Good Moms/Bad Moms – It Takes All Kinds in Novels!



For Mother’s Day, the nation TS-478699243 Good Momcelebrated motherhood with floral bouquets and restaurants full of dutiful children honoring moms. Of course, in fiction, especially mystery writing, the “bad” mother is usually more significant to plot and character development.

Start with Euripides’ Medea, who punishes husband Jason’s betrayal by murdering their children. Examples of other famous bad moms in literature range from Shakespeare’s shallow sensualist Queen Gertrude in Hamlet to Philip Roth’s overbearing Sophie Portnoy in Portnoy’s Complaint, V.C. Andrews’ cruel Corinne Dollanganger in Flowers in the Attic, Stephen King’s fanatic Margaret White in Carrie, William Faulkner’s rejecting Addie Bundren in As I Lay Dying, and Jane Austen’s foolish Mrs. Bennett in Pride and Prejudice.

TS-452711969 Bad MomProbably the most heinous crime in our culture is a mother’s murder or torture of her own children. But most fictional bad mothers commit emotional crimes rather than physical violence. Their toxic mothering patterns have been helpfully categorized by Peg Streep, author of Mean Mothers: dismissive (ignoring and rejecting), controlling (micromanaging), unavailable (emotional withdrawal or actual abandonment), enmeshed (“stage” moms), combative (hypercritical and competitive), self-involved (superficial narcissists), unreliable (behavioral swings), and role-reversed (dependent moms, such as those with alcoholism or depression). No wonder bad moms are such good fodder for writers!

Even if you see a mother’s failings reflected in fiction’s bad moms, my advice is to cut motherhood some slack this Mother’s Day. Definitely don’t expect mothers to live up to our culture’s myths of the “good” mother, with her instinctive, unconditional and instant mother love! Maternal behavior is not instinctive; human behavior is more complex, individual and cultural than that. Maternal love is not unconditional and without preference; good parenting actually sets boundaries and recognizes differences. And maternal attachment is hardly instant; a mother-child relationship takes time and hard work. Just being a “good enough” mom is an achievement!

For a good article about harmful motherhood myths, see


Katherine Sharma’s family roots are in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. But after her early childhood in Texas, she has moved around the country and lived in seven other states, from Virginia to Hawaii. She currently resides in California with her husband and three children. She has also traveled extensively in Europe, Africa and Asia, and makes regular visits to family in India. After receiving her bachelor’s degree. in economics and her master’s degree in journalism from the University of Michigan, Katherine worked as a newspaper and magazine writer and editor for more than 15 years. She then shifted into management and marketing roles for firms in industries ranging from outdoor recreation to insurance to direct marketing. Although Katherine still works as a marketing consultant, she is now focused on creative writing.

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