Mozzarella Mamma versus Tiger Mother

Mammas on a Rome Street. Photo by Chiara Piga, Age 11

According to author Amy Chua in her “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” there are 7 points which distinguish a Chinese mother from a “typical Western overscheduling soccer mom.”

Instead, I would like to contrast these 7 points with how I see the warmth and coddling of the Italian “Mozzarella Mamma”. I suppose if I had to write a book dedicated to the “Mozzarella Mamma”, it would be called, “The Life-Long Lullaby of the Mozzarella Mamma.”

So here goes:

Quoting Amy Chua:  “the Chinese mother believes that

(1) schoolwork always comes first;”

In sharp contrast: A Mozzarella Mamma regularly goes to the school to complain to the teachers (elementary through high-school) that they are giving out too much homework to their precious mozzarellas.

Quoting Amy Chua:  “the Chinese mother believes that

(2) an A-minus grade is a bad grade;”

In sharp contrast: A Mozzarella Mamma always gets a present for her child after he or she gets a “good” report card. It could be a bike in elementary school and an ipod or a cellphone in junior high and a moped in high-school. I have noticed that Mozzarella Mammas also have a rather flexible definition of “good”. My friend Adele described how her husband, and mother-in-law applauded her son for a report card that had just-barely-passing grades in all subjects. I have had great difficulty explaining to my three Italian-American children that they would not be getting any report card presents because good grades are already a reward for hard work.

Quoting Amy Chua:  “the Chinese mother believes that

(3) your children must be two years ahead of their classmates in math;”

In sharp contrast: I never heard of a Mozzarella Mamma pushing her child to be better than others in math. That said, I do have Mamma friends who have spent hours studying Latin and Greek to help their children through the difficult “Liceo Classico”, or have studied Dante in depth with their children.

Quoting Amy Chua:  “the Chinese mother believes that

(4) you must never compliment your children in public;”

In sharp contrast: I have always been amused by the way Italians, and particularly Mammas, go max-total, all out on compliments starting with newborns. The Italian language helps. All you have to do is add an “iss” – so if a baby is bello (beautiful), he will be constantly told by his Mamma, and plenty of others, that he is “bellissimo”, and for each little accomplishment he won’t just be bravo, he will be “bravissimo”. Giving compliments to your children in public is not a problem, you will often hear parents saying “bravissimo amore” to their little ones.

Quoting Amy Chua:  “the Chinese mother believes that

(5) if your child ever disagrees with a teacher or coach, you must always take the side of the teacher or coach.”

In sharp contrast: In Italy, it is just the opposite. Parents harangue teachers and coaches who they think aren’t giving their child a fair chance. I was struck by a recent newspaper article (Summer 2011) in which a couple were suing a public school for failing their six-year-old daughter, Assunta, in first grade. The teachers said that they had given several warnings to the parents, starting from the first months of the school year, but the parents did not want to hear that their bellissima, bravissima daughter might be having some difficulties at school.

Quoting Amy Chua:  “the Chinese mother believes that

(6) the only activities your children should be permitted to do are those in which they can eventually win a medal”

In sharp contrast: Italians do not put a top priority on winning and medals. In all the activities my children have participated in, there have been medals for all the “bravissimi, bellissimi” participants.

Quoting Amy Chua:  “the Chinese mother believes

(7) that medal must be gold.”

In sharp contrast: A Mozzarella Mamma would be thrilled if her child got a gold medal, but for his mamma, he always deserves gold.  But more important than medals is that he is home in time for the pasta and doesn’t get a fever.

(See Fevers – Measure Away Mamma)


7 thoughts on “Mozzarella Mamma versus Tiger Mother”

  1. My English sensibilities were deeply affronted when I came to live in Turkey; I mean, parents letting their kids run wild and loose could only lead to an anti-social monster plaguing everyone around, couldn’t it? When I mumbled about it I was told that life was hard enough anyway and we should let the kids be kids as they’d have to grow up soon enough. Funny thing is, to my utter amazement, they always seem to develop into charming, decent respectful young adults who are a pleasure to be around. Hmmmmmm!

    1. Interesting point Alan. Maybe it is the Mediterranean culture. I would agree that Italian children, who have often been spoiled, frequently grow up to be, as you say, “charming adults who are a pleasure to be around”. And perhaps the children of Chinese Tiger Mothers or Ambitious American Mothers turn their kids into driven, stressed-out, over-wrought, super-achievers. Who knows? I do know being a mother is the hardest job I’ve ever done, and it is impossible to get it right.

  2. As a daughter of 100% Italian Mozzarella Parents I’ll have to say this: god bless parents who brag about their children all the time! Bravo! :-)

  3. Fascinating, Trisha. The current debate in these parts of the world re: parenting appears to be that we offer too much in the way of bravissima and bellissima in Yankee verbiage form – that kids need to learn the tough lessons, to know that they will not just get an award for participating, etc. Your post has unleashed a nature vs. nurture debate here at our table. My vote is on culture all the way.

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