Jilly: Behind Every Hot Hero There’s His Mother

Every Hero Has One - The Role of the Romance Hero's Mother

Every Hero Has One

I’m having a small panic and I’d appreciate some input here. I’m writing a love story in which the hero’s mother is a major character. Question: if the hero’s relationship with his mother is an important sub-plot, does that somehow make the hero less hot/heroic or the story less romantic?

My hero, Ian, is a brilliant, workaholic entrepreneur. He’s an alpha type, the famous public face of his family business, but the creative genius and driving force behind it is his widowed mother, Ma. She’s a formidable character. There is a strong and loving relationship between Ma and her two sons, but she places a powerful burden of expectation on them. Ian and Cam are not afraid of Ma or dominated by her, but they accept her world-view and try to live up to the standards she sets, until the heroine, Rose, arrives on the scene and challenges the established order.

In the early part of the book Rose represents an opportunity for Ian. He knows as soon as he meets her that she’s something special and he takes a chance on investing in her. Ma is unequivocally against anything she believes might threaten her son’s happiness or the family’s business, and Rose checks both boxes. Ma’s fears are confirmed when for the first time ever Ian asserts his authority and over-rules her for Rose’s benefit. Later things get worse when Rose starts to insist there should be limits on the sacrifices Ian’s expected to make for the good of the family.

I’m thinking Ma’s sub-plot is a good thing because it supports Rose and Ian’s romance.

  • It’s not the main focus of the story; it’s subordinate to the two main plots – Rose and Ian’s love story, and Rose’s head-to-head with the main antagonist, Sasha;
  • Ian is the child of a strong marriage, and is loving and loyal to his family, giving the reader reason to think he has the potential to be a good life partner;
  • Ian is his own man. From the outset, he chooses Rose, even in the face of Ma’s opposition, giving the reader positive indications that he is not under his mother’s thumb and that in Happy Ever After-land Rose will be fully supported by her husband when things get difficult;
  • Rose is the catalyst, but change at Ian’s family business is inevitable. Rose’s love for Ian is what gives her the drive to make the family face up to the realities they’re all busily ignoring;
  • Rose has to be a strong character to hold her own with her future mother-in-law. In the end she earns Ma’s respect and liking, which bodes well for her happy future as part of the family.

So Ian loves his mother. Ma’s a dominant personality but she doesn’t dominate Ian. They work together in the family business but each has their area of autonomy. Does Ma’s strong presence in this story undermine Ian as a romantic hero?

Any and all thoughts/comments/suggestions most gratefully received!

11 thoughts on “Jilly: Behind Every Hot Hero There’s His Mother

  1. I think for me the answer lies in, who has the power? If Ma essentially runs the company, then Ian’s always second fiddle and not that heroic. If they are equal partners in the business, then I think you’re okay. You mention that Ian overrides one of Ma’s decisions for the first time, and later that he makes sacrifices for the family. Does Ian feel that he makes sacrifices, or do his interests change after he meets Rose? If he feels that he’s making a lot of sacrifices and he never overrules his mother, I think he needs to be awfully strong in other ways to make up for being under her thumb. As always, the devil’s in the details! He might be No. 2 and that gives him the strength and will to rise to the challenge in ways that make us love him and believe in his love for Rose and the success of their relationship.

    • Thanks for this, Kay. Ian is the CEO and runs the company. He’s definitely the boss. Ma is the creative director, she designs jewelry and she has no interest in the business side of things – she expects Ian to make it work. They have different but complementary skill-sets and a common goal so they have always worked well together.

      I should mention briefly that the success of the business is important, not just for the family’s finances, but for a whole host of other reasons.

      Ian would never think he was making sacrifices, it’s more that his entire life is invested in the success of the business and has been since his father died. He’s the boss, a lot of people depend on him, and it’s his responsibility to do whatever is necessary for its continuing success – so when the problems escalate, the business’s survival is threatened and the potential consequences are unthinkable, what should be expected of him?

      • Sounds great! Think of all the great family sagas with the strong moms and equally strong children breaking free–although I’m thinking mainly of US television I guess, like Dynasty and Dallas. Sounds like you have a hit on your hands!

    • Most importantly, Kay, you confirmed that it shouldn’t be a problem if I handle it right, but it’s definitely something I need to take extra care with. Thanks!

  2. I agree with Kay. That same line raised red flags for me:

    “Ma’s fears are confirmed when for the first time ever Ian asserts his authority and over-rules her for Rose’s benefit”

    I like it that Ian is choosing Rose over his mother. That shows that in many ways he’s stronger than his mother. In his personal life, mama doesn’t rule the roost. As long as he’s AS strong as his mother within the business (i.e. he has his own area of authority that he rules with an iron fist) I’d be more than good with it. Nothing gets in Ian’s way when it comes to love.

    Who wouldn’t love that in a hero?

    • Thank you, Kat, that really helps. I think it’s important that right from the beginning Ian chooses Rose over his mother, his family, everything, which is not a small thing for him and it’s a big shock to them. If there’s any doubt over whether Ian would put Rose first I don’t think their HEA would be convincing.

