No Country For Weak Mothers

A journey into Italian motherhood.

A journey into Italian motherhood

What makes the holiday season so wonderful? Joy, good food (a lot of good food), hot drinks, and family. You want to visit them because that day you actually go down into memory lane. The smell and the color of the house are the same every time: even that super sour giardiniera (pickled vegetable relish) that your mom prepares every single year for the family is cozy. Even if you don’t really like it. We are a culture which is very family-focused. In fact it is one of our stereotypes, making family a very high priority which directs many decisions in life. But, are we? What does the country do for families and mothers? Well, it will be quite a ride, I promise. Hold a hot, cozy mug of mulled wine and enjoy the journey, from a 26-year old mother’s perspective.

Per fare un albero, ci vuole il legno

Let’s start from the very beginning. Imagine being a woman, and you discover you are pregnant. You decide to keep the child, for various reasons (this is not the right place to discuss them), and here your troublesome journey will start. And I am not talking about the hormonal one, but the practical one: from the motherhood agenda, where you will track your health status, to the mandatory maternity leave. As a mother, if you are working, you have the right to stay home for a total of 5 months (2 before the birth, 3 after it), your significant other will be able to help you for five days. What, less than a week isn’t enough? Well, he can actually “steal” your months, but you have to choose between suffering from insanity, abandoning your child or dying. I’m sure that these days will be fine. You will inform your employer that you are pregnant, and they will be so happy to hear it. At least, from a human perspective. From a business one, that news is not so nice. Probably they will have to hire someone else, which will cost the company.

The social burden

Because we are a family-centered culture, our businesses want to leave mothers with their children as much as possible. Preferably forever. Without having to pay for your cute baby, obviously. With the actual law, your employer can’t fire you from when you declare that you’re pregnant until the end of your leave, or, if your contract is for an indefinite amount of time, until your child’s first birthday. One of the most common problems is the forced resignation. It’s hard to actually estimate the exact scale of the problem since so many people don’t report that they felt forced to resign for many reasons. There are many ways to get someone to download the resignation form from the institutional website, which is mandatory for any kind of resignation. For example, the company can decide to relocate the worker far from the family or can decide to exasperate the person through bullying, especially from their boss. One of the most shocking incidents I read was this one from L’Espresso:

After the forced holidays, they wanted to fund it, despite the fact that her employer, an herbal product company, was focused on health: “They wanted me to resign and they tried to convince me that, with a child of a few months, I would be entitled to unemployment benefits.” Michela holds on but when she returns she finds herself alone in a small room: physically isolated from her colleagues, without a phone, computer or job. To make copies of copies.

Are we doing something?

Now, the laws in that sense don’t seem very encouraging, however, lately, the discussion is raising as never before. I believe that an equal family leave is necessary for an equal society. The fact that only mothers have the right to stay at home for months is, in my opinion, outrageously wrong. Doing so is harder for them to keep their jobs, or to maintain a higher salary (many women decide to change to a part-time job because of the pressure) and to be competitive on the market. Which leads to another big issue that I’ll touch on briefly: the lack of assistance. There are not enough public kindergartens and most of the time, families have to decide between an expensive private one (some can cost €600 per month) or to make a parent stay home to take care of the child, and usually, women do that. According to Istat, 38.3% of employed mothers — which accounts for more than one million — said they had made a change in their job situation, compared to just over half a million fathers (11.9%).

Now, are we family-focused or just blabbermouths?

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