I attended my last two writing conferences with a baby strapped to my chest. It terrified me and added a decent amount of anxiety. I pictured him crying inconsolably while other attendees glared at me for selfishly ruining their learning opportunity. It took a lot of deep breaths, and a good pep talk to convince myself that just because I was a mother did not mean I also had to be stuck at home. I had talents, I deserved to learn, and I was also a capable mother who could take care of her child in a public setting. So, off I went.
The bravery to go didn’t come on its own, though. I am lucky enough to have a wonderful support group. The girls at Writing Through Brambles are passionate about motherhood and their writing, and believe the two go hand in hand. This belief has led us to create an anthology centered on mothers called Beyond Instinct.
Since we've started talking about this anthology, I have thought a lot about the place of women in life and in fiction. Unfortunately, not all mothers have the support that I do. Perhaps that's why so many women believe that once children come into the picture, all their fun is over. Some think they will only be able to pick up their dreams again once the children are out of the house. Women feel guilty for spending time on themselves. Though a lot of our media is turning it's stories to spotlight strong women, it surprises me that sci-fi and fantasy fiction haven’t recognized the more significant place for mothers. Shouldn't there be room for mothers amidst stories of strong women?
There are plenty of mothers to draw ideas from: the United States Census Bureau recorded that, in 2014, there were 43.5 million mothers between the ages of 15 and 50. Yet, the mothers we see fiction are often dead (Disney, Harry Potter, Fantine of Les Mis, ). There’s a good(ish) reason for this, of course. Wikipedia puts it plainly that “the death of a pregnant or delivering mother is a powerful device: it removes one character and places the surviving child into an often hostile environment which has to be overcome.”
Disney’s Don Hann also says a similar thing in an interview he did with Glamour. “In shorthand, it's much quicker to have characters grow up when you bump off their parents. Bambi's mother gets killed, so he has to grow up. Belle only has a father, but he gets lost, so she has to step into that position. It's a story shorthand”.
If they’re not dead, then mothers are out for the count- their pregnancy or motherhood the reason that they themselves cannot accomplish the goal that drives the plot along. Or their experience is seen through masculine eyes. While there's is nothing wrong with these types of stories, they don’t even begin to cover all of the complexities of motherhood. Though there are a few good examples of mothers and the active roles they can play, as a culture it seems that we believe mothers are not capable of carrying out their own stories.
What would be wonderful to see is more characters who fill the role of Mrs. Weasly when she joins the fight at the end of the Harry Potter series. Or Helen Parr, who teaches her children the importance of family and rescues Mr. Incredible, and then the world. Beyond Instinct hopes to show that all mothers, whether they are pregnant, a keeper of toddlers, or the landing ground for grown children are capable of fighting their own fights, of making impactful and interesting decisions.
We no longer live in a time where being pregnant is a bed sentence, and mothers can nurture in the home and impact the world, but we do live in a time where I believe mothers need a new narrative to listen to that bolsters them, gives them hope, and most importantly helps them feel seen
The need for a new narrative is especially apparent when you consider that 68% of parents report feeling isolated from their friends. More than 20% of women who have a live birth will develop Post Partum Depression.
There is something we can do about the way motherhood is viewed, especially by mothers themselves. We can arm mothers with stories about empowered women who face the same challenges that they do. The friendship they find in those characters will help them feel seen. In our stories they can find solutions that touch their hearts and bring a little sunshine to their otherwise dark situation.
I once thought that, though I may be my son’s superhero, I was still a superhero equipped with nothing more than magic kisses, and that was not a story worth reading. But what if we as writers made it so? That book would bring me to tears.
Writing Through Brambles wants to add to the mothers in fantasy and science fiction, so we have created “Beyond Instinct”. We would like to include your story. We are looking for short stories that show what mothers are capable of, address the struggles mothers face head on, and most importantly improve the narrative. If you feel inspired to help uplift women submissions are open until October 1. You can find submission guidelines here or in the Anthology Submission Guidelines tab above. When we support each other, we can accomplish great things.
We're all writers, we're all moms, writing our way through the "brambles" of life and our stories.