A blog about the amazing things teenagers do, about writing for teens, books for teens, and occasional forays into my world and the world of publishing.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Wicked Natural Mother


Everybody has one, so when you write a fictional character, there has to be some kind of fictional mother. Mothers are great literary devices--someone to be smothering or absent, someone who is dead or is dying, someone who nurtures or tortures, in short, someone to blame all of life's problems on.

In fairy tales and nearly every Disney show, the sweet wonderful natural mother is gone, and the evil step-mother steps in to take her place and reeks havoc in the lives of the beautiful and pious heroine. The notion of the "evil" mother is so ingrained in our daughters by fairy tales, that when they became teenagers (IE, beautiful and pious) every mother (at least in their minds) evolves into the evil step-mother. (Or it could just be the natural tendency for a teenager to seek independence by pulling away from their parents.)

As a writer of young adult stories and as a mother, I'm stuck with a problem. How do I write a mother from a teenager's point of view without making her into, well, a witch? And as a mother of teenagers, how do I keep from becoming that witch?

This issue was driven home to me when I read "Someone Like You" by Sara Dessen, (a book I would highly recommend by the way.) In the beginning of the book, the main character, Halley is close to her mother. So close, that her mother uses their relationship as an example in her books about dealing with teenagers. BUT (and you knew it was coming) Halley starts to see her mother as stifling, nosey, and over-protective. Since this was one of the first young adult novels I read as my own children started to enter teenager hood, I looked at Halley and her mother's relationship from a different point of view. I realized, (gasp) I would soon be the wicked natural mother. I found myself rooting for the mom as much as I was rooting for Halley. (I won't tell you how the relationship ended up, you'll have to read the book.)

Now, two years after reading about Halley and her mother, I have arrived, wicked witch of the west, evil natural mother to two teenagers, one boy and one girl.

Lucky for me, the examples of motherhood in my life have been exceptional. I can only hope to be the mom my mom was. I try, really I do, but in the midst of my own mom/teenager arguments I hear the horrible things I said to my mother thrown back at me. (Hi Mom, did I mention I'm sorry?)

So back to writing and fictional moms...How do I write a realistic novel from a teenager's point of view and stay true to my own kind (all the mothers out there)? Because I think teenagers, maybe even more than infants or toddlers, need a mom or at least a mom figure. And because I don't want to be a purveyor of the idea that moms are evil.

I came up with the solution in two words--NOBODY IS PERFECT. Isn't that what makes a great story anyway? If we were all perfect, if we all walked around being nice all the time and not making any mistakes, there would be no good stories to tell. The moms in my stories can be selfless or self-centered, suffocating or absent, sweet or spicy or even just plain embarrassing and it's okay.

Another book I love, RUNNING FOR MY LIFE (written by Ann Gonzales), shows how a girl learns to deal with her mother's mental illness. There is no happily ever after in this book. Just learning to cope, learning to accept, and learning to be happy when life isn't perfect.

Now I'm not saying that there aren't some truly bad mothers out there, or some mothers who have ended up the way they are because bad things happened to them. What I'm saying is there has to be a balance in fiction like there is in life. It's like I told my daughter, "If you look for examples of me being mean or unfair I can guarantee you'll find them." (And I hope if she looks for examples of me being kind and generous and sweet she'll find those too.) Not even I'm perfect. So when I write a mother (or a mother figure), she can't be perfect, understanding, and June Cleaver, Carol Brady, or Clair Huxtable-like all the time. (Okay, way old references, is there a modern "perfect mom" example?) But she can't always be the wicked step-mother either.

So...I will continue to write my mothers with substance and feelings and character flaws. And yes I will use them for my own literary devices. And yes there will be conflicts and fights between them and their teenagers. But I would like to write them (and all of my characters) with hope and with the ability to learn and change and grow and love. That's the biggest lesson of life and I think it should be told over and over and over again.

On the subject of moms...What fictitious moms do you love, or love to hate? What are their good qualities? What are their bad qualities? What makes them believable? How do I craft a well-rounded mother? Is there a modern-day example of the perfect mom?

HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY to my mom and all the mom's out there.

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