Writing Mean Mums


We’re talking all things mothers this month in honour of Mother’s Day a few weeks ago, and today I wanted to write a little about the dreaded mother, the one we all shudder when we think of–the evil mum.

Yes, I have a confession to make–I am a notorious writer of bad mums. In my books, so far, my mothers have:

  • Had drug overdoses
  • Been self-harmers
  • Ignored their children
  • Tried to kill their children
  • Been alcoholics
  • Invited the ex-boyfriend to family Christmas

Okay, so that last one perhaps isn’t quite so bad, but you get my gist. When it comes to less-than-stellar matriarchs, I could compete in the Olympics–but so could a lot of authors. Have you noticed, particularly in YA and NA, how many mothers seem to not perform as well as the average?

I was thinking about this and came up with a few thoughts on why this may be the case:

  1. Because it’s behind closed doors. In YA and NA, the central story is often set at school or college. Having a mean mum is a great secret/extra layer for the protagonist to have to add intrigue.
  2. Because most of us have had problems with our parents at some point. Sure, we may not have mothers as mean as the ones in some books (e.g. mine), but growing up, a lot of teens feel disconnected with their parents. Our parents can be seen as the figures of authority, and when we’re younger, are often the gatekeepers of “fun”. Therefore, they’re an easy natural enemy to expand upon–readers may have their own minor problems with their parents, which makes it easier for them to then relate to evil parent figures by exaggerating those feelings.

These are just some of the reasons I think perhaps the bad mother is such a successful trope in YA and NA fiction.

One problem I specifically have as an author of many mean mothers is with my own mother. She has often asked me “Why are your mums so mean?”

Apparently, this started in grade two. We were asked to write a story, and the teacher was quite impressed with my lengthy work. He handed it over to Mum to have a look at with these words of warning: “You took a bit of a beating though.”

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Me and my beautiful mum

Yes, my bad mums have roots stemmed deep in my childhood, from well and truly before I was consciously aware that the bad mother could be a useful story trope. And that’s partly why I’ve written this post. Because even though I wrote bad mums, and even though I think they have their place in fiction, my mother is the best. And I have a few books where the mums are supportive, wonderful matriarchs who support their YA and NA children–like everything good in life, it’s a bout balance.

What about you? Who are some of your favourite bad mums?

 

 

Lauren K. McKellar is releasing a book this Thursday, SEEKING FAITH, which features no mistreatment of mothers whatsoever. To find out more, check out her website or Facebook page.

 

 

 

4 Comments

  1. Loved this post Lauren. The ‘mean mum’ trope is pervasive in YA and NA fiction and at times done badly, but in the hands of a clever storyteller a ‘mean mum’ can be an effective narrative tool. I think the key lies in making sure the character is three dimensional and not just a means of explaining the MC’s issues / backstory.

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  2. This is so true. Lots of mums in YA and NA are bad!
    I’ve written an abandoning mum, an alcoholic mum, a judgemental/bullying mum, a dead mum, an abusive mum … and gee, where are all the nice mothers? Surely there are some … somewhere?

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  3. Because (especially nowadays) I write mostly adult fiction, absent parents are not so much of a problem, but when I wrote my first novel (YA mystery), I was 14 and I refused to let my mother read it (still do, in fact) because I didn’t want my mum to think I based the mum on her. She’s not so much mean as strict and unsympathetic, but the MC is very snarky and negative about her – and I’d say one of the MC’s flaws is that she quickly dismisses her mother as being interfering and dim-witted when she’s actually trying to keep her daughter safe.

    And, thinking about it, there seems to be less instances of mean dads in contemporary fiction. Sure, you get kings in fantasies that stop their daughters and sons from following their dreams (to utilise a cliche for a moment), but the mums are the mean ones more often when it comes to present-day fiction.

    Great post! It’s certainly got me thinking about ways writers could improve the rap of contemporary mums.

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