This Metaphorical Bar ep. 5: Parental Relationships

Content: Some discussion of trauma and toxic parents. Brief mention of suicide attempt in fiction around the 33 minute mark.

Note: Due to recording issues, we lost a chunk of the discussion around traumatic and/or difficult relationships with their parents and segue quickly into complicated relationships between parents and their adult children.

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Who We Are

I’m Carla M. Lee, an author, artist, and attorney living in the Midwest USA and my mom and dad are my sister’s grandparents.

I’m Karen Healey, an author and teacher living in Otautahi New Zealand, and I MCd a NZ poetry day competition where I formatted the instructions as a sestina.

I’m Robyn Fleming, a parent and writer in Tucson, Arizona. I had to make up a song about bandaids last week, and my three-year-old critiqued my meter.

What We’re Drinking

Robyn: Mt. Dew

Karen: Blanc de blancs brut

Carla: ice water

Episode Summary

Topic: Parental Relationships

  • What we bring to the table:
    • Carla is adopted and has siblings who were not adopted and were raised by other people, including their birth mother and has never and will never want to be a parent.
    • Robyn has always wanted to be a parent and took care of children as a baby-sitter for many, many years, has excellent parents, and is a formative adult as a martial arts instructor.
    • Karen was parented by biological parents, open to the idea of being a parent but does not want to carry the child herself, and is a formative adult for more than 100 students between 12 and 18 years old.
  • Absent parent trope
    • A trope is a thematic piece that runs across media — here in kids books, middle grade, YA, adventure stories, etc., kids are doing things but the parents are gone for some reason or another.
    • Sometimes you have to get the parents out of the way so the kids can do something dangerous or adventurous or outside the norm.
    • If you get rid of the parents, the characters need to deal with their absence.
    • On the other hand, some stories just don’t have parents — there are fun shows for little kids where they don’t have parents at all, but that’s not a part of the story, things are just fun and strange — sometimes they don’t, though, and the ones with parents or parental figures are generally grounded in quieter, more immediate stories.
    • Does the absence of parents empower kids or mildly discomfort them, and who is doing the research, and where can we read it?
    • In the 80s and 90s teen fiction, the parents are gone (often in “Europe” the vague monolith), which opens the kids to be able to be in danger, and it seems like a wish fulfillment thing sometimes – this is what it’s like to live without parents or what it’s like to have this fantasy of being able to take care of themselves at a young age.
  • Baby-Sitters Club and performing the parental role
    • Baby-sitters fill a role as the parent, which can be wish fulfillment for them.
    • Fantasies open to kids, e.g., Odd Squad, where they can work in a place where all their bosses are also children.
    • Parents are absence unless the problem they’re trying to solve has something to do with the parents, because you need the parents around to argue with over the issues of the book, or the baby-sitters fixing the parents of the kids they baby-sit, because the parents are flawed and the baby-sitters can fix it as the adult advocating for the children. Very wish fulfillment.
  • Second parents and parental figures
    • Parents of friends as a parental figure doesn’t really show up in fiction like it did in their actual lives — inside you see teacher or coach or some other adult who steps in to fill that role. This may be tied to the fact that a lot of the stories are about kids who don’t have a lot of close friends because of whatever issues are being addressed.
    • E.g., Matilda by Roald Dahl, could not have the story if the teacher already had kids, because story leans on the idea that you can’t already be a parent in order to be a potential parental figure, even though this ignores reality.
    • Sometimes the only role available in these stories is that of a parent or pseudo-parent instead of a non-parent adult being involved, which is unfortunate.
  • Siblings as parents
    • Don’t see a ton of the big sister or big brother I never had; instead, the friends and siblings who are close in age and having adventures or fighting.
    • When you do see it, the older sibling ends up filling the parental role (e.g., Lilo & Stitch). This changes the dynamic between them and complicates things.
  • Trauma, toxic parents, and adult children relationships with their parents
    • Parents and families, particularly parents who were traumatic or toxic, are people we don’t always choose/have no control over for a long time, but they shape who we are as people in sometimes huge ways.
    • See some and want to see more of the adult child standing up and claiming their own adulthood even when their parents still see them as children.
    • Adult children can be standing in two worlds where their parents believe they were parented well but the kids actually had to parent themselves but that is then stripped away from them when they are adults.
    • Parents can see their adult children one way, and maybe that was true when they were growing up or maybe it is true now, but it is not the only truth and the adult children are also other ways, too, and it is hard to balance those two things when dealing with parents.
  • When authors write about toxic parents or absent parents, are they working through things and if so, does it matter
    • While you can sometimes see an author’s issues show up in their stories, particularly when they keep coming back to the same thing over and over again, toxic parents or absent parents, for an example, occur in fiction because that is what needs to be there for that story or that character — character growth can be tied directly to the parental influence in their lives.
    • Some authors worry about their parents coming back to them if they write about toxic parents, worried that the toxic parent is the author’s view of their parents.
  • Empress of Timbra, involved parents, and biological versus non-biological parenting
    • Intentionally wanted involved parents, but that complicated how they could have the protagonists have adventures that put them into danger.
    • Inspired by Carla’s focus on showing adoption and adopted families as “real” families, they intentionally wrote about parents of different types being important and real.
  • As with all writing, these relationships are complicated and making intentional choices can help make the story more nuanced and powerful.

Things Mentioned in the Episode

Ask Your Friendly Neighborhood Bartender

Anonymous: Karen, what books did you spend $400 on????

From the Christchurch Word Festival:

Find Us Online

Carla: @carlamlee on Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram 

Karen: @kehealey on Twitter, @karenhealey on Tumblr 

Robyn: @robyn_writing on Twitter

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