3/25/2010 by Catherine Hutt United Kingdom

The importance of family life cannot be underestimated here in Italy. The family, for most of the population, is the crux around which Italians build their lives, a constant source of stability and strength in an unpredictable social, political and economic climate. So why, as soon as we venture a little further north to places like the UK, where I'm from, do we see a totally different attitude to family life, with four times as many divorces, and kids who barely see their parents from one week to the next?
To understand why Anglo-Saxons can often sound so cold in our attitude to family values, you need only to look at the culture in places such as the UK and how far it differs from the way of life here in Italy. Independence is encouraged from such a young age in the UK that teens rarely need to depend on their parents to teach them life's lessons, with strong careers advice, good sex education, and a large amount of social support being offered at most schools. Parents work long hours and because extended families are often separated by hundreds of miles, with no grandparents and very little 'tata' culture, from their early teens, people are often expected to make their own way home from school and probably prepare food and eat independently (only 64% of UK teens eat with their family on a regular basis compared to 93% of Italians!). Like in many other northern European countries, many leave home at 16-18 years old to begin work or to study. For those wishing to study it is usual to select a university in an other part of the country and selection is not simply based on which college may have the right course, but a desire to break free and form an identity and life separate from the family unit. Many Italians on the other hand are forced to move away from loved ones in order to find work elsewhere, returning home as often as possible.
However, while many people in the UK still go away to study, the last few years have seen a trend of returning to the family home for a period of a few months upon graduating, and using it as a place from which to gain employment, live with little or no rent and get a foot on the property and career ladders. But are people returning because of a desire to be close to their family, for convenience sake, or both? If indeed it is simply for convenience, they may not be so far from their Italian cousins after all; I have heard many of my Italian friends admit outright to just being 'pigri' and still living in the family home as a matter of convenience in a practical sense as well as a financial one, i.e., no cooking, no washing, no cleaning! Not so heart-warming after all! However it is not always the fault of the figli in question, rather the problem of clingy parents. In my work as a teacher, I have seen children here in Italy so stifled, spoiled, and controlled by their parents affection and attention that it is little wonder that years later they are still bedding down next to mum and dads room well past their thirtieth birthday. Did you know there is a even a word in existence 'Mammone', used to define the bond between mothers and their children? No surprise that there is no equivalent in the Oxford English dictionary! While it warms the heart to a certain extent, shouldn't some independence be encouraged?
Ultimately, its a question of personal choice, situation and values. No two families are the same anyway, wherever they come from. Perhaps Italy should adopt some of the independence of northern cultures, and perhaps places like the UK could benefit from Italy's strong family-focused culture, but ultimately the most important thing for all of us is to ensure we surround ourselves with people that we love!

Catherine Hutt United Kingdom

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