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What nationality mothers best?

Published February 25. 2012 09:01AM

Last week an article in The Wall Street Journal caught my eye. The attention-grabbing headline read: Why Italian Moms Are the Best.

As someone who had at least five Italian mothers and one Italian grandmother, of course I wanted to read the article.

In our family, there wasn't much difference in the diligence of my mother and her four sisters. They all functioned as mothers to me and my cousins.

Nothing, absolutely nothing, got by these five mothers.

Once, when a boy asked to walk me home from the library, I told him not to come all the way to my house with me because my mother would think I was fooling around instead of doing research at the library.

My attempted subterfuge didn't work. As soon as I got in the door, my mother said, "So, who was the boy you were just with on Shamokin Street?"

The eyes of the five mothers were everywhere.

I never really did anything wrong in high school because I never had the chance. When people ask if I ever tried smoking, my answer was "No, because my mother would kill me."

Italian mothers, at least those in my neighborhood, ruled by fear and intimidation. But it kept us on the straight and narrow and I guess my mother was right when she kept saying: "You'll thank me some day."

Having five mothers had many positive benefits, too. When I got sick, there was always someone to make me "Italian sick soup." It was so good it made us get better in gratitude.

It felt good, too, to know that I had so many "mothers" who cared about me. When a girl gets so much positive reinforcement from a large, extended family, she develops a sense of self-worth.

Of course, all this appreciation of maternal care came later in life. Few teenagers are wise enough to appreciate what they have.

So what did columnist Joe Queenan have to say about Italian mothers?

"If I had it to do all over again, I'd come back as an Italian-American kid - in part because of the warmth, the affection, the passion and the generosity, and mostly because of the manicotti," he wrote partly in jest.

The real subject of his column was the recent proliferation of books and magazine articles proclaiming one nationality or another to have the edge when it comes to mothering.

Amy Chua, author of "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" claims Chinese mothers like her produce better children by keeping them away from television and video games and keeping them focused on serious pursuits.

It's certainly true that Chinese children are more focused and tend to excel in many areas.

Pamela Druckerman, on the other hand, published "Bringing Up Babe," a thesis about why French mothers are better.

Actually, she makes some valid points. She says French women don't center their lives around their children as so many American mothers do today.

French mothers, she claims, don't rush to a baby as soon as it cries, teaching children at an early age their demands will not be met instantly.

She says French mothers take their children to a playground and then ignore them. Kids have to learn to entertain themselves, she says, instead of looking to be constantly entertained.

In other words, by not letting motherhood consume them every waking hour of a child's life, a French mother is happier and the child is more adjusted, Druckerman believes.

According to The Wall Street Journal article, at least four new books on maternal supremacy will be published this spring, with each one claiming a different ethnic group does it best.

One thing most of the writers agree on is that having to entertain a child all day does nothing for the child or the mother.

There are as many different approaches to motherhood as there are mothers themselves. Each of us has our own theories and beliefs. And as long as we do the best job we know how, that's good enough to earn the title, "Best mother."

But no matter what kind of job we do as mothers, there's something to the joke about when a mother earns sainthood: When she's no longer here.

It often takes hindsight and wisdom gained through the years to appreciate the particular kind of mothering we had.

One more little insight into motherhood: No really smart mother of any nationality would brag about being the best kind of mother.

Motherhood is the hardest job and its demands are ongoing. Most mothers don't take time to pat themselves on the back for their mothering skills because they are far too busy solving the everyday problems of family life.

Except for French mothers. According to Druckerman, they let family members solve their own problems.

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