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The ridiculously oblivious parent
Posted: Thursday, May 12, 2011 5:13 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 245

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 is another.  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 tried of seeing this.  Yes, kids do great jobs at hiding things from their parents.  But these parents and others like them are so dense and oblivious that I groan when I read them.  I realize it's an 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.

Danielle Bowers
Posted: Thursday, May 12, 2011 5:44 PM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 280

My mum's a trope! She'll be so pleased. In the case of my mum though, it was more she was willfully blind so long as I kept my grades up in school.

In the case of Bella's father I think he was just rather clueless about kids, Bella didn't live with him until what...her junior year? He wouldn't have the 'mom radar' that beeps when your kids are up to something. After the third book I started wondering why he never heard two voices constantly coming from his daughter's room.

E.T.- I'm with you on that one.

Posted: Thursday, May 12, 2011 5:51 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 245

I'll give you that on Bella's dad. But he was trying so hard in so many ways that I still got the "dense to the point of ridiculous vibe."

Thinking about it, maybe it bothers me so much because this sort of parenting goes against the grain of everything I've been taught about parenting. I belong to a very family-focused religion, where the importance of family and the importance of the parents' role in raising children to be vibrant, healthy, capable adults is paramount.

Maybe. I don't know.
Posted: Tuesday, May 17, 2011 10:15 PM
Joined: 5/5/2011
Posts: 24

Anyone know of a good book that lampshades the oblivious parent trope? I think you could have a lot of fun with it.

Addley, I have the same pet peeve, though I haven't read Timeless. Is it worth the read despite the annoying mom?

I spent tons of time coming up with ways to keep my MC's mother out of the loop to avoid this trope before I thought, why waste the opportunity to add in a bit more conflict? Now my MC has her mom chasing after her to take her in for psychiatric evaluation while she battles the Angel of Death and Lucifer.
Posted: Thursday, May 19, 2011 7:30 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 245

There's such a deep well of conflict to pull from if you bring the parents in, I think. So often there are many books where the kids are sent off to school or a camp or the parent just remains densely unaware so as to enable the protagonist to fend for themselves.

I totally agree about Percy's mom. She's 100% aware of the fact that her son faces dangers she can't even fathom or see, but she's there a million percent to support him however she can. Percy can go off adventuring and his mom knows he's doing it, but then that sense of trying to protect her informs his actions.
Robert C Roman
Posted: Wednesday, June 1, 2011 1:33 PM
Joined: 3/12/2011
Posts: 383

I don't generally write YA; my imagination tends to be a little on the dark side. However, I recently had an idea for a SF YA story where the biggest source of conflict *is* the lack of parents, since the kids are, in essence, shipwrecked.

While I agree on the annoyance of the 'oblivious parent' trope, if I were to do what my coworkers and peers say I should and write the story of my students, I would have to use it. Not because I'm being lazy, but because a lot of my students parents are real world examples of the trope.

Of course, now I'm tempted to try something where I hang a lampshade on the oblivious trope.
Posted: Wednesday, June 1, 2011 1:53 PM
Joined: 5/5/2011
Posts: 24

Robert: Do it! Do it! It would be hilarious.
Ella Black
Posted: Saturday, April 28, 2012 1:45 PM
Joined: 1/26/2012
Posts: 28

A little late in the game for this conversation, but...

I agree wholeheartedly! This might be one of my least favorite of the tropes because I get so mad at the parents. I think, why don't you care!?! Maybe it's because, as Robert astutely points out, many kids today actually live this experience, and that makes me angry, too.

I wonder if throwing a lampshade on it would make it more or less appealing to young readers. However, I think a lot of those kids, even if their parents let them basically do whatever they want, have conflicts with their parents over other things. So, I think kids can relate to parent conflict on a whole, even if it looks different from their situations. And, I think having more examples of healthy child/parent relationships that are fictional (but realistic) can't be a bad thing for kids to read.

Lucy Silag
Posted: Tuesday, July 9, 2013 3:01 PM
Joined: 6/7/2013
Posts: 1359

I love this discussion! I LOLed thinking about Bella's dad, Charlie. Poor man.


 This is such a hard thing to balance in YA!


 I do think that YA editors are fearful of adding in too much parent involvement, because they don't want to turn off the kids that are reading their books. They have a point--kids and teens hear from their parents all day long. Part of the joy of reading is to experience the world--if only the world inside the book for the time being--unmitigated by parental involvement.


And think about it. Pop culture that tries to blend in the parents' story with the kids' (first example that comes to mind is Friday Night Lights, which I am currently watching on Amazon Prime). It would feel like those kinds of stories that blend so many perspectives would have broad appeal, but maybe it just makes it so that half the audience is bored half the time.


But as fiction writers, we have this mandate from ourselves to present a credible emotional scenario to our reader, and these parents who notice almost nothing of the intense drama that happens in YA novels are negligent to the point of dangerous! We don't want our moms, dads, guardians, etc. to be so out of the loop, because that would mean they were absentee parents, which gives them unintentional villainous-ness, or at least, unlikability. But what to do with them?


One trope that is starting to drive me CRAZY is this idea that the reason the teens can get up to so many adventures is because their single mom is too seriously depressed (like in THE HUNGER GAMES) to care for them. It started out as a good workaround for this problem in YA fiction, but now it just feels like dead weight in the stories I am reading.





