If you grew up in an Italian household, chances are you have a lot of stories. And there’s also a good chance that you survived the wooden spoon. Now I’m not saying that everyone who is Italian is a wooden spoon survivor, but the ones that know, well they know.
At any point in my childhood if my mother was angry, she would put her fist in her mouth and bite down. This was my signal to run. If she flared her nostrils while glaring at me, I was running. The same went for my father. If he was in a bad mood, I knew to make myself scarce. Now maybe this isn’t funny to some people. Maybe some are shocked by this revelation. But my cousins and I would all share the same stories and laugh. We knew not to mess with our parents. All jokes aside, I knew to respect and fear my parents all at the same time. I knew not to talk back and I knew I had to follow the rules. Looking back on how I was raised makes me often wonder about how I’m raising my own kids. It makes me think about my approach to my children and how different it is in so many ways from my parents’ approach. There are some similarities, because I truly valued my upbringing, and I plan on always keeping these memories alive with my kids. For example, my parents loved to laugh. They never took anything too seriously. We poked fun at each other and were always playful. My parents also loved to dance. They were always the life of the party. They also valued family. Family was everything. Sunday dinner was a must and it was the best way to spend time with aunts, uncles and cousins. We ate delicious homemade pasta and it was definitely a competition on who could talk the loudest at the dinner table.
But there are just some things where the cycle needs to be broken.
My parents were young. They raised me the best way they could. My father worked day and night and was rarely home. But he had his own business and needed to work. He was an amazing provider. Was he able to coach little league? No. Was he available to chat when I needed a heart to heart? Again, no. But did he love me so much that he worked 18 hour days, yes. That’s how he showed us love. By being able to move us out of the city into a beautiful home in the suburbs. My mom was a typical Italian mom who loved us with her whole heart. She was very protective of us, cooked delicious meals, dressed us like little dolls, and made sure we were happy. She also made sure we loved Jesus, got to play sports, danced and learned how to swim at the local gym. She also had the greatest collection of 80’s pumps that my friends and I would wear around the house.
But when my parents got angry, they yelled. It’s not easy raising three kids, and I get it. I’m not judging them because I know exactly how hard and stressful it can be. But I’ve asked myself many times how could I break the cycle? How can I talk through things with my kids? How can I learn to communicate effectively without yelling? Now don’t get me wrong, there are times when I yell. I don’t bite my fist and I don’t grab a wooden spoon. But my frustration level can be so high that I find myself yelling. It’s usually, “Get in the car! We have to go!” Trying to get three kids in the car when you have limited time can make anyone lose their mind. And God forbid you forget the water bottles and extra diapers! I realized that my rage in the moment was my anxiety. My anxiety of trying to handle life as a mom of three. Unfortunately, my anxiety could manifest as rage. I also noticed that my life was sensory overload on maximum…I’ll tackle that another time.
But then, I had a turning point. One time I was so frustrated by my little one, who is known to be mischievous at times, that I just screamed, “Stoppppp itttttt!” as loud as I could. I noticed my middle guy Johnny, who is 5, covered both his ears with his hands and closed his eyes. I knew in that moment that I needed to find a better way. He was definitely feeling that fear. The fear I knew all too well growing up. The fear of my parents screaming. My mom guilt was in full swing. I wanted to cry. I hated myself in that moment. I hated who I was. After I calmed down later that night, I thought more about what happened. I realized that I needed to give myself some grace. I’m human. There are times that I’m going to lose my cool and I may yell. And there are times when I’m going to be better than that and be able to regulate my emotions in the moment.
I often wonder how other people grew up. I wonder if they carry trauma. I wonder if they parent the same exact way as their parents did. My parents taught me to work hard, to take care of your family, to be a good friend, to do well in school and to always make decisions that you can be proud of. However, they didn’t teach me to communicate effectively. I spent the majority of my childhood and teenage years being the shy kid, the quiet one, the girl who blended in. They never taught me to have a voice. They didn’t know how badly I was longing for one.
When it comes to my daughter, I talk to her every chance I get. She and I share our days, what made us happy and what made us sad. We are very real with each other. We laugh about everything and tease each other in a playful way. She’s comfortable with me and I love that she feels safe with me in order to share her thoughts and feelings. I’m proud that I decided I wanted a different approach with my family. I’m proud that I’ve worked hard making a change. I’m not perfect and never will be, but I’m present and always trying to improve. And my wooden spoon will always stay in my kitchen right next to the sauce pots.