Common Archetypes: Controlling Mothers


OK, so this is basically a discussion post, but it’s more specific: these posts will focus on various archetypes in YA books.
What is an archetype, you ask? Well, if you don’t ask, skip this definition from
the original pattern or model from which all things of the same kind are copied or on which they are based; a model or first form; prototype.
This definition doesn’t necessarily cover what I plan on talking about in these posts, but I liked the title, so archetypes it is. I’m basically focusing on the “model” part of the definition, in that I going to look at various models or types of characters in YA.

So, as you can see from the title of this post, I’m going to look at the archetype of the Controlling Mother. I’ve been reading a lot of contemporary books lately, and many of them include the Controlling Mother. Paranormal and fantasy books can have controlling mothers as well, of course, but they seem to be mostly found in contemporary novels.

I understand that the mother-daughter relationship is quite complex. The majority of popular YA protagonists are female, which means they probably have fairly complex relationships with their mothers (if their mothers are even alive). Personally, I love it when family dynamics are explored in books, whether they’re dysfunctional or not, so the fact that controlling mothers exist in YA books isn’t a problem at all – the issue is that there are so freaking many controlling mothers in YA. There are other kinds of mothers, you know.

Of course there are, be quiet, Ms One of the Most Controlling Mothers On TV That I Could Think Of At the Moment.

Just why are Controlling Mothers so common? Why do they keep popping up in recent, popular books like Golden, My Life Next Door, Ruby Oliver, and The Truth About Forever? These are books that I all liked, and admittedly these particular Controlling Mothers weren’t too bad, but overall it’s just getting to be too much. Is it kind of like the Twilight or Hunger Games Effect? You know, a YA book becomes mega-popular, so a slew of new YA books with similar premises (love triangles, paranormal romance, dystopian settings, etc.) come out immediately in an attempt to cash in on the obsession. Do authors see these characters showing up in popular contemporary books and decide that it must be the only way to portray mothers? At this point, I feel like mothers are either Controlling Mothers or part of the Disappearing Parents problem.

So, what exactly is a Controlling Mother, you might be asking. Well, if you can’t figure it out based on the name, then sit down and let Teacher Genevieve let you know what is what. And, if you’re good, you get to go to recess early! Or you can get back to reading soon, whichever sounds better.

A Controlling Mother is often a single mother or married to a man that’s meeker or less stand-offish than their wives. These mothers will care a lot about what’s happening with their children, mainly their daughters, and that concern will boil over until they begin smothering their children.


I don’t exactly agree that mothers are automatically inclined to smother their children, but it works with my point, so whatever.

Now, this smothering or whatever can be shown in various ways. Normally, though, the mothers want perfect daughters. Maybe they’re going through a stressful situation (Macy’s father died and her mother is still struggling with that death in her own way in The Truth About Forever), maybe their job is becoming more of a focus (Samantha’s mother is running for re-election in My Life Next Door), or maybe they just want their daughters to be perfect and Mini-Mes (kind of like Auden’s mother in Along for the Ride).

These mothers take too much interest in their daughters’ lives or they mostly ignore them (as long as they do exactly what they want, of course). They have precise plans for their children post graduation, or they’re too busy trying to micromanage their children’s lives now to think about the future. If they have other aspects of their life, there isn’t much or it’s never mentioned. I think the fact that these mothers are often single (due to divorce, death, or unreliable baby daddies) is pretty telling – almost as if they don’t have a husband or boyfriend to fixate on, so they fixate on their offspring instead. Of course, there are married Controlling Mothers, but the most memorable Controlling Mothers tend to be single.

Excuse me, but I find this very important. And Controlling Mothers are supposed to care to the point that they care too much – do your part, Claire!

So, what would I like to see instead of Controlling Mothers? Well, realistic mothers, and yes, this does include Controlling Mothers, but it’s not restricted to just that trope. There are loving mothers, there are distant mothers, there are means-well mothers, and there are every other kind of mother in between. If we’re going to complain about a lack of diversity in protagonists (and in this case, I mean a diversity of character traits, although racial and sexual diversity is very important), then we should try to get a diverse cast of all characters.

We need carefree mothers…

Very loving and giving and kind of Lovely Little Old Grandmother stereotype-esque…

And mothers with other kinds of issues.

And so many, many more! Sometimes it might seem like it, but we don’t all have Controlling Mothers – why should the characters we read about suffer from this irritating archetype?

The GIFs came from here.

7 thoughts on “Common Archetypes: Controlling Mothers

  1. I completely agree with this! I think it’s getting to the point where we are overwhelmed from controlling mothers! Not all mothers are like that! I would love to see a book where we get a mother who sets rules but doesn’t smother her children or gives them petty punishments! I would like to see parents who you see that their children respect, but they are still nice, warm and loving! Why can’t we see more of this?

    Great Post!

    Rita xx

    1. Thanks! Yeah, I want to see moms like my mom – she had rules and we certainly had our disagreements at times, but she mostly let me do my own thing and encouraged me, whether that meant helping me figure out what I wanted to do in college or whatever. There are plenty of mothers like her out there, but sometimes it’s so hard to figure that out based on all the controlling mothers in YA!

  2. Great post! I’m actually reading a book with this right now – “Just One Day” by Gayle Forman. It’s got an overbearing mom who makes all the decisions and the daughter doesn’t even protest – like you, I’m over it. This archetype is present in so many contemporaries now that I just want to shake the MC and say “STAND UP FOR YOURSELF!!!!” Which is not to say that I’m not enjoying “Just One Day,” because I am.

    It’s interesting in these cases, because in this book, the parents are still together and the dad is involved, present, and seems like a nice guy, but he’s totally oblivious to how controlling his wife is of their daughter. It seems too convenient, too detached.

    1. I read that book earlier this year! And yeah, Allyson’s mother really frustrated me, as well as all the drama surrounding their relationship. I enjoyed the book, but I had trouble feeling sorry for Allyson when she wouldn’t even stand up to her mother. And if I remember correctly, her father was a perfectly nice guy as well, but they apparently feel that only their wives can parent or something. It’s definitely more convenient than realistic in my opinion.

      Either try being different by having a controlling father or just stop having controlling parents in general!

      1. Yeah, it can be handled well, but that doesn’t change the fact that not all mothers have to be of the controlling mother trope. Variety, authors – we actually like it! And communication – so many problems in books could have been solved with communication, and a good author shouldn’t have to rely on bad communication for all their bookish drama!

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