By January 27, 2011 1 Comments Read More →

Parenting in Italy

Parenting While Abroad is always looking for people who can provide perspective on raising children in a different country. Today we are pleased to post a Q&A from an American woman who lives near Venice. She prefers to remain anonymous, but has excellent tips for parents who are considering a move to Italy. She is connected to a US military base, but they not members of the military. She is an active member of her local community and has two children, ages 2 and 4.

Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed, I am sure you have lots of excellent advice for families considering a move to Italy.

I am happy to help, you’re website looks like it has some helpful information and I am happy to have found the resource.

Do you live on a military base?

We do not live on base — in fact, very few of the families do.  Most live “on the community” in different places, wherever they find a place

How easy was it for you to adjust to life in Italy?

It was not bad at all — it was our second international move with children.  We lived in Japan before this, and in comparison, Italy has been a breeze (though Japan was wonderful!  I’d move back there in a heartbeat). We have had an easy experience, however, in great part because of our attachment to a US military base.  They provide assistance and Italian and English speaking people to help with the apartment search, setting up utilities, etc.  The little that we’ve had to do on our own was more challenging – getting services set up is a real challenge, and can take a long time.  Other than the basics, we’ve found italy to be very easy to live in. The people have been so friendly, and even though we live in non-touristy area and few people speak English, they’ve been very patient with my attempts to speak Italian.

What were the biggest challenges?

Probably the same challenges any parent has, just compounded.  For example, choosing a pre-school for my 4 year old has been hard.  In the States I would have researched the heck out of every school, visited it a million times, etc.  I’ve done that to an extent here, but it is so much harder when your language skills are limited.  My Italian has improved a lot since we first got here, and I am conversant, but flounder with questions like “what are your discipline methods” and the like.  Finally I had to come to the conclusion that what I want out of this experience for my son is pretty basic, so I needed to take a deep breath and go with the flow.

What is the best thing about life in Italy?

I love that we are able to travel as much as we do – we go somewhere every weekend, even if it is just 30 minutes away. We do a “big” trip about once a month, and my boys are so flexible as a result. They play “hotel” a lot, and are eager and interested in trying new things, new foods, and trying out new words. Plus, they know the capital of Slovenia, how to order gelato, and all sorts of fun random things.

What is the most difficult thing to adjust to?

I’d say getting a handle on the business hours.  Things are closed from 1-3 (which is fine since my kids nap) but also generally not open until 10 am.  Playgrounds are also closed from 1-3 (again, fine now). Also, we still live in a more traditional area, where you buy different things at different stores, so it can make running errands a challenge. However, once again, it is all about perspective.

Additionally, discussing hours, with my husband’s work hours being typically American (7:30-4:30 or 5) we’ve also kept American children hours — they get up at 6 a.m. and are in bed by 7:30 or 8 p.m. at the latest.  It can make it challenging to get things done or to meet up with Italian families, especially in the evening. Most Italian children we know eat dinner closer to 7 or 8 p.m. and go to bed around 10 p.m.. I will be interested to see how it works out next year as Italian preschool runs from 8:30-4:30 every day!

What are the pros and cons of raising children there?

The cons:  for better or worse, in general Italian parents have a very permissive attitude towards raising kids.  My boys have several Italian kid friends.  Most are only children, and are allowed to basically do as they please. For example, when we have a play date at one friend’s home, she frequently requests toys the boys are playing with, and the mom, rather than telling her to share, tells my boys to give it to her — very nicely, but also there is limited discipline with yelling, tantrums, etc.  I know Italian parents who’ve not left the house on the weekends in months because their 2 year old tells them they don’t want to go out, and so the parents will yield and cancel plans they might have had.

The pros: On the flip side, the Italian culture is very open and loving towards children. Everywhere we go people speak to my boys, pat their heads, offer lollypops (at cafes and restaurants), make room for them, and assume they are going to be part of day to day life. Also, the permissive attitude is coupled with a real awareness of people and making them happy. I’ve yet to meet an Italian child who does not say hello when spoken to and engage adults.  It is a great example for my boys and a good lesson to me to balance out the typical American tendencies towards disciple with a more relaxed attitude.


How are the public schools? Would you recommend them or do you think expat children should attend a private international school?

I can’t say much about the above-preschool level, though I do have good friends who send their kids to public elementary school and have only wonderful things to say about it. We have access to the DOD (Department of Defense) school system for K-12. For preschool, I’d say you can’t beat the Italian school system.  The hours are a bit long for my taste — as I mentioned, my eldest will be expected to go from 8:30 – 4:30 every day – but there is an option to pick the kids up after lunch that I will probably take again this year. The style in the preschool we’ll be attending is focused a lot on play, which I appreciate. and great care is given to making sure the experience is a good one.  My eldest attended Asilo (a bilingual child care center) this fall (we removed him from school as we were traveling – A LOT – and it was really disruptive to him and the school. We’ll try again this fall) and I was in awe at the lunches they provided. We’re just starting to talk about school food in the US, while in Italy they provide the kids with beautiful, wholesome meals. As a result, my eldest doesn’t like things like Mac and Cheese, requests squid, eats fish with great pleasure, and is a big veggie eater.  He is really aware of eating balanced meals and the example provided him is a great one.

How easy is it to integrate? Are Italians accepting of foreigners and is it easy to make friends?

I’ve been so pleased and grateful at how open Italian families have been.  We make new friends every time we go to the playground. I know partially it has been the novelty of having an American family in the neighborhood, but at the same time, people have been so friendly and open. We’ve been invited into peoples’ home and lives, play with their kids, our neighbors drop off fruit from their trees, wine from their vineyards, and we live in the “city.”  I know so many friends, especially moms whose husbands have been deployed, who’ve been adopted by older couples in their neighborhood who become like grandparents.  I think it of course has a lot to do with your own willingness to be open and to learn some Italian! But I can say enough [about the hospitality of the Italians], especially in this area of Italy (northeast).

Is there anything you want to say about raising children in Italy?

Give it a try if you can.  It has been and continues to be a wonderful experience.

Posted in: Culture, For Moms

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1 Comment on "Parenting in Italy"

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  1. LR says:

    Actually, Italians are very authoritarian when it comes to raising kids. Kids who commit offenses face harsh punishment from the parents.

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