Fixing Fictional Mothers
Mother's Day is this Sunday in the United States, and my original plan for this post was to write a list of the Top Ten Moms in Fiction, which is something Pub Crawl alumnus Adam did a few years ago. But when I sat down to compile my list, I realized I couldn't make it to ten.
I'll admit that I didn't start to notice mothers in fiction until I became one myself in 2014. But once I started looking for them I was struck by two things: there were few mothers to be found, and most of the ones I could scrounge up were terrible.
I understand the reason for non-existent mothers. In children's fiction we need to remove the parents or guardians of children so that they can go off and have adventures. Parents, by design, want to know where there children are, and that they're safe, and there is no room for safety or staying put in your average adventure. The simplest way around this logistical hurdle is to ditch the parents. Kill 'em off! Boarding School is also a tried-and-true option if you're a bit of a softie.
But even when mothers are kept on the page they're often villainized. Wicked step-mothers have been wicked since the dawn of time. Mothers are often a cruel source of conflict, especially in YA. At best, they're sometimes portrayed as well-intentioned but still obliviously hurtful.
As a writer, I'm guilty of this. The two novels I've worked on (one Adult, one YA) both feature dead mothers. And those mothers were terrible even when they were alive. Now I look at these stories (which includes my current WIP) and I struggle with these mothers. Since becoming a mother myself this trope--one I view as problematic--of the poorly or underrepresented mother has become glaringly obvious to me, and I'm constantly on the lookout for great moms in fiction.
But they're hard to come by. When trying to put together a top ten list for this post I came up woefully short. I even took to twitter, but people quickly confirmed my suspicions: putting together a list of positive mothers in fiction is a difficult task.
I think it's time to change the tide. I am now on the hunt for great moms in fiction. They can be complicated and flawed, but they should be present, and ultimately positive. And I'm going to reexamine the way I write mothers in my own work.
Here's the list I was able to come up with for Best Mothers In Fiction. I look forward to adding to it in years to come!
Marmee from Little Women. Marmee is the iconic fictional mother. She's supportive of her four daughters, and has a unique bond with each of them. She gives them the space to learn some lessons on their own, and is right there ready to talk when the girls need advice or a bit of tough love.
Molly Weasley from Harry Potter. Molly is the fictional matriarch of our time. Molly is a flawed character; she can be meddlesome and overprotective and her instinct to shelter all children (her own as well as those she has taken under her wing) can be frustrating for both Harry and the reader. But she is a woman raising seven (SEVEN!) children in an extraordinarily dangerous time. While her actions may sometimes be misguided it is always obvious they come from the deepest place of love.
Connie Nicolson from the Confessions of Georgia Nicolson. Connie is a fantastic example of how to write a realistic mother in YA. Most of the time, Connie is grating on her daughter Georgia's last nerve. She is both dismissive of and exasperated by Georgia's melodrama (and often amused by it, too). But she and Georgia also share a few wonderful, touching moments throughout the series. Even when Georgia is annoyed with her mom, the reader is able to read between the diary lines and see that both characters love each other very much.
Ilane of Mindelan from the Protector of the Small series. Kel's mom doesn't get as much page time as the other moms in this list, but what little we get of her leaves a big impression. Ilane is completely supportive of her daughter's career choice, even though it carries with it a great stigma. She talks to Kel frankly and positively about sex! I only wish we could wrest more stories about her from Tamora Pierce.
Who are your favorite fictional mothers? Let us know in the comments; I'll be adding those books to my To Be Read pile!