I have a friend young enough to be my daughter, and when she tells me her troubles, I only want to be helpful. She was trying to decide what to do about a man when I, along with another friend my age, dealt her a hand of “do this” and “don’t do that unless” cards, like moms.
“I get it,” she said. “You guys never had kids of your own, so you have to mother somebody.”
Wow. True. But . . . wow.
We middle-agers shot each other guilty looks. We had good intentions, gave what we thought to be solid suggestions, and stressed important points we had learned from our own experiences. Three problems with that:
1. We weren’t giving her credit for being adult enough to solve her own problem.
2. We weren’t her mother – or anyone else’s.
3. She had not solicited our sage advice.
As writers, we make those same mistakes with our characters. We push them into taking our advice, living by our rules, doing and saying things they wouldn’t normally. Why? Because we think they are our creations, and therefore, ours to possess, like the mother who molds a child to fulfill her own long lost dream. So when our characters give us the cold shoulder or silent treatment, and refuse to meet the potential we imagine for them, we stupidly try to force them. Any mother who has tried this knows the distance it can create.
A good mother understands that even if a child has inherited her hazel eyes and adventurous spirit, she may not have similar dreams and desires. Children’s goals and interests are as individual as their personalities. Some kids turn out opposite of the way parents imagine, and others do exactly what is expected. One kid might lay tracks upon graduating from high school and never ask for another thing, while his sibling is too fearful to leave the house much less venture out of her comfort zone.
Our characters will behave like children. As character Moms, it’s our job to guide and nurture, allowing them to make their own discoveries as they learn how to doctor their own boo-boos without Mom stepping in to fix everything. We don’t tell them what to do, as if we could. They’re going to do whatever they choose no matter how much we warn them. They’ll trip and fall, head down dangerous roads, and engage in battles that have nothing to do with us. We can whack them with a broom if the situation calls for it. But tell them what to do and how to do it? No chance.
When all is said and done, a good character mother like Bill Cosby’s knows that she wears – and shouldn’t hesitate to wield – The Shoe of Power.
“I brought you into this world, and I can take you out.”
Sheila Englehart is the author of Warning Signs, published by Second Wind Publishing