I recently noticed that there are hardly any stories about mothers in speculative fiction. Moms in stories are likely to be dead or die, and if they’re around, they usually fill a vaguely supportive and inconvenient role. This strikes me as unfair, as moms are complex humans who have the extremely difficult job of raising equally complex smaller humans and often go completely unacknowledged for their vital work. I think about my own mom, who had three children and decided to adopt four more from Ethiopia, became a second mom for all the kids we brought over, was awesome at being awesome, all while living with chronic illness. She deserves to see people like her in the genres she actually likes.

I’ve decided that I want to write some awesome mom protagonists, and wanted to ask if you had any advice in incorporating motherhood into stories? Are there pitfalls I should avoid? Things I can use to emphasize how impactful motherhood is? Are there ways I could take advantage of the setup of a mother protagonist to make her story more engaging?

Thank you for your time, I love the blog!

-Emma

Hi Emma,

Good for you. You’re absolutely right that we need more stories about moms, and it looks like you’ve already noticed a lot of bad patterns that you want to avoid.

The biggest improvement that needs to be made when it comes to depicting moms is to not make them live entirely for their children or family in general. One of the big reasons there are so few moms in stories is that storytellers assume that if a character has a mom, the mom must be there serving the character. Because they need their protagonist to solve problems on their own or go through hard times, they kill off the mom so she can’t help the protagonist with their problems. Similarly, when the protagonist has a dead mother and father, the father is remembered for doing great things, and the mother is remembered for caring for her family (every dead mother is described as “kind” and “pretty”).

My point is that mothers should be full-fledged human beings with their own interests and desires, not just the embodiment of childcare. Let her set boundaries with her kids and get some time to herself. Give her outside ambitions, and if there’s another parent, that parent should help her with the children without being badgered into it. We definitely could use more stories where the heroine just happens to be a mother, and that doesn’t hinder her from kicking ass and being part of the action.

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have epic stories about moms raising children. Glorifying motherhood is also needed. Consider a story where your mother character is a powerful mage and she’s trying to teach her children to wield magic responsibly, or where the mother is the head of a noble family and she’s doing political intrigue to keep all of her children safe, arrange great marriages for them, and maybe scheme for the throne. Avoid patriarchal settings (this is a great time to do a matriarchy) and use speculative fiction elements to make the mother and her children important. Mothers are always depicted as humble in and the background, so I would err on the side of glorifying her, and powerful children will make it easy for child-raising to be plot important.

A word of caution for stories about a mother caring for her kids: show her children being kind and helpful at least as often as they cause trouble or create headaches for their mother. Since her primary motivation will be to promote her kid’s welfare, you don’t want your audience to find those kids annoying or frustrating.

Those are my thoughts. I hope that gives you some ideas!

Commenters: What would you like to see for mothers in stories?

Chris

Keep the answer engine fueled by becoming a patron today. Want to ask something? Submit your question here.