If you write or read middle grade books, you’ve probably heard about the “missing parent” phenomenon. That’s the situation where the parents of kids in middle grade novels are MIA: either dead (a Disney favourite), away on a trip, too busy to have any clue what their kids are up to, or out of the picture in some other creative way.
Why? Because in middle grade books, you want your main character (a kid) to solve the story problem.
Whether or not parent characters contribute the conflict or to the problem solving in the story, you still need to consider the parent-child relationship and how it affects your character. In the life of a ten- or eleven-year-old, parents are pretty important. Even if your main character is an orphan, not having parents will colour his experiences and emotional reactions (just look at Harry Potter).
Some things to consider about the role of parents in middle grade fiction:
Be consistent. If the parent is a workaholic, they should be a workaholic right from the start, not just conveniently when there needs to be an obstacle to the main character getting help.
Add some realism. Book parents sometimes come across as either being stereotypes (e.g. the deadbeat Dad in a divorce situation) or perfect (e.g. Mom always knows how to make the main character feel better). Like any other characters, parent characters have goals, emotions and flaws.
How do you deal with the parents in your novels? Any tips for creating realistic parent characters?
Books that include involved parents (*let me know if you have any more to add):
Belly Up by Stuart Gibbs (MG)
Sugar and Ice by Kate Messner (MG)
Ramona and her Father by Beverly Cleary (MG)
Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A. S. King (YA)
*As always, if you know of any other great resources on this topic, let me know and I'll add them here.
For a humorous take on different ways parents are handled in YA novels (which also apply to MG) read Frankie Diane Mallis over at First Novels Club.
Anna Staniszewski discusses 4 different ways to deal with fictional parents.
In a guest post at Laura Pauling’s blog, Kate Messner author of Sugar and Ice talks about writing a story where parents don’t disappear.
Mary Kole discusses how family relationships are related to creating tension in MG or YA novels.
Robin Fevers has some thoughts on parents in children's fiction and meeting the needs of readers.
For different opinions and thoughts on this issue by other writers, check out the What to Do With Parents thread at Nathan Bransford’s forum.
Tracy Marchini on the role of parents in middle grade and young adult fiction.