Saturday, May 11, 2013

Mother's Day Revisited

Some mothers are kissing mothers and some are scolding mothers, but it is love just the same, and most mothers kiss and scold together. -Pearl S. Buck

            Mother.  The word is rife with diverse meanings and deep emotion.  The mother archetype spans many types, from the attentive and loving parent to one who abandons or hurts her child.  In certain contexts, the word can even be an obscene oath. 
Carl Jung stated that the mother archetype exists in the child.  The baby projects the motherly ideals on the person who it sees as the nurturer.  That can be its biological mother or the nanny who loves the infant as her own.
Mother archetypes abound.  Mrs. Bennet in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is seen as both scheming and ridiculous in her pursuit of husbands for her flock of dowry deficient daughters.  Abigail “Marmee” March, a rock to the family during their father’s absence, wise and imperfect, instructing Jo in holding her temper by using her attempts to keep her own as an example.  And who can forget that shudder-worthy moment when Norman Bates spun that chair around and Mother Bates was mummified?   Aaaaaah!
Currently, I’m reading Abigail Jones by Grace Calloway.  The book raises the specter of Lilith, who is the mother of the demon world.  Lilith, in Jewish tradition, was Adam’s first wife, cast out of Eden when she refused to submit to Adam’s authority as her husband.  She sends her evil daughters into the world with the express purpose of proliferating evil and debauchery.   The offspring share a consciousness with their mother and a single-minded desire to carry out her wishes—a Jungian notion to be sure.     
In fictional stories, it seems that Mother often has an agenda—whether it is selfish or dedicated to the welfare of the child.  Real life is often more complicated.  The relationship between mother and child is deep and it resonates through the child’s lifetime, whether it is positive or negative.   Mother’s example can either be an inspiration or a cautionary tale.  Or, it is a little of both.   
The mothers that ring true for me are the ones who are complex.  The ones who try to do the best they can with the cards they’ve been dealt.  Love their imperfect children as they struggle to come to terms with their own imperfections. 
Who are your favorites mothers from books or movies?  What do you like about them?   

Happy Mother’s Day to beautifully flawed mothers everywhere.     


  1. Shoot, I tried to post earlier and Blogger ate my comment.

    Great post, Lisa.

    I tend to like literary mammas who are wise and let their kids make mistakes and learn from them. Julia Quinn's Bridgerton series comes to mind.

    I also tend not to be drawn to stories where the heroine is a mom. Take Romantic Suspense. I find it difficult to believe a mom who is danger or whose kid is in jeopardy would take her laser-beam focus off saving her child long enough to fall in love. Can it be done well? You bet. But for me, the writer must work that extra bit harder to convince me.

  2. Thank you, Keely. I like your comment about mothers being the heroine. Just like real life mothers have to balance everything in their lives with their children's needs, so does a character who is a mother. I also think that stories where the kid is easily dispensed of when things get hot are too facile. One way that suspense stories with a mother heroine work well is when the child is at the core of the danger, like in the movie "Witness." It was the son who saw the crime, not the mother, and both she and the detective fall in love while trying to keep the villain away from him.

  3. Lisa, what a lovely blog topic. I like your choice of mothers especially the comparison of Marmie and Mrs. Bennett. I have always loved the mothering-dad of fiction--like the dad in the Parent Trap--and the reluctant mother who finally comes around like Marilla Cuthbert in Anne of Green Gables.

    Mothers come in all kinds of packages.

  4. I agree - the mothering-dad provides all sorts of plot twists. I love the Parent Trap - especially the old one with Brian Keith and Maureen O'Hara. Mothers definitely do come in all packages.

  5. Really good post, Lisa!

    Sometimes, I love a fictional mother at odds with the heroine. Gini Hartzmark's legal thrillers are out of print, but if you can find them, snap them up. Heroine Kate is a pale reflection of her mother--and her mother never lets her forget what a disappointment that is. The two are always at loggerheads. And it makes Kate a stronger heroine. Her mother should be in her corner, but isn't. In so many ways, Kate is hung out to dry, there's conflict at every turn, and Kate has to pour on the juice to overcome.

    Love it!

  6. You're so right, Lisa. Wow! What a great post. I've never really thought much about the mother archetype. I do love a good mother figure, and my characters always seek one in my stories . . . although I think I shy away from writing the actual mother because the loss of my own mother when she was so young. Someday though, I will explore that one more. ;0)

  7. Christa - I'll have to look for the Gini Hartzmark books. That sounds fascinating, especially since their relationship is so flawed. The mother-daughter relationship is complex, even if it's a good one.

  8. Candy - You do have some great mother figures in your books and they always have an interesting twist to their personalities. Mother archetypes don't have to be your biological mother, as you pointed out.