The Absent Parent

I’m sure anyone who has exposure to TV shows or movies has noticed the lack of stable families in films, books, and TV series. Some might even wonder if there’s some anti-family conspiracy.

As a writer, I’ve realized there are multiple reasons for the lack of parents, and it’s not because the majority of writers hate stable families in the real world.

One issue is the addition of more characters. Giving the main character one parent is common because it can be hard to flesh out two characters who fit the same role. This often leads to one absent parent.

The biggest reason is because parents tend to get in the way. What kind of parent is going to let the main character, who is normally a teen, fight an evil overlord? (For some unknown reason, mentors seem to be fine with this sort of thing.)


No sane parent would want their teenage daughter doing this.


These are the options writers take to get around the issue.

The easiest trick is to kill the parents. This has the added effect of driving the main character into conflict with the villain.
Examples: Divergent, Hunger Games, The Lunar Chronicles, Leviathan, I am Number Four, Hand of Steel (Might as well admit to what I’ve done.)

For the soft-hearted writer, separate the family. This one leaves the parents alive. Maybe the kid wandered into a wardrobe or someone got kidnapped. (Mothers tend to get kidnapped, forcing the kid to hunt them down.)
Examples: Michel Vey, Dreamhouse Kings, Narnia, Ender’s Game, Country in Chaos (See, I do it too.)

Have trouble with social services noticing a bunch of teenagers running around? Then give them a parent who doesn’t notice their kids are running around risking their lives. (CPS probably won’t notice this either.)
Examples: Midnighters, Nobody, Fablehaven, Artemis Fowl


Not enough drama? Try making the parent(s) someone important, such as the Big Bad. The main character might not know this and in that case, will most likely find out at the most shocking moment.
The Inheritance Cycle, Ship Breaker, Animorphs, Warriors Cats series


What I’ve noticed is that most of the cases where TV or movies portray a stable family, the parents are full-fledged characters. They’ve got a bigger role than just being the parent. (I’m not saying being a parent isn’t a big role, it’s just that for most stories, a bigger role gives characters a better survival rate.) I’d like to see this become a trend in books. After all, if kids can relate to parents in TV shows or movies, they should be able to relate to them in books.

Here are some examples of good parents and a few mentor figures writers can learn from.


Dreamhouse Kings
The mother gets kidnapped. The kids and their father try to find her. It’s actually a stable family that doesn’t have any villainous members, plus, the dad plays an active role in the story.

Michael Vey
The mom gets kidnapped. (Told you it’s a common trick.) She still plays some role, tough she’s absent for quite a bit. SPOILERS: I have a feeling the kid’s dad is someone very important.

Dragons in Our Midst
Dad gets turned into a dragon and plays a large role in the story. This story manages to have two parents without the main plot line being “rescue Mom.”


Now for some TV shows and movies.

The Legend of Korra
Other than one annoying thing in the last minute of the last season, this show is very good at portraying traditional families. Korra actually has both parents. Even better, her dad is someone she should look up to.
Tenzin gets the award for best family. The guy actually has four kids, an extremely rare thing in TV. In most shows, three kids seem to be the maximum amount. He’s even got two of his own siblings and a still-living mother.


The Incredibles
Another one of the very rare families. This family has three kids, which is normally the upper end in numbers.


Cases that almost count

Ranger’s Apprentice
Halt may not be a biological parent, but he does count as a parent-like figure that the main character can look up to. He also manages to survive, a rare thing for mentors.

Star Wars Rebels
These guys aren’t even the same species, but Kanan and Hera do function somewhat like parents. They’re both good role models, not the idiot adults that are often portrayed in media.

What are some of your favorite families in media?


About Jessi L. Roberts

I live and work on my family’s cattle ranch in eastern Montana. I have a flock of chickens, a hyper golden retriever, some cows, and a few horses. I enjoy fantasy and science fiction and my head is full of wild sci-fi story ideas, some involving apocalypses and others involving aliens. I have been published twice in Havok Magazine, an imprint of Splickity.
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9 Responses to The Absent Parent

  1. Maya says:

    This is a really great post! Your examples are sooo true and they gave me some good ideas on how to avoid being cliche in the future! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sierra says:

    Great post! 🙂 I love Ranger’s Apprentice, and I’ll have to check out some of these other books!
    Anyway, I’m here to give you your prompt for the flash fiction challenge. I’m going to keep the word limit at 1000, and your prompt is the song “Bird with a Broken Wing” by Owl City. ( has the song & lyrics).
    I hope it inspires something! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting post! And haha, it is true that most parents wouldn’t allow their kids to do the kinds of things that kids do in fiction. :p Trying to keep them alive, I guess.

    And YES. Halt, Michael’s mom, and the Incredibles parents are all GREAT parental figures. They’re not perfect, but they care about their families, they learn from their mistakes, and they set good examples for their kids to follow.


    Liked by 1 person

  4. ladyelasa says:

    This is a really cool post, Jessi. ^ ^ I really like that shows and movies like the Legend of Korra and The Incredibles have more families. I want to include them more in my stories.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ll admit, including parents who do stuff is really hard, especially when you want them to act like parents and yet have the kids still doing stuff. (When the kids have powers, like being the Avatar, that makes things a bit easier.)
      Thanks for the comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Why it’s done | Jessi L. Roberts, author

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