Where are the Mums in books? Like seriously.

Book Thoughts, children's books, literary london, teen book reviews, Writing, Writing Thoughts

I had a baby! Almost eight months ago now. I’m still pretty proud of myself. And totally overcome still by how wonderful Kezia is. But when I come to connect my new parental status with my life in literature I am suddenly hit with a problem. It seems that mothers are hugely absent from books – in almost all stories they are either dead or completely useless.

I put the problems to two of my fellow well-read English Literature graduates, and within about an hour and covering all books we could remember we had come up with a list of just eight mother characters who could be said to have a decent character of their own. That’s miniscule!

And I can see some reasons why this is. Mothers are the people who tell you to be careful, who bring sense, who look after you, and if an adventure and danger are going on they are, at least stereotypically, going to try to stop you. So it’s pretty convenient to have them dead or so weak a character as to be useless. (I realise I’ve even done this in my book.) But I think it needs to change.

Growing up, I looked to fiction and to characters to decide what sort of person I wanted to be. I ate apples in the attic like Jo March. I spied on adults (and ate tomato sandwiches) with Harriet. I wrote rhyming couplets like Isabella Quagmire. I wrote a diary like Cassandra Mortmain. Above all from all my heroines I learnt courage, what it was to grow up, and that it was okay to be me.

So now, with the dearth of mothers to copy, what am I do to? Where are the kick-ass Mothers saving their children? Bringing up awesome kids? Encouraging adventure, living awesome lives? I’d guess in the more ‘women’s fiction’ genre there would be more stuff like this, but I don’t want emotional family drama necessarily but something a bit more exciting that I can get into.

My mum is awesome. She’s lived a full and adventurous life, highly disrupted by four awesome children, but always pursuing her dreams and learning and changing and growing. And she has always, always (and still does now we are all grown with big lives), encourage adventure.

I’m going to share my list of awesome mums of literature with explanations of why these mothers are my heroes soon, but for now, please, everyone, write some awesome books about Mums!


11 thoughts on “Where are the Mums in books? Like seriously.

  1. I totally feel the same way! My mom is totally awesome and has always encouraged us to explore and have adventures – and I knew/know other moms who are the same. I get frustrated by the way parents are portrayed in most YA books, and even a lot of children’s fiction now. When I was growing up, reading books like ‘Little Women’ and the Betsy-Tacy books, or many others I can think of, parents were written as people who love their children, even if they don’t always understand them. But the modern take seems to be that parents are always stupid or distant, and they never have what is best for their children at the forefront.

    I had someone tell me once that this is ‘realistic’ and that it is good for children to realize that they shouldn’t always just blindly trust the adults in their lives, because adults ‘frequently’ (???) are actually just using/abusing children, so children need to be aware that they should be constantly questioning the motives of the adults around them (?!). To me, though, this constant emphasis on the concept that children know what is better for their own lives than their parents just seems foolish! As a child, I liked reading books where the parents/adults gave the children love, discipline, and guidance. Even books like ‘The Boxcar Children’ where the children are running away and being independent still came back around to the safety of a loving adult, and I think that’s important.

    haha sorry, this has gotten really rambly for a comment… apparently, I need to write my own post agreeing with yours! :-)

      1. I know! I have this half-written rant in my head about the fact that children need good role models in the books they read. I understand the importance of also writing books with characters whom different children can relate to (so books where the parents may be divorced or whatever), but I also think it is important to include books with good families and loving parents – because those are the kind of role models that I think children need, *especially* if they don’t have a good home life right now! This obsession with “normalizing” split homes or whatever… like I understand, because it isn’t the kids’ fault, but at the same time – do we really want to constantly emphasize the message that that is the best they can ever hope for in their future? Divorce and apathetic parenting? I think children need good role models in books, not just of the children they relate to, but the adults that they can become. ::end rant:: :-D

  2. That’s a very good point too!! I’d not thought of it that way! Though currently I’d settle for some great single Mums too – it feels like just every mother is useless in fiction!

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