As Famous Literary Characters Prove, Parents Don’t Always “Know Best”

By Rosanna Patruno

I want to tell you a story; it’s a little sad, funny, and (spoilers) it has a happy ending. I want to tell you about how one little girl made her dreams come true, discovered some critical but painful truths, and found her handsome prince while slaying some (metaphorical dragons). I also want to tell you why I chose Inga as the heroine of my first story and, above all, give you hope. So if you’re sitting comfortably, I’ll begin.

Once upon a time, a little girl dreamed of being a princess… ok, not a princess but of being a comic artist (maybe a princess who drew comics, but the princess bit was a side gig). And all her favorite books and movies showed her that her loving family would move heaven and earth and slay dragons if they got in the way of her dreams of being a comic book artist.

Since, unlike a junior wizard living in a cupboard, she didn’t get any owls with telegrams inviting her to her dream school, she looked for another way to achieve her goal.

On the web (at that time, a post-Harry Potter time, the Internet already existed), she found a school she could attend when she graduated. She checked which one of the various branches was within her family’s limited means and chose the one in a city she had never heard about but was attracted to because she could afford to live there. Moreover, the school’s curriculum would leave her enough time for a part-time, part slavery job working in a restaurant.  

Like most little girls, she then went to her loving parents to share her dreams and how they were about to become a reality. Because they loved her, they would do what was best and offer their support, as she had seen in books, movies, and all the other media she had grown up with. The perfect family where children can talk to their parents about anything, and the parents are always the child’s most prominent cheerleaders. Sadly she should have been watching ‘Cinderella‘ or ‘Rapunzel’, not ‘Little House on the Prairie’.

Of course, her parents indeed took care of her, teaching her how to be a good girl. Yes, they gave her a good old slap when she disobeyed or protested when told to do her brother’s chores—she was a girl, after all (although why give her brother chores when she was expected to do them, this was more 1984 than a fairy story), and this was proof of their love for her. Like the song says, love hurts; sometimes it hurts. But they love her, and the family loves their kids and wants their best); they will work out how they will all be happy together, right? She would have been better off watching 101 Dalmations when Cruella De Villa suggested she could take loving care of those pups.

You might say the heroine of our story was naive; that’s what’s known as an understatement and foreshadowing (important stuff when you write your book, dear reader).

The parents planned to consolidate their comfort and future, ensuring the girl would be at their beck and call in their old days. She would be safe; they would be taken care of, and it would take a few years to mature like a fine wine. But like a fine wine, it just involved stamping and crushing on some grapes (the grapes being the young girl’s dreams, that’s a metaphor).

Since this little rascal’s idea wasn’t in her (their) best interest, they planned to unravel it, like cutting Rapunzel’s hair or smashing Snow White’s slipper; given a choice, they’d probably have used Harry Potter’s broom to sweep out the yard. All of course, with love, and in her best interests. “It’s too far,” “it’s dangerous for a young girl,” “aren’t you happy with us,” “why do you want to leave us? Don’t you love us?”, “let’s find something closer” “we love you.” They guilt-tripped her and cut her wings like a songbird that never flies south. And she went along because mother knows best and dad agrees with mother.

But this songbird didn’t just sing. It flew. However, they passed on wings of hard work and achieved her dream. One day, she came back to her mum to see at last pride in her eyes, as Billie Elliot’s father would. Her mum looked at her gravely and said: “I failed your education: you’re not by my side, you didn’t marry a real man from our town that I approved of. Because of you, my siblings make fun of me. You are a failure”.

To use a different simile (another helpful tool, dear reader). Even Darth Vader was proud of his son, even as they dueled to death.   

Billy Elliot’s dad was proud of his son because you love your children for who they are, and if you genuinely love them, you let them go.

I liked Harry Potter because I identified with a child whose carers felt the safest place for them to grow up was a cupboard under the stairs. But at least Harry had the excuse that the Dursleys weren’t even his birth parents. Although, of course, when it’s your flesh and blood, your birth parents hurting you, it stings that bit more. But what can a kid think if all the books, cartoons, and movies show them that their parents are right?

For each lucky child, how many keep clinging to this delusion? How many see no change, hear no “good job, I’m proud of you” or “let’s find a solution to the problem together”? How many only know the “shut up” sound of a slap? How many realize that, like low-calorie donuts, miracle face cream, and politicians’ promises, parental love is a myth cooked up in a TV board room?

Like many unknown kids, dear reader, I was no different. I learned what a truly supportive family is when I found it in another country, not the next street or village. I had to leave home to find a home where I was loved and supported.

One of my paternal grandmother’s mottos is, “dove arrivi pianta il zippo (go as far as you can and mark your achievement).” So do your best, try hard, and your achievement will be your achievement.

I craved support and sought it out from friends, teachers, and, eventually, the online fandom community. You have a fan club out there waiting to cheerlead for you; you need to find them and give them something to cheer about.

Don’t be afraid to demand support and love outside your family, or you’ll never get it. Love, like bread, doesn’t fall from the heavens. It must be created from ingredients around you.

It took me long enough to do this for myself, so my character would learn this when I created them for my biggest story. Inga initially asks Biagio to help her navigate a biased professor’s subject—she doesn’t expect him to tell her that she already has it within herself. Likewise, she didn’t expect to hear the words she craved from her mother to come out of a stranger’s mouth. This is the story’s moral; first, through my life, and second, through my account, I needed to create, experience, and share my thoughts with you, dear reader.

A stranger, yes, because sometimes we think those around us speak out of obligation and politeness instead of genuine care. But a stranger’s words have a more substantial impact because they have no responsibility toward us. And if a stranger becomes a friend, it’s because you’re worth being with.

And when the going gets more challenging, Biagio tells her that she must find the strength to fight and decide how to live her life—everyone else can merely cheer her on; the power is in her and always was. I wish I’d found my Biagio to tell me this truth earlier. Like Harry Potter, I could have done with finding out I was magical royalty with a full vault at Gringolts.

You can do whatever you want and be whoever you want to be because even if you don’t succeed, you can’t ever fail if you keep trying—and if you have fun while trying, that failure isn’t an issue because happiness is a tremendous success.

“Whatever a parent does, they should do their best.”

And it would help if you remembered that they are your dreams for you to live as a writer, a parent, and a human being. So if you are surrounded by people who don’t share that view, pack up your bags like Inga and I did, and find people who live like that.

From her youth spent in Puglia, a wild region in the south of Italy, Rosanna Patruno has retained a love for the culinary preparation of beautiful natural products. And when still a teen, she decided to become a writer without knowing anything about this world. At the age of twenty she defied the path laid out by her patriarchal family and escaped, leaving her family and this region behind, to follow her own passion – that of art and literature to discover Paris. There she took art classes, immersing her creativity between anatomy morphology and the art of watercolor along with Theater. Her debut New Adult fantasy series ‘The Hidden Heir’ is out March 14, 2023. You can follow Rosanna on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.