French versus Italian Parenting in One Multicultural Family


My husband comes from the south of Italy and I am French. We often have differences in the way we raise our children. Although our culture clashes are unique to our own situation, I am sure other couples in multicultural relationships have faced similar issues when parenting.


Take a look at how some of our parenting philosophies stack up.


Italian Parenting French Parenting
1 Mother’s role  
The mother is the person responsible for running the family. She is expected to put aside her own needs for the good of the family. The mother must assume her role, even if she delegates tasks, in order to combine her personal life with her family life.
2 Father’s role  
The father serves as the head of the family. He personifies authority and often inspires fear. He doesn’t worry about preparing meals or dealing with any issues relating to the children. The father works in tandem with the mother in terms of all the educational activities. He is involved with discipline and making sure rules are respected He also helps out with bedtime, games, family outings and homework.
3 Grandparents and extended family’s role
Grandparents take a leading role in their grandchildren’s education and care.Concerning childcare, the extended family usually takes over, especially the young women of the family. The grandparents are an occasional source of help and only in case of a specific need.We hire unrelated people, especially professionals to care for our little ones.
4 Type of education according to the child’s gender
Boys are less encouraged to do housework. They have more freedom to get out and play. Parents pay more attention to their success in high schools. Girls and boys are brought up in a similar fashion. They have the same duties and are granted the same freedoms. Boys are encouraged to express their emotions as well as the girls.
5 Parent’s role
Parents guide their children and try to help them avoid mistakes. A strong focus on ethics is ingrained so that children may become productive members of society.Parents don’t “learn” how to be parents; it’s something picked up from and passed down from previous generations. Children’s aptitudes and talents are to be developed, and both parents must help them to sharpen their critical faculties and their aptitudes to make their own decisions.It’s common to question oneself and to be helped by professionals in order to find one’s way as a parent.
6 Rules and punishment
No set rules to dictate children’s behavior. The child may be given verbal warnings or be spanked so he understands he must not repeat his actions. It’s very important to establish and to explain rules. It is even better to negotiate with a child than for them to receive a spanking. Talking and working through conflict is encouraged.
7 Sleeping and eating  

The child is allowed to sleep when he wants, but mealtimes are strictly observed.


Meals are eaten with the entire family when everyone is present.

Children have their meals before the adults. However they have a lot of control over what they eat.  Adults oversee food choices to ensure balance and nutrition.
8 Importance given to the child’s stimulation

It is not considered productive to stimulate a child’s curiosity at a young age. Hygiene, clothing and food are more important than intellectual awakening.

Children are stimulated as soon as possible. We are always looking for ways to develop their creativity and open their minds.
9 Importance given to emotional health  
It’s not essential to show or talk about one’s feelings with your child, nor to tell them you love them. On the contrary, it is believed that showing too much emotion can hinder a parent’s ability to assert control over their children and can result in a lack of respect for the parents’ authority. The father and the mother openly show their affection, give compliments to their child and place great value on the child in the hope of building their self-confidence.


From my observations, Italians adhere to a more traditional style of parenting. Respect for elders and acknowledging their authority is paramount. Great emphasis is placed on the extended family unit with everyone knowing and keeping to their established familial roles. The father holds supreme authority and maintains his distance to a certain extent, while exchanges between children and both parents are limited. Children are expected to obey instructions or risk serious, often physical, punishment. They must learn their duties toward others, and boys and girls are often reared in different ways. This mindset is especially widespread in Southern Italy.


The French, on the other hand, value listening to, showing love for and supporting their children. The child holds the main place in the family and the parents adjust their roles around the child’s needs. Parents handle the majority of the responsibility for educating and caring for the child, only asking for help if it is specifically needed. Authority is shared among the immediate family members and rather than using physical punishment, non-violent methods are preferred to resolve conflicts and teach children right from wrong. Communication with the child is very important, and is used as a method of instilling the child with value and of developing his/her talents. There is no difference in the treatment of boys and girls, and children are encouraged to develop as many skills as possible to encourage early autonomy. This style of French parenting is found mainly in families with a high education level.


  1. It seems more like you are comparing old-school parenting views with the more modern approaches already being practiced in many places around the world. I know that education, age, financial stability, etc. all play a factor.

    My parents are not Italian, but they definitely parented me in that traditional, classic-style. I turned out fine, and yes, now as a mother I know that there are things I do differently, because times have changed.

