Written by JJ Barnes
Mothers are often a central figure in story. They can be used as either a figure of protection and support, or as a great source of conflict, when peripheral to your Protagonist. Or, if you’re using a fictional mum as a Protagonist, then a mother’s life is riddled with potential drama.
I’ll explore different examples of fictional mums, what they do for their stories, and how you can recreate that effect in your own writing.
The Judgmental Fictional Mum – Gilmore Girls – Emily Gilmore
Whilst driven by love, Emily Gilmore is a constant source of pressure and stress in her daughter, Lorelai’s, life. Emily Gilmore expects everyone in her life to live up to the standards that she sets. And those standards are high. When others fail, she is intolerant.
The judgmental mum isn’t driven by hate or rage. But she does cause stress. This is the mum who wants her children, be they child or adult, to be the best they can be. She will push them further than they want to be pushed, and demand better at all times.
As fictional mums go, the judgmental mum isn’t the worst. She needs to learn a lesson in letting people be who they are, even if it’s not who you want them to be. And she needs to learn how to not be in control of everything. But she is coming from a place of good. She wants her family to have the lives she believes they deserve.
For Emily, she wants Lorelai to lead a more traditional life. She wants her to be stable and a wife with a good income to support Rory in the way Emily wished she had been able to support Lorelai. However, as the story goes, Emily learns to respect who Lorelai is. It isn’t always easy, but she is arced towards tolerance. Her mothering is never easy for Lorelai, but the two become closer as time goes by.
The Hot Mess Fictional Mum – Motherland – Julia
Julia in Motherland is frazzled. She is trying to balance child raising, working full time, and managing adult relationships in her life. And it is not easy. Julia is stressed by her children, stressed by her work, stressed by her husband. Julia is a hot mess. But, for better or worse, she tries her best and is there for her children. Even when it costs her.
The Hot Mess Mum is a relatable figure to most mothers, so she is well suited to being a Protagonist. You naturally root for her because you can see how much being a mother matters, but how hard it is for her. She’s trying, and that makes her sympathetic, even when she makes mistakes.
It’s important that your Hot Mess Mum character has multiple motivations. If all she was driven by was being a mother, her life would be more simple. Her problem is that she wants to do a lot more and all of the things she wants to do require more of her attention than she is physically capable of giving. She is torn in multiple directions and feels like she’s failing at everything. But, despite everything, she just keeps trying.
Julia will never find life easy, but she keeps trying to make it happy. She tries to be everything her children want her to be, and everything she thinks her children deserve. Which is in massive conflict with trying to pursue a successful career that also requires her full time attention. And all of it is in conflict with her need for some down time, to relax with her friends. Life is her Antagonist. She cannot have all the things she wants, but she wants all the things she wants.
The Fiercely Protective Fictional Mum – The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air – Aunt Viv
If you want a mother who will go to bat for you, it’s Aunt Viv. Aunt Viv is mother to Hilary, Carlton (and Little Nicky), and has a mothering role to her nephew Will. Whilst she is strict and no nonsense in her parenting, making sure they attend school and work hard, she is also a Fiercely Protective Mum. She will fight to keep her children safe and happy.
A Fiercely Protective Mum will often be controlling. She doesn’t want the world to hurt her babies so she shields them from it, or at least she tries to. This means her children will lack independence and depend on her and her home for longer than perhaps they should. But the Fiercely Protective Mum wouldn’t have it any other way. As long as her children are with her, and as long as she is protecting them, she knows they’re safe.
For your Protagonist, the Fiercely Protective Mum figure will be holding them back. Much like a mentor character, you need to free them from their mother in order that they can reach their full potential. This doesn’t mean you necessarily have to kill the Mum, Aunt Viv survives. However, Will and Carlton don’t have their adventures and wild times under her watchful eye. Your Protagonist will need to be able to escape to experience their stories, even if they come home a the end of it.
The Stay At Home Fictional Mum – Modern Family – Claire Dunphy
Claire Dunphy is a Stay At Home Mum to Haley, Alex and Luke. She is determined to try and be the best mum she can be, but the children make it so hard. No matter how much she tries, and how hard she works, things just don’t seem to quite go right for Claire. She is tired, emotional, and stressed. She is a very human and relatable figure to mothers everywhere.
