Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Painfully Oblivious Parent

You know the kind.  Oblivious to the point of being absurd.  Bella's dad in the Twilight books is one.  The dad in Josephine Angelini's Starcrossed (a book which I far prefer to Twilight and a lot of other YA paranormal romance books that I've read lately) is another.  (Though in his defense, because I really did enjoy the book, he's nowhere near as densely oblivious as Bella's dad.)  But the one that takes the cake for me is Eliot's mom in "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial."  (Yes, it's a movie, but the trope is the same.)

I'm tired of seeing this.  Yes, kids do great jobs at hiding things from their parents.  (Though I was never one.  My mom's always been one of my closest friends.)  But these parents and others like them are so dense and oblivious I groan when I read them.  I realize it's a method of getting the parents' noses out of the kids' business so that the kids can be off doing their thing and conquering the world on their own.  But in my mind it sometimes borders on the inane.

A solution is the parent who knows but can't do anything.  Percy Jackson's mom comes to mind.  She can't see any of the baddies her son has to face.  He has to move away from home for his and her safety.  But whenever they happen to have an interaction, she's 100% supportive even though she might be terrified out of her mind underneath her calm facade.

I'd like to see more YA where the parents are aware of the situation but can't do anything, as with Percy's mom, or are aware to the point of becoming a source of conflict that can deepen the internal and/or external arc.  (I'm thinking of the mom in Sophie Jordan's Firelight here.)

What think you?


  1. Bella's Dad drove me crazy! Crazy! So much so that I wrote about it here: How could he be a police chief and be so oblivious? I agree that parents should be developed as more realistic characters to therefore enhance the story...unlike Bella's Dad who simply "allows" the story. If my daughter was dating a vampire, I'm telling you, I'd figure it out.

  2. I think it's "easy" to let the parents is YA be either non-existent or oblivious. You can still have a theme of misunderstanding or strained relationships without making the parents completely unbelievable.

  3. I don't know - I mean, I agree in theory, I definitely do, but I may not have when I was fifteen. 'Parents? Ugh, I have to deal with them in real life, why would I want them in my fiction?'
    So no, oblivious parents are bad. But kids live largely in their own world, and forcing a parent into it can be a huge immersion-killer. So it's a careful line. :)

  4. It's one of the reasons I don't read much YA, actually. It bugs me as a mom of teens. I was so infuriated at the adults in The Hunger Games, that I couldn't even continue the book. Stopped reading.


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