Home > Family and Children > Family Back Home > A reflection on the importance of being “nonni”

Mariangela Balsamà, James’ mother – lives and writes from their Lancashire’s home about the importance of being “nonni”. Thank you Mariangela!

I call it ‘emotional weaning’, the time my son can spend surrounded by love, and from it the idea of making sure he could spend the first years of his life with his grandparents (on my side, still youngish and retired), and most importantly very happy to help me with the ‘management’ of my work-life.

I lived in England, by the sea, a very serene location, just south of London, where I originally moved to in 1997. Since then I lived my British life, although I am seen as very Italian in the UK and very English in Italy.

With the arrival of James, together with my husband we thought that maybe living a little closer to my parents would be a good way for James’ emotional growth. So along with the baby came the relocation. And what a move! Milan is not Sussex, but Sussex did not have nonni very handy.

The big choice was dictated by few factors: the costs of childcare in the UK, our idea of raising James at home and not in a nursery for as long as possible (ideally up to 30/36 month) and also last but not any less important by the nature of my job: freelancing gives me lots of time to manage a baby (on paper) but also little time to cope with my deadlines (in reality), a job that is flexible but asks for dedication and time.

Chiamarsi nonniFor several months, I wrote notes about the pros and cons of going to Italy, whilst still having my huge baby-bump. My dearest Italian friends were saying that we were crazy to go to Italy, that there was no future there; while my closest English friends were saying what a wonderful idea we had and yes go and enjoy the ‘dolce vita’. Between the two parties there were our own thoughts and our big aim to live with our child close to my family as much as possible. And so it was.

James was three weeks old when my husband and I packed up and left life by the British seaside. Many people would like to live by the sea, if they could. We had lived by the sea, for a few years already, just time to get to know my husband a bit better, to play boyfriend and girlfriend, to live together, then to be husband and wife, then came the time to procreate, nine months of growing belly and then off you go to give birth.

And then? Everybody knows, a baby changes your life! Emotionally, logistically, but also as the newspapers point out, so often, economically too! Emotions come and grow together as your child grows, money comes and goes and what you want most is stability above all. So, we left green and coastal England behind and moved closer to my parents, who helped me to allow James to ‘grow’ and still do without asking many questions (they call it ‘unconditional love’).

When James was seventeen months old, he spent three days a week with his grandparents. Every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, we submerged in the Milan underground and James ‘disappeared’ from our house and ‘reappeared’ in my parents’ house in only twenty minutes: James played endlessly with his grandfather, discovering the world, watched some cartoons, teased his grandmother and then ate her delicious food; above all he experienced love, that fundamental ingredient to growing up. James received love and returned smiles and the odd tantrum. That was enough to make us realise that we had done the right thing.

Chiamarsi nonni2However, we knew that before long James would love to have friends and different stimuli and then we would try a new way. Perhaps we would resume the road we interrupted, and return to England’s green and pleasant land, where children have more space, children’s products are generally cheaper and where all different types of mothers, backgrounds, lifestyles and experience, meet at a club, a children’s centre or a kids clothes shop.

We are planning to return to England because perhaps there are things that we like more over the English Channel and where the children world is (excuse me for saying so) further ahead. But love from grandparents can not be found on the shelves of a supermarket and any Tesco’s in the world will give you special offers …

We are in Italy now, it’s taking lots of effort but we believe in it, as much as we strongly believe that there’s life for our son beyond grandparents; in the early stages, they do make the difference.

(Note on the original article published on MammaFit)

We have now been back in the UK for nearly a year. And we are happy with our new set up. It wasn’t easy … but we managed it. Happily James is fluent in both languages and is more bilingual than mum and dad. He plays with mamma a lot, with dad in the evenings and weekends and with his friends at the nursery he attends a few mornings per week. He loves his nursery and his teachers. It was the right time for him to go to nursery. We are now trying to get the right life-work balance, that suits us and a 30 month-old boy. I need to work to pay towards the nursery fees, whilst ensuring my parents still spend enough time with him. Jointly with my husband we strive to make him a happy boy. He says “mamma I am happy” to me everyday at present. The rest will come… “Lucky boy”… I add.


Lancashire, UK
April 2012

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