Of myths and Italian families

Comparing the changing norms of Europe’s modern families

Joelle Edwards
March 29, 2012

Thirty-eight minutes a day, and not a minute more, is the time Italian fathers spend with their children and look after the home, earning them the rank as the worst dads in Europe, according to a recent study conducted by P&G and Social Issues Research Centre. The good news is that today's Italian men are more present on the domestic scene than the previous generation. However it is still the women of the family who manage the household and juggle the needs of children, work and elderly parents. Indeed, the average Italian mother has only 41 minutes of free time each day.



Joining the Italian men at the bottom of the class for Europe are the French fathers, who also manage just over half an hour of family time per day. The study reveals the model male partners ready to do the washing, help with the kids' homework and read bedtime stories are northern European men. The Danes clock in at 64 minutes of family time per day. Surprisingly, Greek men also spend just over an hour each day with their little ones, compared to the five hours a week that Spanish and German fathers dedicate to children and chores.


The free time mothers might have for themselves each day varies. Women from European countries with the most serious economic problems have the least time to themselves: only 29 minutes of free time in Portugal for example, compared to 69 minutes per day in Finland. Just behind the Italian mothers with their average of 41 minutes per day, are Spain and Greece with 39 minutes. However, 41 percent of the women surveyed claim to have more free time than their own mothers. But two percent say they have the same amount of free time their mothers did and 36 percent feel they have even less time than did the previous generation.


This previous generation still plays an important role in today's family life. Eighty-one percent of the women said they turn to other mothers for advice when problems arise in the home; 44 percent to their own mothers (who could imagine raising Italian children in particular without the ever-present role of the Italian grandmother or mother-in-law?); and 37 percent to fellow mothers. Only 32 percent said that they turn first to their partner or spouse for help, while 8 percent prefer advice offered by social network sites on the Internet, the study reveals.



What do the women say?

Of the 10,000 women from the 13 different European countries interviewed for the study encouraged to spill the beans on their partners, the English mums were happily flying the flag for their men, with 98 percent declaring that they are the best at helping with the children and in the home-a statistic that challenges the Italian stereotype of the typical British man spending a good few hours tending to several pints of beer in the local pub with work colleagues before arriving home expecting a hot plate of ‘meat and two veg.' For example: ‘He's actually very good with the kids,' said Lucy from London, ‘and three times a week has the meal ready for the whole family when I come home from work.'


When asked if they think the study's findings are a fair portrayal of their other halves, Italian mothers in Florence gave varied responses. Andrea, a married working mother with a teenage daughter asked, ‘And where exactly are these 38 minutes?' Carlotta, however, didn't agree: ‘I think that's a bit harsh. There are also the different paternity rights in Europe that play a part here. My husband works in Rome during the week, but when he is at home he totally pulls his weight with our son and the housework. I remember my own father hardly doing a thing!' She adds, ‘Women in Italy have always been the central figure of the family, and bringing up children would be pretty impossible without the help of our own mothers. As to my free time per day, this normally starts after 9pm in the evening ... and I'm lucky if I stay awake for 41 minutes!'


And what do English mums in Italy have to say about their Italian partners? 'He's certainly amazing on an Italian scale (I keenly observe other households and count myself fortunate). He cleans, washes and wipes dishes, floors and children's gloopy messes to hygienic perfection and knocks off work early on a regular basis for nursery school pick-ups etc. And packs the dishwasher brilliantly. And runs a mean wash through the machine. Can't sew to save his life though!' says long-term Florence expat, Suzi Jenkins.



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