Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Parenting FAIL

I've noticed a trend* in YA lit of absolutely abysmal parenting. I just finished Shiver and (trust me, I'm not giving anything away) Grace has scatterbrained, absentee parents. Bella, in Twilight, had parents who acted more like children than she did. So, what is up with the crappy parenting?
*by "trend" I mean "The Two YA Books That I Can Remember Off the Top of My Head." You know. Totally scientific.

To get to the bottom of this burning question, I didn't just ask Rain but also my friend Cheryl, who is also my beta and a fab YA reader extraordinaire.

Oh Meadow, your musings are total porn for a literature geek like me. :)

Which explains why you're here, hanging out with us on this post. *winks*

The trend you've noticed is a common characteristic of YAL. The absentee parent is also often a part of the formula in YA television shows.

Sadly, there are adolescents in the world who do have the responsibility of parenting their parents (as a former teacher, I could tell you stories that would make your hair curl), but I think this archetype is used less for realism and more as a device to help the Main Character grow.

Other times, the absent parent helps us to suspend our disbelief and drive the plot forward. If Bella had had a parent like you, I'm guessing you wouldn't have let her leave the house in the middle of the night at the end of Twilight, like Charlie had permitted. Since Charlie had been pretty clueless as to what to do with Bella throughout the entire book, it's slightly more plausible to us that he'd let her go. And his action (or lack thereof) moves the plot forward.

Okay, so I guess I can understand WHY it's necessary, in some cases. I suppose a book where a Junior in high school wakes up, has her mom make her Eggos, goes to school, and then comes home and does homework would probably NOT be a bestseller.

It just strikes me that there's not more of a balance in the literature that I've read. Often the absence of a parent seems to become a defining aspect of the teenager. In some cases, like Harry Potter or Mortal Instruments, that's not only understandable but also vital to the plot. In others, like Twilight, it seems superfluous. Wouldn't it be just as interesting (and maybe even more relate-able) to see the teens dealing with growing up while actually breaking away from a traditional loving family environment? I mean, Bella and Edward could have still fallen in love even if her mom was a teacher who made her sandwiches for school.

Pssst - Meadow, Bella's mom was a teacher. Okay, so she didn't make sandwiches, but she was a kindergarten teacher.

And, I have to disagree a little about Charlie's role as absentee parent. Charlie might not "hover," and, sure, he went fishing quite a bit. But he also did things like, in Twilight, when he disabled Bella's truck's battery cables and came into her room check on her when she was going to bed extra early on a Saturday night. Things a parent might actually do. I remember thinking that it was actually refreshing to see a parental figure who did care, and who was present. I liked the fact that Edward and Bella had to be a bit careful, when sneaking around Charlie, even if they did have the added benefit of Edward's mind reading to help.

How did I forget that Renee was a kindergarten teacher? I always just think of her as some sort of bumbling hippie-type. I blame her movie characterization for having hairy armpits. *shudders* ANYWAY, while I agree that Charlie wasn't a total failure as a father, I do think that he qualifies as somewhat absentee. Simply put, while he loved and cared for Bella, he wasn't there while she was growing up. So when she moved in with him he was still very hands-off. Why did he let her leave in Twilight? My father would've jumped in his car and chased me down. Just sayin'.

Okay, fine, I'll give you that. My dad would have chased me down too.

And to add another side to this discussion, one thing that causes me much frustration is when young characters actually do have someone they could turn to in times of need, but they choose not to. It drives me crazy if the storyline is not done well enough to where there is an obvious reason that the teen protagonist is neglecting to tell his/her parent's about some life-threatening.

I felt this way while reading Deadly Little Lies (the second in the Touch series by Laurie Faria Stolarz). In that book the main character, Camelia, is receiving death threats via phone calls and notes, but does not tell her (very present and concerned, albeit distracted) parents. The premise is that her mom is dealing with personal issues, so Camelia chooses not to add to those with her own. But, seriously? I know I'm not 16 anymore, but even then, I would have told my parents if someone was threatening to kill me.

