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 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 to run up stairs, and was rendered incapable of a normal school life.
Typical of the 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. 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.
For teachers and schools, such overbearing mothers present problems: kids - and, sometimes, fathers - are unable to make decisions without consulting the family oracle.
Living this past year in a village near Rome, surrounded by hills, rivers and streams, I thought it a child's adventure paradise. But in the miles I have walked up and down the rivers and parks, I have never seen any children stray more than a few yards from home.