1st scenario: “I am having a problem with my husband talking too much to his mother. We are over there all the time and he always takes her side. I would like it if he took my side for once.”
My Response: In the first line: “my husband is a mamma’s boy (and I don’t feel much seen as his partner)”, are we sure that is because of Italian versus American culture? What I see is a communication problem between these two. This is something that most of couples experience in their due course. My question then would be: how is it useful to you to think that the problem is the different culture? Because you can easily enough find out that often we tell ourselves stories in the order to avoid something painful otherwise hard to admit. What I pursue with all my strength and professional competencies with my patients is to assume our well being’s responsibility. Circumstances do not happen on their own. I do something to create my life’s circumstances. This opens up a huge scenario: the one where I can take account for my own happiness (and unhappiness).
2nd scenario: “I was out in the playground and I noticed the Italian kids were pushing their way in front of my child. I grew up teaching my child to wait his turn and not to shove other children. But in watching this I am struggling with telling him to wait his turn and stick up for himself.”
My Response: I understand it is hard to decide whether I want my son to kick everybody else’s ass or if I want him to stick on social good sense rules, but is it really up to me to decide? As parents we try very very hard to give our children the best tools we can to travel through life, and yet we cannot be held responsible for every choice they will make. If your child will ask for help, then we shall intervene, but how? Personally, I would like him to listen to his feelings and try to stand up for his sake in an assertive way (meaning possibly not fighting physically). Is this a good-for-everyone solution? I don’t think so, because being a parent has to do with ethics and ethics is really something very intimate and individually chosen. Again we have to cope with ourselves, with our beliefs and our emotional scars. We would never want our kid to suffer any of what we’ve been through, but I am sure that he’ll live, face and cope with his own difficulties, so in the end we are just love and tool dispenser (forgive me for this, it might sound a bit harsh). What I really want to say without being redundant, is that there is no recipe here, but to listen carefully to ourselves and look to create situations where to be comfortable. The matter in hands is not why, but how (what do I do give these circumstances?). And again we have possible perspectives opening up. I think that we have always a choice that doesn’t involve where we are from but what we do with it, for instance do I want to stick with the same people all my life, only because they’re expats and I am too? Or I want to choose by whom I’m surrounded?
3rd scenario: “I went into a store and was lost at trying to order a simple loaf of bread. This made me feel so out of place and stupid. I tried with the Italian I learned but it came out as if I was a child. The store manager was not very helpful and totally did not understand me. I do not want to go back in there again.”
My Response: What I feel when I read these lines is shame. I understand perfectly what it means to be in a foreign country and not having a clue. All the same I was thinking about who is feeling ashamed…is the problem the language or my ability to feel stupid? None of us want to seem stupid, ever. But we are limited as are our skills. I believe in human sympathy (and empathy), and that the first people who should benefit from it are…ourselves! We always lack of compassion and benevolence to our own fears and limits. What would we say to our child? “Never go back in there” or try again so you can learn. It is normal to take your time and experience to learn. If we are benevolent to ourselves and a bit sympathetic, it might be easier to ask for actual help, for instance at the store enter in smiling and start with a good morning in Italian, then proceed in mentioning how difficult it is learning Italian in the best Italian you have to offer, you might be surprised and even get credit that your Italian is not that bad
5th scenario: “I have been learning the Italian language to the best I can, but the vocabulary is just not there. I have been living 40 years and living here 6 years does not even come close. I try to interact with the other moms at my child’s school but they just turn their backs on me. How am I to be participating in my child’s schooling if I cannot even fit in with the other moms?”
My Response: Here I see something I feel too when I am facing a new group of people (not only as a therapist but also as a person). It is very hard to trespass our insecurities and our need to be accepted and seen. I think that each mom in this forum should underline every day, at some points, the bravery and strength that takes to be here. Whether you are here because your husband works for a big multinational and couldn’t refuse, or because you love cozy Florence, that’s what it takes. Again I compel you to be a little bit more benevolent toward yourself, and allow yourself to feel tired sometimes and feel lonely. Allowing yourself emotion is a good non chemical drug not to go into a sort of expat depression. What I am saying works for all emotions, also within the couple. Don’t rush putting everything under the carpet (I don’t know if it does make sense in English, in Italy we have this saying “mettere il sudicio sotto al tappeto, that means hiding stuff), because soon enough it’d be full. I believe it’ll do us all good if we let out our feelings without censoring them all the time in the name of our education.
Disclaimer: All information contained herein is the opinion and view of the writer. It is intended to provide helpful and informative material on the subjects addressed and is not meant to malign any organization, religion, ethnic group, or individual. Readers should consult their personal specialists before adopting any of the recommendations or drawing inference from information contained herein. The writer specifically disclaims all responsibility for any liability, loss, risk — personal or otherwise — incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, from the use and application of any material provided.