As I slowly prepare for the end of my life as I know it impending parenthood, I can't help but sometimes get totally panicked about what makes a good parent. I mean, we can all think of moms and dads we idealize. Whether it was your best friend's mom who had the good snacks on hand, or that awesome step-dad who came to every baseball game, many of us have a vision of what it means to be good at parenting.
But, of course, as many have come forward to assure me, there really are no perfect parents. After all, we're all only human and bound to make mistakes. When I look back at some of the books I've read, I definitely can think of some moms and dads that are probably a little further out on the spectrum of parenting than others. Some of these characters are downright nasty, while others have their 'goodness' twisted in more complicated ways.
Check out some titles that look at some not-so-perfect parents.
Mary Jones in Push by Sapphire, 1996
Even if you haven't read Push, you may recall hearing about the movie, Precious, that came out some time ago based on it. Both the movie and the novel got overwhelming critical praise, not only for the brutally honest content, but for the stark, no-holds-barred language. Protagonist Precious Jones is sixteen, uneducated, and living in Harlem. She's also pregnant again by her father. Her mother, the verbally, physically and sexually abusive Mary Jones is connected to her daughter only through the welfare checks her existence allows. Mary is neglectful of basically all of Precious' needs and has been for years. Despite all this, Precious finds encouragement in an inspiring teacher and learns to turn her experiences into something brighter than she could even imagine.
Eva Khathadourian in We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver, 2003
I'm always a little torn when I consider Eva's character in this book. In a series of letters to her estranged husband, Eva recounts events leading up to, and after, a school massacre committed by her son, Kevin. On the one hand, Kevin, who is generally suspected to be a sociopath, is really the 'evil' character in the book. However, as readers, we slowly come to see that Eva never really felt a connection to Kevin, and in fact, has this odd adversarial relationship with him. How much of her attitude towards him from childhood helped shape his heinous crime as a teen? Could any of it have been avoided, or is this just another way of blaming the mother?
Corrine Dollanganger in Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews, 1979
Depending on your age, you may recall this classic V.C. Andrews series that began with Flowers in the Attic. Set in the late 50s, the Dollanganger family lives happily in Pennsylvania, until a car accident claims the father's life. Deep in debt, mother Corrine moves them all to Foxworth Hall, her estranged parents' estate. Grandmother Olivia has nothing but contempt for the Dollanganger kids and exiles them to stay indefinitely in a small bedroom in the attic. They are not allowed to leave or enter any other parts of the house. It is unclear at first - all we know is that Corrine did something years ago that earned quite the wrath of her parents. She promises her kids that she will win her parents back and eventually get them all together again as a family. But, over time, Corrine loses interest in her hidden children and they are left to fend for themselves.
Ram Karan in An Obedient Father by Akhil Sharma, 2000
Ram Karan is a bumbling corrupt school official in India who lives in a slum with his widowed daughter and young grand-daughter. As the primary bribe-collector for his department, he's stuck trying to hide his ways when the soon-to-be Prime Minister is murdered and the entire country is thrown into chaos. But it's not just his professional life at risk. When his daughter unveils a long-buried family secret, we are forced to consider the many faces of Ram. Is he a devoted family man overwhelmed with guilt? Or is he the worst type of man imaginable?
Ismail Boxwala in Six Metres of Pavement by Farzana Doctor, 2011
Ismail Boxwala made one terrible mistake once in his life. On a hot summer day in Toronto, he forgot his infant daughter in the backseat of his car. Twenty years after her death, divorced and isolated, he is still haunted. As he slowly begins to connect with some of the other compelling characters in the novel, we have no choice but to wonder: is there any coming back from an event like this? Is redemption even possible when our actions have led to such terrible consequences? Farzana Doctor creates complex, multi-dimensional characters in this immensely memorable second novel that really has us questioning the nature of parenting.
For more classic titles about bad parents, check out Lynn's previous post: Good Mothers vs. Bad Mothers