      Everything Ian does is driven by love, it’s just that until he meets Rose, all that love has all been channelled into his family and his community. When he meets Rose it becomes about her happiness and his own. He knows very quickly that she’s the one for him, but choosing her comes at a cost, and the cost escalates.

  3. This all sounds very logical and very emotionally-good. What worries me is that you think you have a problem somewhere in all this.

    I tend to read for story, not for genre, so I would be overjoyed to have a “whole” man as the hero — one with family and friends AND a strong, passionate love for the woman.

    As for the romance genre, a man who can get along with his mother is a good predictor for a man who can get along with another woman.

    As for the “red flag” — well, why hasn’t Ian gone against his mother before? Surely there have been little issues in the business that they’ve resolved in a friendly fashion? I can see Ian bowing to the creative force, because without the creativity, all they are selling is bits of metal and rock. I can see the mother having to bow to business considerations, or making a five-year-plan for platinum covered hair bows instead of rushing to production with platinum covered hair bows (but, then again, fashion is very “now”y — if she feels now is the time to strike with PCHB, it probably is. Five years from now, it’ll be antique jewelry . . . ). I don’t see much of a problem with this — there always has to be a first time for a major “creative” difference. Maybe up until now, Ian has been happy with the finances and the promo. Now he’s stepping in on Ma’s territory by making creative decisions. I don’t blame Ma for getting mad.

    I think you want to take care of the story, first. Some people are looking for a tortured, alpha-male, almost-rapist hero who only concentrates on the pursuit of the heroine — they aren’t your audience. (That’s a bit extreme — but I think a mother adds dimensions to a character.)

    • Thanks, Michaeline. Re Ian and Ma, I’m sure there must have been a thousand small issues that they’ve resolved in a friendly fashion, but this is the first time Ian’s gone ahead with something in the face of Ma’s total disagreement. You’re right that Ma has plenty of good reasons for getting mad.

      I didn’t think it should be a problem, but I’d had a couple of comments in feed-back that made me think I had to be extra careful about how I handled this sub-plot, and given that Ma will be Rose’s MIL it’s important for Ian and Rose’s HEA to get the balance right.

  4. Were I to place your story in my Regency-era world, Ian is the newly-minted earl who has responsibilities to family, tenants, and a host of other things, but the dowager countess still hosts the parties, sends out the invites, and runs the household. In other words, they each have their area of responsibility, but they also work well together, so that everything hums along.

    And then the lord meets his future lady. If the dowager countess likes his prospective bride, then she’ll hand over the reins without much difficulty, because it’s what’s expected. But if she doesn’t care for his lady love, then the power struggles begin.

    I’ve read many stories with this sort of plot line and I think the one thing that worked for me is that the son was always firm with his mother (or family) that SHE IS HIS CHOICE and he won’t back down. Yes, she brings change. Yes, she’s different. But I think it’s more to the mother to decide whether she’s going to remain involved in her son’s life or not. Her new daughter-in-law is going to be there; if she can swallow her pride and see that her son is happy, that she is his choice, then all is good. Yes, it’s a difficult swallow for the mother, but the alternative isn’t necessarily tolerable, either.

    An interesting story: my mom’s parents did NOT like my dad…not when they were dating, not even when they were engaged. In fact, my grandfather told my mom — as she stood at the door to the church, ready to walk down the aisle — “Now, sweetheart, you don’t have to do this. The car is right there,” he said, motioning over his shoulder. “We can leave now and it will be fine.” Naturally (because here I am), my mom didn’t leave. However, the second my dad became their son-in-law, my grandparents welcomed him with open arms and never said a bad word about him again. I asked my grandfather about this once and he said, “If we forced your mother to choose between us and your dad, we’d have never seen her again.” They didn’t like her choice (at first, anyway…I think he grew on them), but they also realized that if forced to choose, she’d choose my dad, so they made peace with themselves and decided that whatever doubts or discomfort they had would have to take a back seat to their daughter’s happiness.

    This is a lot of rambling. Not sure if much helps, but there it is. Family tension can really suck and make things very difficult, not just for the main players, but for the siblings, aunts, cousins, etc. as well. I think what everyone has to see is that Ian is happy, REALLY happy, not just in a “I’m crushing the competition” way. Ma may be the last to remove her blinders, though, for your story to work.

    Now I REALLY want to pick your brain for more about your story!!

    • Justine, you nailed it, this totally works as a historical! Rose wants the man, not the earl, but if she loves him, she’s going to have to be a countess. Add in financial problems on the estate and the ultra-wealthy daughter of one of the new ‘middling sort’ (made a fortune from the Industrial Revolution) and who wants an Earl and his stately homes, and you’ve got the whole thing, more or less.

      Love the story about your dad!

    • Oh, both parts of this comment are super, Justine! I really don’t think the family struggles are a minus point (in fiction!!). It adds extra spice and difficulty to the story. The main thing is that it’s a tightrope. You don’t want to make Ma a raving maniac, but she’s definitely not a pushover. It sounds like this is a very important subplot for your Girls.

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