The image of Italian mothers as overwhelming, all-powerful mollycoddlers may be a stereotype. But national research suggests there is some truth behind it - and one mother is now facing jail for being so overprotective of her son.
Social services in the north-east town of Ferrara are prosecuting the mother of a 12-year-old boy. The unnamed mum appeared in court for the second time in five years charged with maltreatment after mollycoddling and cosseting her son at home to the extent that the boy was unable run up stairs.
The suggestion was that Mummy did everything for the child, save practically carry him around in her arms, rendering him incapable of a normal school life.
Typical of the Ferrara mother's cosseting was to forbid the boy from playing outside. She was also accused of cutting the boy's lunch into tiny baby-sized portions to save him the trouble of doing so himself.
It may not just be the boy's childhood that is affected. A study by the European Institute of Psychoanalysis found that the continuous control exerted by Italian mothers over their sons actually damaged their career prospects.
The spoilt boys - known here as mommoni - depend so much on their mothers' judgment that they find it impossible to cope in the outside world. Why bother learning to cook, clean and iron when your mother will do it until you can find a wife who can compete with her level of service?
More than 80 per cent of men in Italy aged 18 to 30 still live with their parents, enjoying the care of doting mamas who take care of all the needs of their sons bar the sexual. Somehow in Italy that is perceived as normal and healthy. Incredibly, a third of Italian men also call their mother every day.
A worsening but increasingly competitive global economy is strengthening those apron strings, with Mama and the rent-free home providing a shelter from the storms of modern life way up to the point where the mommoni have their own kids.
Given such a claustrophobic upbringing, perhaps the authorities were right to be concerned over the Ferrara boy and others like him. For teachers and schools such overbearing mothers present problems, with kids - and, sometimes, fathers - unable to make decisions without consulting the family oracle.
Worse still, as far as child development is concerned, Italian children are being denied some of the stuff you, dear readers, fork out for to immerse yourself on visits to the country - the Bel Paese itself.
Living this past year in a tiny village near Rome, rounded by hills, rivers and streams, I thought it a child's adventure paradise. But in the many miles I have walked up and down the rivers and parks, I have never seen any children stray a few yards from home.
Mind you, some folks here "walk" their dogs by taking their pets out then following them in the car, so we can't blame Mama entirely for the lack of outdoor exercise.