I have always admired the way Italian families socialize and live. When I was working in Toronto, as a childless, working class manager, I often noticed the “Starbucks Mommies”, as I called them. Almost all were fairly young (under 45 is young for me!), first time moms who would come either alone or in pairs to have a coffee in the Starbucks. I remember once getting into a conversation with one of them about why she came to Starbucks, she said it was a way for her to stay social while on mat leave, get out of the house daily and grab a coffee in a nice environment with couches and enough room for a stroller. Even though she would arrange to meet another mom for coffee, if her “date” bailed at least she could still grab a cup, use the wifi and hang out.
I know there are more opportunities for stay at home moms, or moms on mat leave to socialize in North America, however, I think what is missing is a relaxed social meeting point without a “mommy and me” class tied to it. It’s great to go to a mom and me yoga class, painting class, museum date etc., but sometimes you just want to head out of the house, go somewhere and just meet by chance.
For a country with such a low birthrate, Italian kids are literally everywhere. Go to a restaurant any day of the week and there will be kids! Grab an aperitivo and there will be kids! Go for a post-dinner cocktail and there will be kids!
Italian parents don’t create socialization problems for themselves, they see their kids as an extension of themselves and so they accompany them everywhere.
New Mom Aperitivo Style in Cesenatico
While in Cesenatico, a small historical port town on the Adriatic Coast in Emilia Romagna, I passed a “bar” and noticed this new mom.
She was sitting there alone, having her cocktail and looking absolutely fabulous. It was aperitivo time in Italy, between the hours of 6 and 8 pm, when people usually go for a drink and snack before they head out for dinner. She is from Cesenatico and didn’t have any plans to meet anyone that evening, but she knew there would be a good chance of running into someone since this was where they often go.
This was her hangout before she had a baby, and now at 4 months postpartum this is still her hangout. What changed? Nothing. Instead of changing her social habits she kept them, so instead of removing herself from her group of friends she is still a part of them.
Does this mean she can do everything she used to do before having a baby? No. It just means that if she wants to dress-up and go for a drink she can, without feeling inappropriate and unwelcome.
What She Wore
This new mom was looking so incredible!! This is what I ‘m talking about when I say that Italians never seem to buy into excuses that they can’t find time to dress up and look nice even as new moms. They just do!
Makeup, painted nails, already back in shape with perfect hair….in Italy at 5 months postpartum most women look as though they never even had a baby! They keep the bar raised and make parenthood that much more difficult for we North American folk who find ourselves here and hoping to stay in yoga pants for two years !
She wore a leather jacket, leopard printed dress and those big chunky black sandal shoes that are so incredibly popular everywhere.
The North American Social Dilemma
This TED TALK by James Howard Kunstler, really had me thinking about why I was unhappy in North America. In Canada there is such a negative connotation attached to “socialization”.
Teenagers “party”, university and college students “party”, singles “party” … and married couples? Couples with kids? What are they supposed to do? BBQ?
It’s as though as soon as you hit a certain age or stage in your life, you social experiences become restricted to things you do at home and not in a public space. In Italy this doesn’t happen. Sure you are welcome to have a BBQ, however, you are also welcome to go for a walk at 9 pm and meet in the Piazza for a beer while your kids run around together.
I’ve often heard Canadian ask “what’s with Italians letting their kids go crazy?” !! That must be exactly what people think! But it’s not about letting their kids go crazy, it’s about not socially punishing the parents. These kids grow up in all kinds of social situations and learn right from the get go, how to hangout, how to enjoy company and not be “bored” and that “date night” can happen, even with the kids around!
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this and….
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