Monday, November 24, 2014

The Parenting Problem in MG: #2 the Absent / Busy / Bad Parent

On Friday, we started talking about how to get the kids away from the parents in middle grade books, so that they kids can be the ones to really shine and do the do the hard things, without the responsible adults stepping in to do it for them. We already talked about having your character be an orphan. Today, let's talk about the parents (or parent-figures) in middle grade who.... well... aren't the best role models ever. Because let's face it-- it really helps when the parents are NEVER AROUND. (Haha! I just realized how that last sentence sounds if only read it and nothing else. Parents are awesome. Keep them around. Unless you're writing a book, of course. ;))

The Absent / Busy / Bad Parent

Usually characterized by a single parent, who is caught up in his/her own life, sometimes because of work, sometimes because of social. (Wicked Step-Mother also fits into this category.)

In Janitors, the MC's mom is a single parent who is gone a lot. In Ophelia, her father is in the middle of curating a display for a museum, and extremely busy with that over the course of the book. In Gregor, his mom is very sick, and his dad is busy trying to keep everything in order.

  • It's easy to get kids off on an adventure believably. Tons of kids come from single-parent homes where the parent is rather busy and gone a lot (or even double parent homes where they both work a lot), leaving kids free to go on whatever adventures / mischief they'd like. So it's not a stretch for kids to believe that the kids are off doing things on their own.
  • Many kids have parent(s) who fall into this category, so it's very relatable.
  • It can annoy the gatekeepers. Middle grade books get read out loud by teachers / parents / guardians / other adults quite a bit. And let's face it: we kind of get tired of the adults in the stories making us look bad.
  • It's been done a lot. So, just like with orphans that we discussed on Friday, it's a little more difficult to make it feel fresh and new.
Tune in tomorrow, when we'll discuss one of my favorites-- Capable Parent / Capable Kid!


Angela Brown said...

When I originally started work on my MG fairy tale mashup, I was considering going the orphan route, then decided I wanted to have the parents there because the orphan thing is much like a ham and cheese sandwich, an easy grab.

But as a single mom, I can say that the scenarios you mention in this post are very true. I stay busy with my full time job and with my writing. Sometimes, my Chipmunk is able to get in some extra Power Rangers time when I have a deadline fast approaching. So far, she hasn't taken off to any adventures beyond playing Skylanders.

David P. King said...

I had to struggle with this one in another book of mine, but I think I found a way to pull it off without being annoying. :)

Chemist Ken said...

I've always thought that having the MC in MG stories be either an orphan or belonging to busy, missing-in-action parents was usually just the writer's way of taking the easy way out. That's why I'm making sure that my MC's parents are right there, front and center. So it will be up to the MC to figure out a way to have his adventures without letting his parents in on the secret.

Unknown said...

I feel like this is super logical, because it does happen often. But now I can't help but wonder, would busy parents have sitters, and would a good sitter counteract this?