Michaeline: Fictional Mothers who Kept a Sense of Self

A Japanese woman with an open kimono sits with her small son behind her. They are both looking into a mirror.

Motherhood in fiction: can the mother still see herself after she has children? (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

In genre fiction, many heroines and heroes have lost their mothers. Before medical advances, moms died. A lot. Childbirth, exhaustion, diseases that we can fix with a round of antibiotics . . . people in the 19th century knew about motherless children and orphans. Everyone had a cousin or a friend who had lost a mother (or had lost one themselves), so as a literature plot point, it packed a lot of punch and came with built-in baggage.

When mothers do appear, they are rarely the main character.

This is somewhat understandable. As a mom myself, I didn’t have the energy or the time to be a hero, unless it was the Hero of the Gastroenteritis of 1997 (when the child was exploding out of both ends), or the more everyday adventures of Dinner on the Table. Nobody wants to read a 75,000 word novel about that.

However, moms often have great reasons to go beyond and above the call of duty. After all, these “mama bear” chestnuts don’t get thrown around for no reason. If you mess with a woman’s kids, you can’t predict the results. Moms get proactive, creative and, to be honest, sometimes irrational when their children are in danger. They’ll push their kids out of the way of cars, donate a kidney, fight a pouncing cougar or rush into a burning building to rescue their children.

Two fictional mothers stick in my mind. One was the fiercely independent Stella Johnson (played by Barbara Eden) of the Harper Valley PTA. I was only nine or ten when I saw the movie, but I still remember how this mom kept her humor and was true to herself. Being a mom wasn’t integral to the plot (except, perhaps, that she needed a reason to be part of the Parent Teacher Association), but it was an essential part of her identity. She was a make-up saleswoman with style and flair, and she bested all the fuddy-duddy conservatives in town with the help of her free-spirited neighbors who were also sick of the oppression.

The other mom I admire greatly is Continue reading