Claire is her own worst enemy. She applies the pressure of the Judgmental Mum to herself, never living up to her own standards. And she pressures herself like the Hot Mess Mum in an effort to control and organise everything in her own life, and the lives of her entire family. If Claire could ease up on herself, she’d be happier. But she can’t. She wants to make everything perfect when everything around her resists and causes chaos.
If you’re unfamiliar with mothering, the temptation for your Stay At Home Mum character could be to go with the Enid Blyton style mother. Perfectly baked cookies, always calm and patient, an idyllic home with no shouting or mess. But, other than the occasional mum in our mix, life doesn’t really match that. The reality of being a Stay At Home Mum is more likely to be Claire. Because being a mother is incredibly hard, and when you’re pressuring yourself on top of the existing pressure of motherhood, it’s even harder.
Protagonist Vs Antagonist Stay At Home Mum
Your Stay At Home Mum character, if she’s a Protagonist, needs to struggle. It needs to be a hard life in many ways, and emotionally draining. Even if she loves it, even if she doesn’t want to change anything about it, it costs her. However, if you’re writing an Antagonist Stay At Home Mum, you can play with it. Make her more unrelatable, because your Protagonist is where you want empathy to be.
The Antagonist Stay At Home Mum might find it far too easy. Her children are always clean and angelic, the cakes made for the school bake sale are worthy of winning Bake Off. It might all be a lie and life is harder than she presents to the world. But, from the perspective of your Protagonist Mum, she’s living the easy life.
The Possessive Fictional Mum Character – Bates Motel – Norma Bates
Norma is an immensely sympathetic character. She has had an incredibly hard life. Abused by her family, sexually assaulted by her brother, and raising her son alone after the death of her husband. Norma is trying to make life work for herself and Norman in a new town with new people. She works hard, and she loves her sons desperately.
However, Norma is a Possessive Mum. And her Possessiveness of Norman makes their relationship an uncomfortable one. Norma’s other son, Dylan, tells her she needs to let him be free. That sleeping in the same bed as him is odd and Norman needs friends of his own age, away from his mother. But Norma resists. She wants Norman to be that close to her and she hates competition for his affection. Even when she tries to accept it, tries to embrace it, she doesn’t like it. Norman is hers. And Norman, because he is carrying his own damage and issues, wants to be hers.
As Bates Motel moves through the series, the relationship between Norma and Norman becomes odder. Norma’s possessiveness of Norman turns him from son into partner. However much you like Norma, and however much you root for her, you can’t not see it.
To write a Possessive Mum character, you need to be willing to explore the dark side of parental relationships. It does not suit a happy story. Whether your Mum character is physically abusive or not, the Possessive Mum character exerts coercive control over her offspring. It’s dark subject matter. But intense and riddled with conflict which is brilliant for a good story.
The Fictional Mum We All Want – Harry Potter – Molly Weasley
Molly Weasley is quite the feat of writing a fictional mum. She manages to be powerful and soft, protective but not controlling, strict but supportive. She raises her children, fights bad guys, and is generally all around brilliant. But she isn’t off putting and unrelatable.
In normal stories, if a mother manages to be all things to all people, she will be annoying. We can’t live up to her. But Molly Weasley is everything that I personally want to be as a mother, and yet I don’t resent her. Even though I cannot be who she is.
I’d love to give you some advice for how to recreate a character like Molly Weasley in a story, but I’m not really sure how. I suppose, like with all of us, she is relatable because her flaws. She does shout, she does make lumpy knitted jumpers, she does get stressed. But it’s never in an unreasonable way and it’s always driven by love. And she has the respect and love of her family, and is able to fight to protect them from the worst of monsters.
Tell Me Some More Examples Of Fictional Mums
Talk to me about your favourite fictional mums and why you love them, or hate them. Tell me about the mums you’ve written and where you draw your inspiration from. My mum makes her way into most of my stories in one way or another, and she always recognises herself.
More From JJ Barnes:
I am an author, filmmaker, artist and youtuber, and I am the creator and editor of The Table Read.
You can find links to all my work and social media on my website: www.jjbarnes.co.uk
Buy my books: www.sirenstories.co.uk/books
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