--edited by Lucy Silag on 7/9/2013, 3:02 PM--

Nevena Georgieva
Posted: Tuesday, August 20, 2013 6:29 PM
Joined: 2/9/2012
Posts: 438

I think that what's worse than the "oblivious parent" trope is the "dead parent" trope. It's easier to have the parent completely out of the picture so that the YA protagonist can get himself or herself into all of kinds of trouble, undisturbed.


Just think about all the dystopian books that have dead parents in them: THE HUNGER GAMES, DIVERGENT, DELIRIUM, LEGEND, THE 5TH WAVE. I can keep going! 

Toni Smalley
Posted: Friday, September 6, 2013 3:28 PM

@Nevena: I agree with your thoughts on the "dead parent" trope. And if you don't feel comfortable with a dead parent, just put them in a coma (Like Clare did in The Mortal Instrument series).

Posted: Monday, September 9, 2013 2:07 PM
Joined: 9/9/2013
Posts: 1

I'm new to Book Country (as you can see by my lack of posts ) but the absent/dead/oblivious parent is a compelling topic, so here I go.


As a parent, and especially as a mom, I see so much of this in Disney/Pixar - 90% of their protagonists are either orphans or missing a parent. Just think of all of the animated movies where Act One is mommy getting killed off!


I think that it shapes how children see themselves as the hero of the story and by the time you are dealing with adolescents/young adults, I think that the standard has been set: To be the hero of the story, you must be free of parental constraint and able to demonstrate your superior decision-making skills.


I actually don't take issue with it as a device for that age group, because that autonomy is what most adolescents/young adults are seeking – at the very least in their fantasy lives – and they typically believe that they know more than the adults around them so they relate to a scenario where parental intercession is at a minimum.


In my own writing, my protagonist is a freshman in college – so she is naturally away from home and parental constraint, though her parents' history is a driving factor in her story. 

Toni Smalley
Posted: Wednesday, September 18, 2013 5:19 PM

@alimc: Good point on bringing up Disney movies. I immediately thought of Bambi sad I agree, I think being free of "parental constraint" definitely adds to the independence and development of the character and how they fall into the role of hero in the story, but I think a writer can make a hero just as well with parents in the picture. 



Greatest example of all time is Buffy the Vampire Slayer (...and I say greatest because I'm a big BTVS nerd lol!). Joyce, Buffy's mom, is in the picture throughout the high school years, yet Buffy manages to sneak out the window and kill the Master and all the other baddies, occasionally stopping a few apocalypses. So I don't think having a parent in the picture hinders in creating a hero. Her mom does eventually discover Buffy is a slayer in season 3. 



Joyce is an important part of Buffy's life, providing support and stability, which children, teenagers, and even me at 29 years old need. I wish more books would incorporate this lesson--we need our parents. They are important, they help us develop into respectable adults, no matter how annoying and overbearing we find them in our younger years.

--edited by Toni Smalley on 9/18/2013, 5:19 PM--

Aira Philipps
Posted: Friday, September 20, 2013 10:04 PM
Joined: 8/18/2013
Posts: 31

    I always wonder about the Disney thing too. Toy story for example, they don't show the Adults at all (much like Charlie Brown) I watch that movie and say where is the dad? I guess to the child they are not interested in the parents and want to live through the eyes of the character. Then here is the sympathetic aspect many authors use, such as Roald Daul, and even Dickens, worked pretty well for them. I guess it all depends on how you explain how the hardship made the character who they are. Sometimes even kids with parents feel alone, so I think they can relate to these characters.


  In YA they should be beyond that, but it doesn't seem to keep them from lapping it up. In my story much like my real life my father is center stage, and he let me get away with very little. As much as he watched over me and tried to catch me doing things, he didn't always succeed. I have three boys and while they had a hard time getting around my watchful eye they still managed. Kids do get away with more than we think. My dad didn't know how much until I was an adult and told him!

Hannah Grischuk
Posted: Wednesday, October 16, 2013 4:20 PM
Joined: 10/13/2013
Posts: 5

Depending on the POV of your story, you could use the unreliable narrator. Small things insinuate the parent knows what the child is doing, but as far as the kid knows he or she has no idea.
Amanda Kimberley
Posted: Wednesday, January 28, 2015 12:16 PM
Joined: 11/30/2011
Posts: 69

When I think of clueless parents, I can't help but to think about Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Both of them spawned a pyromaniac and Buffy went to counseling, as well as, the hospital for this (at least in a dream state for one of the shows) and the parents always seemed to think it was drugs.


I got the most kick out of seeing the mom go on a hunt with Buffy. I guess she wanted to relate? It's these types of parents that are so clueless that it borders on hysterically funny for the plot and I don't mind that so much. I guess because it reminds me of all the hokey things my parents tried to do to relate to me.


Clueless parents can work, especially with the paranormal stuff because if said kid hero/heroine was diagnosed as bi-polar or with schizophrenia, you really wouldn't have a story because that kid would be consumed with counseling time while out of the house and consumed with parent time inside the house.


Would it be nice to see a believable parent trying to relate to the kid? Sure it would! But I personally think the only way that's possible is if the mom/dad is hiding a paranormal secret themselves. OOOOO! That sounds like a good story!


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