The Family that Pays Together

Stays Together…

Isn’t that how the saying goes???

Well, ok, not exactly, but I am wondering if there is some Italian variation on this.

What am I talking about?

Without divulging any names (or too much information) there is a small phenomenon (at least in my eyes) going on around Calabria. I am not sure if it is limited to our poor, desolate part of the country, or if I am just surrounded by some of the most giving people in the world.

Case #1:

There is guy we know who has a brother getting married this year. The brother and future sis-in-law want to have the Calabrese wedding of their dreams. As you may – or may not – have heard, this means BIG. The problem is lil bro and futura sis can’t afford the wedding themselves. So, our friend, who had been saving his centisimi for a new house, is helping out. What a nice thing to do, right? Of course, if you have a great job, paying thousands of euro a month – it would be nice to help out a brother in need. This is the not the case. In order to be his brother’s keeper, our friend is forgoing dinners out with his friends, skimping on important things he needs, and is passing on a trip to his best friend’s wedding in Naples (that has been planned for almost two years.)

Case #2:

Let’s say…some people we know…have a kid brother who yearned to go to college in the capital city. Instead of moving to bella Roma, finding a small job to help pay expenses, and working himself through school, his family has decided to pay. That is ok! A lot of kiddos do this in the states. What is the problem? The “problem” (which evidently isn’t a problem for them, but makes me raise an eyebrow) is that it isn’t only Mom and Dad who are sending money. Big Brother and Older Sister, again who DO NOT have even what could be considered decent-paying jobs, are footing the bill.

I know some of you are reading this thinking I must be the most selfish person in Catanzaro (I mean, I feel that way even writing this.) I certainly don’t mean to JUDGE family ties or loyalties. But, I don’t know many siblings back home who would or have made the same sacrifices for their families. And, I am not sure what I think about this.

On one hand, it is an overtly selfless act. What could be more noble than helping a sibling in need…sacrificing your own pleasure for another person?

But, where is the expectation coming from? Is it personal pressure to help…does it come from Mom or Dad…or is it requested by the sibling himself? In a region as barren as Calabria, how can a person, not only make ends meet, but actually get ahead?

That is the question on my mind…

13 Responses
  1. Giulia

    My husband (along with his siblings)grew up bringing his paychecks to his parents. He would get his “weekly allowance” and the rest was put away, for him, and for household items. When his Brother got married, money that my husband had made was used to marry the Brother. When we got married, no one (of the siblings) chipped towards our wedding. I felt screwed! I have never warmed up to this type of thing. I feel that one should work and use their own money to pay for their own stuff! But, that’s the American in me and how I saw things growing up. Maybe if I grew up here I would feel differently? But, I guess I’ll never know!

  2. Texas Espresso

    There seems to be those type of expectations all over Italy. Of course, salaries absolutely suck over there. I don’t particularly have a problem with siblings helping out per se… however, I think it is RIDICULOUS, that the brother going to school cannot find a job to pitch in. My parents helped me in college but i also worked! And it is UNBELIEVABLE to me that in Guilia’s case, they did not get the same treatment.

    I don’t mean to make general statements but it does seem to me Italians just take that kind of thing for granted. How many “kids” my age do I see whose parents still do their laundry or housework for them while they just do as they please. Married or not, this seems to be the case. and I think it is wrong. I’m sure it is very American of me but I think if you are an adult, you should do what you can for your aging parents or to save the money you need. Your parents/siblings should not be the only ones making sacrifices.

  3. nyc/caribbean ragazza

    My entire family is from the Caribbean. It’s expected that you would help your siblings whether you could afford too or not. That is what family does, look out for each other.

    I’m American, I did have jobs all through college and I’ve worked my ass off since the day I graduated. I’m very independent and have a hard accepting money from my parents. I got over that this year. My brother said they have it, want to share it and I’m making them feel bad by being stubborn. đŸ™‚

    I am the least well off of my siblings but I would give my last dollar to help them if they needed it as they would (and have done) for me.

  4. j

    Well another sociology/anthropology thesis here. The cultures seem to be different. I think families helping each other and sticking together helped European immigrants especially Irish, Jews, and Italians rapidly rise economically and assimilate in American culture (my dad dropped out of high school to help support his sibs). But once assimilated people take on the American values of independence (sometimes known as screw you). But I suspect there are advantages and disatvantages to both mindsets.

  5. pat

    That’s why they’re Italian and you’re not. You’ll never understand. They do it for a lot of reasons but one, I think under the surface, is that it keeps everyone close. It’s not so much the need to share but the act of sharing. Italians do stuff that another family member could do for themselves to show love. You’re an American and you’ll never understand. Leave the Italians alone, there system, with a few exceptions like Giulia’s, keeps the family close. What Americans always talk about but never achieve.

  6. Texas Espresso

    I dont think theres anything wrong with commenting on aspects of other cultures. People certainly love to criticize Americans. I am all for helping out your family, but I think you should also bear some responsbility. Why is it that Europeans in particular, love to point out all of our American shortcomings but heaven forbid if anyone says anything about them. I love Europeans, live with one, but I think turnaround is fair play – we all have good and bad aspects of our cultures.

