I hope that I’m a good Mummy. I know I don’t spend quite enough time with my children, and that I find their games pretty boring (playing “shops” would have to be the worst, where you line up to buy the same six items over and over and over and over….) But I read to them and sing to them and take them to the park and tell them I love them, and I certainly believe in the power of parenting to help children become good citizens in the world.
But parents in fiction are a different story all together. Parents of fictional protagonists are a difficult category and, often, they end up being complete arseholes. The roll call in my books (the ones I can remember anyway) includes bullies and drunkards (many, many drunkards), ice queens, idiots, psychotics, and neurotics. Often parents are absent all together: dead, missing in action, run off. Why is this so?
First, because parents are inconvenient in fiction. Stories thrive on big conflicts. If, in real life, one found oneself inside such a big conflict (e.g. evil spirits outside your window), the first thing one might do is call Mum (or Dad). Mum (or Dad) would then either (a) encourage you to come home from the haunted cottage on the lonely windswept moor, resulting in NO STORY, or (b) come and help you fight the evil spirits, resulting in too many characters performing the same function. Good parents can really screw up a story, because their default setting in life is to help their children. Bad parents cut their children off, leaving them to resolve conflicts on their own.
Second, because characters are more interesting if they’ve got emotional baggage. It’s one thing for your character to realise her dreams against insurmountable odds when she’s completely psychologically healthy; but give her a shitload of shame and crippling self-doubt from some past misadventure, and you add layers of complexity, even mystery. And where is the best and most common place to become dysfunctional? Yep, the family home.
So don’t read too much into my own family history from my novels. Sure, my dad was a mess and has appeared in several fictionalised forms throughout, but my mum is more like Stasya in Gold Dust. She’s warm, compassionate, practical, and patient. She’s the first person I’d have by my side, if I ever really had to do battle with evil spirits.