It’s Mother’s day – or mothering Sunday - here in the UK on Sunday March 6th. Mills and Boon have joined together with Gransnet and are posting some of their authors’ favourite advice ( ‘Mumwisdom’ ) from their mothers - words of wisdom from their own mums that have really stood up to the test of time. Authors are also sharing their own favourite memories of their mothers. My personal memories can be found here.
As I said there, this weekend will be a specially poignant one for me as it marks the date that would have been my mother’s 100th birthday so my sisters and I – together with our children – her grandsons and granddaughter - are getting together in the town where we grew up for a special dinner to mark the day and raise a toast to her.
So, naturally, this started me thinking about the mothers who appear in romance stories and them way that mothers are portrayed in these stories. All women writers are daughters, and many of them are mothers. Their natural fascination with the emotional bonds between daughters and mothers should lead them to create stories about complex and varied relationships. But sometimes it seems that Mothers – or at least the mothers of our heroes and heroines end up with rather a bad press. It’s interesting isn’t it that in a genre of fiction that so often puts the emphasis on the desire of a woman to be a mother, the joy of being a mother – married or single, with one child or many – that often the actual maternal influence on the heroines themselves seems to disappear . There are so many titles Promoted: To Wife and Mother A Mother for the Tycoon's Child; Love and the Single Mom which proclaim motherhood and the that important role in a heroine’s life but the mother of the heroine is often non-existent or, worse a bad mother who would make even Cinderella’s wicked stepmother blanch. (Though it’s true that the worst mothers are often reserved for the heroes, making their lives a misery as if that justifies the way he then behaves towards his heroine!)
I’ve lost count of how many mothers have been killed off in car crashes, plane crashes, by illness or even terrorist attacks. It’s as if we need to isolate our heroines so that she has no warm, wise, caringmother to turn to when her relationship with the hero because disturbingly rocky. Or perhaps Mum is weak – emotionally or physically, needing to be cared for so that the roles are reversed and the heroine takes on the mothering role, needing to make huge sacrifices to make sure her parent is not hurt the revelation of her debts or the illness she suffers from made so much worse because of some knowledge the hero has or the way one of her children has behaved. I’ll admit that I have mothers like this in my stories.
Mothers who suffer from depression (Olivero’s Outrageous Proposal) or the mother of my most recent heroine – Rose, whose story Indebted to Moreno has just been accepted this week and will be published in October this year. One of the reasons Rose ends up indebted is because her mother is recovering from chemo and surgery after breast cancer. I suppose it’s a sort of back to front recognition of the importance of her mother in a heroine’s life that when her parent is weakened and threatened that she finds new strength, new endurance, and fights with renewed strength for her mother.
The other problem is that in such short, concentrated romance stories, we need to focus on the central hero and heroine relationship and so mothers and other family figures do tend to end up on the fringes of the story, if they are there at all. It’s not just romance novels though – the disappearing mother is a strong element of many romantic stories – Jane Eyre is an orphan, In Wuthering Heights Catherine Earnshaw’s mother dies when she is young. There are others - In Little Women by Louisa May Alcott Mrs March (Marmee) is the epitome of the ideal mother: patient, principled and good at housekeeping. Maybe a little too sweet for some people’s tastes, but her belief that her daughters should be educated and make their own decisions in life made her a mother ahead of her time in 1868.
Or Mrs Bennet from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Driven purely by her desire for good marriages for each of her daughters, she’s socially tactless, but it’s hard not to be warmed by her belief that her girls deserve only the best. At least she is trying to do something about the family's woeful situation: she appreciates the poverty and misery that will face them all if marriages are not made.
There aren’t many mothers like, say Mrs Weasley in the Harry Potter books – kind and fierce, matriarch and witch she somehow manages to take care of her family and Harry while fighting against Death Eaters. Or women who go to the lengths ‘Ma’ went to to protect her son in Room – not just inside the ‘room’ but outside as well. She’s brave, resourceful, vigilant and creative.
I think the truth is that it’s because romance is such story that is focussed on the heroine’s needs, strengths, happiness, even sexuality, that her mother must necessarily be rather shadowy or none existent. It’s the daughter’s story and that means that, as I’ve so often found, even the writer needs to forget her ‘inner mother’ as she’s writing the scenes of sensual awakening and passion. The strong mothers are the heroines - the ones who care for their ‘secret babies’ even when the hero will have nothing to do with them. Or who take on the nurturing of their sister’s child – or a much younger sibling when the child’s parents are not around to do so. Mothers who fight for their babies when it seems that the much more powerful, stronger, richer, hero holds all the cards.
One of my favourite scenes about a mother I created as a writer was one I had to write in Kept For Her Baby (2009)where the heroine, Lucy, is reunited with her baby son after fleeing from her home because she feared she would harm him because she was suffering from post-natal psychosis. Her tentative approach and fear came back to me recently as I watched the scenes in Eastenders where Stacy Branning – also suffering from post-natal psychosis – is reunited with her baby in hospital and fears she wouldn’t be able to bind with him again.
I love to see strong mothers in fiction. I love the way that romances show heroines who are not afraid to face up to opposition and danger when it comes to protecting their child. Even the most powerful and hostile alpha male can find he's bitten off more than he can chew when he comes up against a heroine who will fight like a lioness in defence of her child. Even If sometimes she has to acknowledge that the way she can best care for her son or daughter is by giving in and giving up some of her own personal freedoms.
I know that only the UK authors will be celebrating Mother's Day this weekend, for American and Australian readers it comes later in the year. But I'd like to wish all mothers a very happy day on Sunday, With my sisters and our children, I'll be celebrating it both as a daughter and as a mother myself so it will be a very special day indeed.
Also, if you missed Kept For Her Baby when it was first published - or you'd like to read it again - there's a great 3 in 1 collection Secret Love-Child