  7. pat

    I agree with you, especially people who have never been to the States but think they know it all. I just think that Italy is an extremely complex culture. For better or worst it has taken millennia to achieve the dynamic. What I complain about is that people give real simple analyses, there are so many centuries of culture, and history, and influences of other cultures, Sannites, Oscans, Greeks, that it’s just not as simple as “why don’t they pay their own bills.” I just feel that if all of you were blogging about the same thing happening among Amazonian Aboriginals you’d all be going off about the beauty of their tribal family unity. That’s all. Buona Giornata e Buon Onimastico to all the Anthonys, Antonella, Antonios and the like out there in Cyber Land.

  8. Cherrye

    Interesting comments ya’ll…

    Giula – Wow. Was your husband at all upset about not getting the favor returned when he got married?

    TX Esp – I agree with your comments…I think it is great to help out when a sibling, or a relative, or even a friend needs help. Especially if you are in the position to do so. I am NOT a wealthy gal, but I will NEVER get paid back for all the money I’ve loaned some of my relatives. I am ok with that. I think God will take care of us, and maybe I was there at that moment with a few extra bucks that I could help someone else.

    BUT, I don’t understand why the brother isn’t working a little bit, too. They complain about him not going to his classes and not doing well, but they keep sending him the money. I think maybe if he worked for it, he would appreciate it more.

    NYC – I think it is great you have such a close family who can count on each other. My family is very close, as well and my mother often went (and still does in some cases) without things for her children.

    What I was commenting on is something slightly different, although maybe I am not expressing myself very well. I think it is the expectation. Our friend, for example, has been so excited about his trip, but for the last several months when we talk to him he is always stressed about his brother’s wedding. He loses sleep over it. I think I would feel differently if his brother seemed more appreciative or if was planning a more modest wedding. But to insist on a grand scale wedding you cant afford, and then make your siblings SUFFER (emotionally and financially) doesn’t seem like EVERYONE in that family is loving and giving…

    J – well said!

    Pat – you have a very good point about Italians doing things just to make each other’s life easier. Pep’s dad is a prime example of that. But, why do you think that as Americans we won’t understand that?

  9. cheeky

    Definitely a cultural difference, I believe. I’m not sure what sort of pressure, or “expectation” there is from family members but I’m guessing there is some.
    Giving should come from the heart, not because you are “suppose to”.
    Family does come first, but it doesn’t mean we have a free ticket to expect others to pave our way. Too many, including adult children, are spoiled and lazy. It’s also the fault of parents, and other family members who keep allowing it. They create the atmosphere.
    We are suppose to give, unconditionally. We are also suppose to work hard and not take advantage, or take others for granted. I think that’s where things go wrong.
    “Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.”

  10. pat

    In my opinion, when you are Italian growing up your family makes sacrifices for you, constantly. Sometimes ostentatiously, sometimes secretively. Sometimes they tell you, sometimes they let you see it, sometimes they don’t, some times they remind you, sometimes they throw it in your face. But the one message you get out of it is, that love and sacrifice are one in the same (maybe the Catholicism has something to do with it, or maybe that’s why Italy easily became Christian). As you get older, you appreciate it more, wonder how you’ll ever sacrifice enough to pay them back, realize you won’t so you sacrifice for the next generation, and feel relieved when you do, because it was done for you, because you are somehow repaying the debt, and you’re doing you’re part and showing them, e. g, siblings, that you love them by sacrificing. So when the opportunity to sacrifice doesn’t exist, sometimes you need to create it. I don’t know if it’s healthy or not, I’m not a psychiatrist. Just my two cents.

  11. Giovanna

    I have always believed that our actions come from one of two places…love or fear. No matter what drives families to “sacrifice” for each other, the outcome will usually be the same with some feeling they didn’t get their share and others feeling like they should have done more. Blah, blah, blah… Regardless, from both a personal and professional standpoint I can assure you that resentment runs rampant in many of these families.

  12. Kataroma

    I always find the language which Italians use when talking about having kids kind of funny. My mum was a single mum who raised two of us pretty much on her own and always worked long hours. Never once have I heard her complain or talk about “sacrifices” which she has made for us. She always says that having us was the best thing she ever did and we enriched her life tremendously. And she always gave off that vibe of just enjoying having us in her life.

    Italian parents I know, on the other hand, are always sighing and talking about making “sacrifici” (sacrifices) for the children. I hear conversations (even within earshot of the kids) like “oh kids, you love them, but you have to make oh so many sacrifices for them…sigh!” I find this kind of weird – I don’t have kids yet but want to – and, even though I know kids are expensive, I don’t see that as a sacrifice. Maybe that’s why people have so few kids here?

    Anyway – I think it’s one thing to provide for family members in need but another to spoil them and take things away from other family members who need it more. Sounds like the brother who wants everyone else to pay for his big expensive wedding and the one who moved to Rome for university and doesn’t have a job and doesn’t study are both spoiled brats!

  13. pat

    Honestly Kataroma, I don’t think you get it. It’s not about spoiling, it is much deeper than that, more complex. Plus they say that because they think that it shows what good parents they are how they sacrifice. I agree with Giovanna. There’s a lot of resentment, and the sacrificers often use it to manipulate and control those they sacrificed for, usually very successfully. As soon as there is a fight, whatever was ever done for you is thrown back in your face.

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