It’s funny that everyone believes coming from a broken home could be detrimental to children but not in the case of children in literature. Most of the characters in the stories we love either had no parents at all or absentee parents. Basically they were latchkey children, having to fend for themselves, especially in YA books with a coming of age type story.
I’ve noticed a growing trend in YA books with children in foster care, children with dead parents, or with one parent absent from the home. I myself have included it in my own stories. Harry Potter, Jane Eyre, Alice in Wonderland, Mortal Instruments, even movies like Star Wars and shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Here is why I think it is sometimes a necessary evil:
It humbles the character. The character speaks more to our hearts if they come from a humble background. Would we have felt more for Harry Potter if his parents had survived Voldemort’s attack? I don’t think so. It brings out that nurturing side of us. We want nothing but good things to happen to this character because they are so humble and have gone through so much hardship at such a young age.
2. Not having that support builds self-reliance. Imagine if Jane Eyre had her family’s support from the beginning? She would have never had to go to that dreadful school, succumb to working as a governess and had that stoic demeanor that Mr. Rochester grew to admire and later love. When one has that family support, one can become somewhat complacent and when you’re happy, you have little reason to push yourself to do things that might be out of your comfort zone. Children with absentee parents like say Katniss from Hunger Games would have been a bit more like Peeta. She had to rely on herself and this helped her during the games and the rest of the series.
3. It just makes for a good story. Most stories try to end happily. If the character already has a really great home life from the get go, it’s hard to get any better than that. The happy ending doesn’t feel as amazing and you don’t feel that sense of relief that things turned out better than they were before (example: every fairytale EVER.)
4. There’s a freedom that comes with no parents. What I mean is if you constantly have a character needing to check in with their parents before every adventure (because if they’re good parent’s you know they’re going to wonder where the hell their kid is all this time) it makes the story drag. If Peter Pan had parent’s worrying about him would he have been able to escape to all those great adventures? Of course not. Unfortunately good parents sometimes make for boring story telling. It sucks, I know, but there is a reason why there are so few characters with both parents in the picture and engaging in active parenting.
I really can’t think of very many stories with characters who have both parents that are involved and aware of their children’s lives. Can anybody else? Do you think that it makes for good story telling or that it would be refreshing to see more characters with both parents available to them?