Monday, May 21, 2012

Imperfect Parenting

My seven year-old loves to read, so naturally, when I brought home the createspace version of Hatched, he wanted to read it.

Panic set in.

It wasn't because I was worried he wouldn't like it, or that the story wasn't good. Nothing so logical. I started to panic, because I allow my characters to do things I would never let my children do.

On Friday, Melanie wrote this awesome post on how we aren't our character's parents, and how as authors, we need to stop coddling them. It's brilliant, and definitely worth reading.

Mom let them do what?
It made me think though. I've never thought of my characters as my children, so I've never tried to coddle them, or tried to give them the same sense of morality that I want my children to live by. I've only tried to create true characters in honest situations. And true characters make out with cute boys, swear, and stay out late fighting the forces of evil. At least they do in my head.

Does writing about that make me a bad mom?

When my kids are teenagers, and get busted for staying out past curfew, will they say, "but you let your characters do it?" Will my daughter flirt and kiss cute boys, just the same way Larissa does in Funny Tragic, Crazy Magic?


As a mom, I try to show my children the example I want them to follow. I try to practice what I preach. I want to let them know what I think is right or wrong, and I expect them to live by the rules my husband and I set.

 But I remember being a teenager. I remember the heartache, and the confusion. I remember what happened in the halls of my Junior High. I remember making bad decisions, and I remember the consequences. The idea floating in my head of what my perfect children will be like when they are teenagers forgets all that. My children won't know anyone who does drugs. My perfect children won't feel heartbreak, or be in car accidents, or swear, or be involved with any of the vices I regularly and happily inflict on my characters.

I don't write for teenagers because I want them to know what they should be doing, or what good kids do when confronted with evil. I don't write morality plays, or EFY firesides. I write for teenagers because I want to help them know they aren't alone. I write for teenagers, because I remember what it is like to be a teenager, and those are the stories that infect my brain, and force my fingers to dance across a keyboard.
I've  heard, "My parent's just don't understand" so often from teenagers, that I think it has become a cliche. I wonder if maybe teenagers think that, because their parents want their children to be something that they aren't, and they don't understand why it isn't happening. Maybe parents don't understand, because they are too busy trying to teach the kids how to be better, to stop and see the kids for who they are. Maybe we don't want to see what our teenagers are going through, because we know pain is coming, and we can't protect them from it.

It's a hard road, trying to figure out the line between accepting our children for the perfectly imperfect creatures that they are, and expecting our children to be good, to be kind, and make good decisions. My oldest is seven, and I'm already panicking about it. What do you do? Do you let them be real, or do you try to teach them to be better? Is there any way we can do both?

Can we set firm limits and expectations while allowing our children the privilege of knowing that WE as parents aren't perfect? Do we have to pretend to be something we are not, in order to force our children to be something that doesn't exist? Is that really what being a good parent is all about?

I try to write about real people. Maybe I need to allow my children to be real as well.

And maybe, I need to allow my children to see that I'm real as well.

Why does that concept make me panic?


  1. This is a great post, and I totally see where you are coming from. I haven't even thought about my kids reading my stuff. My oldest has a read a line or two over my shoulder as I type, but that is it, and I think it will be a long time before I'd let her read much more.

    I think it is all about showing the consequences of your characters less than stellar actions. If your character is going to sneak out of the house, she could be picked up by the cops, hit by a drunk driver, or attacked by a vampire. Now you have conflict and a moral lesson in one. So when your kids say, your character snuck out of the house too, you can say, "Yeah, how'd that work out for her." :)

    I know it really isn't that simple, but I say be true to your story and don't worry about your audience even if that audience is your own kids.

  2. As a woman who regularly has dreams about two separate and distinct versions of myself trying to hurt each other, I'm probably not the best person to answer any of these questions.

    And the first time I ever had my main character's neck touched seductively BY THE WRONG BOY's LIPS I wondered what on Earth was wrong with me. How could the mother I was trying to be write something like THAT?

    I'm learning to trust my creative self, though it's a hard process. I think when I listen to my creative self, I'm much more in balance, and I am better able to teach my kids the things you're talking about in this post. This post has been very thought provoking for me, and I can't wait to read comments from people who don't struggle with this issue. At the same time, it's SO nice to know I'm not completely alone in struggling with it!

  3. "On Friday, Melanie wrote this awesome post on how we aren't our character's parents, and how as authors, we need to stop coddling them. It's brilliant, and definitely worth reading."--Its comments like this that really spotlight your genius, Sheena. Thanks for making me smile!

  4. As parents, we don't get to control who our children become or everything that happens to them. All we can do is try to shape the inputs, by setting limits and setting an example. We can give our characters happy endings, but not our children. In fiction, I can turn that unplanned pregnancy or drug habit into a journey that goes somewhere positive in the end. In life, downward spirals sometimes just keep spiraling downward. So to my mind there's just no comparison. As for my kids, well, my 8-year-old already understands that fictional characters just get to do things real boys don't, and that's that. He seems to accept it just fine.

    The hard thing for me as a parent is accepting the parts of my child that mirror parts of me I'm not too proud of. When I see him making the same mistakes, or having personality traits that I know have not served me well... yeah, accepting it is hard. I don't think anyone finds the balance perfectly, but if you're thinking about it you are probably doing right by your child :)


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