In today’s blog I wanted to talk more about home. Home is many things to each of us.
As a therapist I hear a lot of parents talk about their children leaving home. Most parents I encounter are anxious for their children to emancipate and leave home once they graduate from high school. Parents worry and think they must have somehow failed if their children “fail to launch” or seem unable to “leave the nest.”
I wonder sometimes about the premise upon which leaving home is based.
Home is a lot more important than many people may initially think. Sometimes folks think that home is all tied up in the issues we had with our parents. Home is where we began. It is a physical, emotional, psychological, metaphorical, spiritual, and a visual place; home is a place of dreams, imagination, and hopes. Home can be felt, seen, experienced by smell and sound, and it is an idea.
I lived in Mexico for a period of time and noticed how different the Mexican culture is around the concern of leaving home. It is customary to stay at home until you marry. This is true for both males and females. It is also customary to live at home after you are married in order to save money to either buy or rent a home. It is common to move back home with a spouse and kids in tow if you fall into unfortunate circumstances financially or otherwise.
I found myself feeling that the family infrastructure was more supportive and extensive. There were many built-in safeguards for each family member. The country of Mexico is still considered a developing country. As such, the social interface found in the United States in terms of welfare, public assistance programs, social security, financial assistance, and taxation are all in the process of further development within the country of Mexico. It may be that the family in Mexico still remains the main unit of strength. People take care of their own because there is no one else offering assistance. Family is the corner stone of the country. [There are exceptions to this shown in some recent research.]
In Italy there is a term for the male who chooses to continue to live at home. Often these males are full adults in their twenties, thirties, and even forties. They are usually single, but some may be married. They are often financially independent, but choose to live at home for the comforts and support that are seen as a part of living at home. This is fondly referred to in Italy as Mammoni.
North Americans sometimes make jokes about the Mammoni, who are often referred as the ultimate mama’s boys. Italy is like Mexico in terms of the cultural orientation around family. Generally speaking, Italians don’t leave home until they marry. If they never marry, it is fine to never leave the nest.
So why do North Americans urge, push, shove, and often insist that their children move out at the young age of eighteen?
Sociologists comment on the difference in our history versus European or Mexican history. The United States fosters the idea of independence whereas other countries often foster the idea of interdependence or the group being more important than the individual. In the United States we value individualism and a person achieving things all on their own. Think of some of the sayings such as A Self Made Millionaire or Self-Made Man or Independent Woman or even the Renaissance Man with so many talents and interests. In the United States there is prestige in making it on your own. This is not true in other countries.
In many countries other than the United States the individual is important, but the group is more important. In therapy when working with Mexican Nationals I often encounter the dynamic of indecisiveness. Young people tell me that they don’t like to make decisions without including the process of conferring with family. This can be concerning matters large or small. This is an appropriate cultural consideration.
The United States is a very young country without a long history of centuries of struggle, warfare, over-thrown governments, and plagues that decimated millions of human beings. In Italy they have lived through many governments, many wars, and much poverty. Their base is that of an agricultural society and with agriculture comes the need for farms and ranches and people to run them. Entire families worked together on farms producing grapes, tomatoes, olives, and wheat. The family depended on each other and they stayed together.
The same is true in the history of Mexico following the conquest by Spain and Hernan Cortes. When Cortes came ashore in Mexico and wars eventually broke up the existing indigenous native people, interbreeding between the Spaniards and Native Indians took place. Haciendas were formed where the native people and their mixed-blood offspring would work together on large tracts of land. In time the Hacienda system would give way to the Rancho system and the Ejidio. All of these tracts of land housed dozens or hundreds of families who worked for small wages. The profit went to the land owners. The families became exceedingly tight and this continues to this day.
The United States quickly developed and when it developed it went from an agrarian nation to one of industry and technology in a short time. Is it possible that an unintended consequence of all this rapid development would negatively impact the family and the nature of family? Could this be one of the things that encourages families to move their children out by age eighteen? Could this be what is behind emancipating sixteen-year-olds when they become too problematic?
I find it interesting that we can have Mammoni, these big men who feel safe in their masculinity living at home and enjoying mama’s cooking and then we have families pushing out sixteen or seventeen-year-olds. For me it raises some questions about family. After all, home is the place of security and the place we can keep returning to. Perhaps families need to re-examine where some of their values and beliefs are coming from.
Chime in on what you think.
Nanette Burton Mongelluzzo, PhD
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Last reviewed: 31 Mar 2012