Growing up Italian. Now and Then

Sansone knows he can be open and honest about his social life, education and career goals with his mother, Mary Rao, and that the lines of communication and freedoms he’s had as a teen are different than her experience growing up with Italian parents that immigrated to Canada from Calabria in the early 1950s.

“My mom would tell me she couldn’t go out much with friends or do after school activities because her parents would not allow her,” says Sansone, a first-year culinary management student at George Brown College. “I definitely have more freedoms than she had.”

Rao, 58, grew up in Toronto’s Bloor and Lansdowne area in the 1960s. She remembers the time she couldn’t go see Mary Poppins at the movies with her friends in the neighbourhood because she had to do chores with her older brother and sister. “Most of my friends that lived nearby were Irish and Scottish, and their parents were not as strict about chores or being with friends,” says Rao.

“I was the one who wasn’t allowed to stay outside as long or have friends over or go swimming and to the park. If I didn’t do my chores or come home when I was supposed to I would get in trouble.”

Cultural values and beliefs still shape parenting trends just as much as they did 50 years ago, and it seems today’s generation of Italian youth experience a similar upbringing recalled by Italian immigrant children.

A 2010 study comparing parenting styles of Canadian, Italian and French families in the Journal of Adolescence found that Italian mothers and fathers are perceived as using more constraining practices, while Canadian parents had less rules and were found to be most tolerant. “Italian parents are seen as more demanding in rules and authorizations.

They take more punitive actions when rules are broken and are less tolerant of peer socialization,” says Michel Claes, a University of Montreal psychology professor and co-author of the study. “They uphold family regulations and require their adolescents to ask for authorizations until a much later age.” So where do second and third generation Italian-Canadian mothers and fathers lie on the parenting practices spectrum today?

Salvatore Bancheri, chair of the department of Italian Studies at the University of Toronto, says many Italian immigrants brought their small town upbringing and mentality with them when they came to Canada. “They arrived in a Canadian society that was much more open and evolving to the idea of family, but generally the ideas and perspectives of how to raise their children remained the same.”

As an adult Rao says she began to understand how these social and cultural circumstances shaped her parents’ ideas. “Coming to a big city like Toronto from a small Italian town was a lot to take in, and it was hard for many immigrant parents to accept the new culture and reflect that in their parenting,” she says. “Keeping a closeknit family was everything, and socializing with friends didn’t seem that important.”

Rao believes the experiences of second-generation children such as herself have influenced how Italian-Canadian parents choose to raise the next generation. “As a parent I want to let my son experience things rather than be controlling and then find out he had lied. I think most of my generation has more of an open dialogue with their kids, and the children know they are fortunate to have freedom to talk to us and ask for help.”

Priorities and values may continue to change for future generations of Italian- Canadian parents, but Bancheri says one thing will always remain constant. “No matter what, as parents, we will always be trying to do the best for our children.”

written by Daniela DiStefano