    I believe that your text is very stereotypical. Italian society is surely not all the same. I am sure that there are some well-informed, creative, progressive parents in that culture as well as in any other.

    When I was in France, I never got the feeling that the parenting style was any different than my own. So, that said, I am not sure what you want to prove.

  2. I’m American and my husband is from the south of Italy. My personal experience is exactly like your personal experience. From what I’ve seen, many children are absolutely terrified of their fathers (in the south) who are more dictators than parents. The men are relatively useless in the South of Italy. The mothers work full time, do all of the cooking, cleaning, child-rearing, loving, and the men work and then watch soccer while the women slave away. My husband wants to raise our children in Italy, an idea that absolutely terrifies me because this is not the type of culture I want my kids exposed to for their entire lives. This isn’t to say that there are not things I love about Italian culture and life but there are many, many things that are so traditional, sexist, and narrow-minded that they often over-shadow the good stuff.

  3. I’m half French, half Italian, raised in Australia – my husband, has Scottish and Maori bloodlines and was raised in Canada – We find that we tend to default to the Italian and Maori parenting styles because they are quite similar – even though both cultures are very patriarchal and I’m fiercely independent, we try to strike a balance – he keeps the money coming and I keep the pesto coming (even though we both work. Although, he has agreed to put the washing on because the laundry is next to his man cave downstairs, and will hang out the towels for me if I’m cooking dinner when they finish, and there are a few meat focused meals that he insists he has to cook… Our kid has aunties and uncles for days – not all blood related either…

  4. Bonjour madame Berreby, I’m a northern Italian woman married to a northern Italian men (both with 100% northern Italian ancestry).
    There is a huge difference between northern and southern Italy, with the northern part being central European. Northern Italians’ attitude, habits are very similar to France, Swiss, Austria and Slovenia.
    I’ve read your article and I can say that northern Italians’ habits are pretty identical to the French ones you’ve written, step by step.
    You’ve written: ”This mindset is especially widespread in Southern Italy”. My reply: ”this mindset is widespread in Southern Italy”. It isn’t spread in the north.

  5. As a southern Italian woman I can say that your ideas in this piece are a little antiquated and overgeneralised. Perhaps this is still the case for men living in the 1950’s and also for many migrants who left Italy years ago and halted their cultural evolution. Although this may have occurred when I was young, men’s attiitudes are definitely changing and roles are being negotiated. We are raising two young boys and their intellectual stimulation and emotional health are of the utmost importance to us. My husband also plays a very active role in the care of our children. Maybe the sheep herders in the small mountain villages still live this way, but the rest of us are a little more progressive than you think.

  6. Honestly, it looks like the author married into a very backward and old fashioned family. Not stimulating children’s curiosity, differences between boys and girls, and women slaving in the house, while men sit and enjoy their role of “pater familias” seem to me all typical traits of post-war Italian families, rather than something you can find nowadays. Today most of the families have both parents working and children are given care and education irrespectively of their sex. It is also true that not every family works the same way and much depends also on the social and economical background.
    Also, how many Italian families has the author had the occasion to come in contact with? If it’s only her husband’s family or just a few other families that we’re talking about, then the article should be named “French vs Italian parenting in MY multicultural family” as it recounts a single experience of interaction between two cultures. This seems to me an attempt of using a personal experience to create a generalized and stereotyped description of every household all over Italy.
    As an Italian, and a Neapolitan I don’t feel represented at all by the author’s definition of Italian family, and I know of many other people who similarly wouldn’t. My mother has always worked, my sister, brother and I were equally encouraged to pursue higher education and house chores are usually shared by the whole family, irrespectively of sex. I agree on the somewhat more relevant role of grandparents, who often take care of their grandchildren on a daily basis and have an important role in their education. This happens both for cultural and economical reasons. If it’s true that many grandparents want to have an active role in their children and grandchildren life, this is also a very cost-effective solution in a country that in the last few years has been deeply affected by a financial crisis.
    For what concerns ms Anna and her presumably 100% northen heritage, this worn out insinuation that northern Italy is an enlightened place with swiss-model families, while people living in the south are barbarians, is quite offensive and racist. If these are your views and this is what you taught your children about people living in your very own country, then definitely your are very far away from pursuing the acceptance and open mindedness typical of a central european family the author was talking about. The game of “blame it to the South” is too old to be credible anymore.


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