The book Speak always comes to mind. Had Melinda had parents she could talk to, or at least parents who recognized that something was seriously wrong with their daughter, her journey through self-discovery would have been completely different. With absentee parents, she had to be her own agent of change. While this is a drastic example (I wouldn't want my daughter to read the book and think that Melinda's way of handling her situation was okay), reading examples where the adolescent MC is the decision maker is empowering to teen readers.

And quite simply, teens enjoy reading about other teens. It's more exciting - and possibly even more realistic to them (especially if they're in that "nobody understands me" phase) - to see teens solving their own problems with little to no help from adults.

*sigh* So what you're saying is that if I want to read about ADULTS making adult decisions I have to *insert collective gasp here* read adult lit? Dammit, that sounds like a lot of work. *wink*

Oh well, if it's ADULT lit you want Meadow... *hands Meadow Dark Lover, Book 1 of the Black Dagger Brotherhood*

When I said "adult" I didn't mean "porn" Rain!

Yes you did.

You know me so well.


  1. Thanks for having me ladies! It's great to have friends who let me geek out every once in a while. :)

  2. This was really interesting, even though I've barely read any YAL (minus Twilight, Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, Septimus Heap, and several Lola Douglas/Lara Zeises books -- but that's barely, right?).

    I think Charlie was a bit bumbling, but I think many readers forgive him bc he's a father and we expect fathers to be bumbling. We're much less forgiving of Renee for being just as bumbling.

  3. @TwilightMundi That'd be fab. *clearing throat* So... Parents in YA fic, huh? What'd you think? ;)

  4. I love this discussion! And while I agree with the reasons for the bad parenting/absent parents, it still bugs me every time. See also: What's up with the dead mothers in Disney movies?

  5. Hey girlies!
    I was just thinking about this yesterday; I'm currently reading "Love Walked In" by Marisa de los Santos - and one of the main characters, 11 yo Clare, goes on to list several times, fic characters that are orphaned and how she can relate to them. From Harry and the Grace kids to Pippi Longstocking and the Box Car Children... I was guessing that it just made these characters more interesting; you can relate to their loneliness and their life lessons of growing up and making it on their own...
    Making sense? lol!

    Yea for Cheryl! Thanks for sharing everyone!
    hugs, margie

  6. It's funny that I was home sick yesterday and stumbled upon the movie Matilda. I remember reading it as a child, but now seeing the movie as an adult is shocking! It should be called How to be a Horrible Parent 101 lol.
    Thanks for sharing and yeah Cheryl! Love ya girl!


  7. Cheri ( brought up an interesting point to me: "Thinking back to books I read as a kid - even "Heidi" was sent off to live with her grandfather. Guess it's been formulaic for a long time." And @margie and @sara bring up other "classic" examples. My mind immediately went to contemporary YAL when we were discussing this, but there are definitely older examples. Dorothy lived with her Auntie Em and Uncle Henry. @kelly - That's a great point about our tolerance of male vs. female parental figures. And @ashley - Yes, the dead parent archetype is also used quite a bit, isn't it?

    *geeking out with delight over this discussion*

  8. @Cheryl You know, I kind of gave older lit some leeway in this department because it was a reality to be an orphan in that world. Not that being orphaned doesn't happen now, but with advances in medicine and technology I think it's LESS of a common reality for children to face.

  9. Good point, @Meadow. Also, I think it could be argued (successfully) that those titles are examples of children's lit, not YA.

  10. I'm with you Dad would NEVER have let me leave, let alone drive my own vehicle away at least three states. And if I did run away? He would have likely beaten the living crap out of my boyfriend (never mind, I guess Charlie couldn't really beat Edward. But he didn't know that!), and I would have been forbidden to ever see him again.

  11. This was an awesome post. Wonderful. And true. Absentee parents clear the path for interesting YA plots. I'm thinking of Lisa McMann's Dreamcatcher series. Janie's mom? A raging alcoholic. But there was The Captain. She entered in as a Parental Figure albeit by nature not omni-present like my parents were for me. And that is why my Teenage Years would be fairly boring to read. I say, fairy, because my ever present saracasm would be on full display. Wait, it still is!! LOL.

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