Barbara's blog: “Two Roads Diverged in a Wood, and I - I Took The One Less Travelled By” (R.Frost)

clock Released On 07 February 2022

Barbara's blog: “Two Roads Diverged in a Wood, and I - I Took The One Less Travelled By” (R.Frost)

A week ago, my daughter Francesca went for her first college interview. It was a momentous occasion, marking the transition to being an adult in forming, one with a razor-sharp focus on fulfilling her dream to work for Disney, in California, which as parents we support and encourage.

The experience made me think how different my teens had been. I was also a budding artist, but my mother insisted I pursued a traditional education that would guarantee me a “proper” job and a secure future, even if that meant quashing my career aspirations. Mum was on her own, having lost dad to cancer when I was six years old. She was an introvert and fiercely controlling and struggled to navigate life with an adolescent daughter that was profoundly different from her, both in personality and in demeanour, and that was growing up in a world that had more freedom and less social conventions that she was used to. I ploughed through the Scientific Lyceum, on hindsight probably the most unhappy I had ever been, the chasm between mum and me becoming deeper and wider by the day. My mother could sense she was losing control of her only daughter, her iron grip of the leash slipping, while I was skilfully disentangling myself. This did nothing for domestic harmony!

When I was 19 years old mum relented and I came to study design in the UK. I never returned to Italy. I had tasted freedom and the opportunities that being able to make my own choices brought, but above all I had experienced support and genuine encouragement of my desire to pursue a career in the creative arts, which I had never had before. I went on to complete a degree and a Master at one of the best universities in the world, but that was still not enough for my mother. Being a designer did not hold much kudos among her old-fashioned friends, who considered the status awarded by the more traditional professions (engineer, doctor, lawyer) paramount to play the upmanship game they all wanted to win. I didn’t fully understand how my mother could buy into those views, but later she explained it was her last-ditch attempt at securing my future by marrying me off, so that I could have status by proxy. Needless to say, I was having none of it. I had a successful career in the arts industry and a lovely boyfriend (who is now my husband) and did not take kindly to being worn down by mum’s continuous demeaning comments about my job and seeming lack of status.

But the experience had a profound effect on my self-confidence and self-worth. I was craving recognition and was crippled by impostor’s syndrome, never feeling like I belonged. And it has taken years to make peace both with my mother and with my vulnerability.

I would never want my children to go through the despair I felt in my teens so I promised myself that, as part of the healing process, I would use the lessons learnt to be a better parent. At the moment, this means accepting their choices, nurturing their skills, supporting their decisions with gentle challenges where required, encouraging conversation, at the dinner table for example, on topical matters that develop their critical thinking ability and consider different perspectives. As GenZ humans, they are the most accepting of diversity, and in turn, I stretch my mind through their views.

Francesca handled her college interview like a pro and was offered a place on the spot, to study art, photography and design, and I couldn’t be happier for her.

Barbara works for the aviation regulator and lives a stone’s throw from the South Downs with her 16 year old creative daughter, 14 year old ingenious son and supportive husband.


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