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7 Parenting Lessons From Literature

Parenting is hard work. I know that’s a cliche, but it’s a well-earned cliche.

Kids are pretty awesome, and they can even teach you a thing or two about reading, but they also have their moments. That’s why, if you want to be a parent, it’s important to make sure you are not a mental whack job.

Mental whack jobs who are parents usually produce kids who eventually become mental whack jobs themselves. This is not good.

Since fiction is often just a mirror of reality, there’s a lot to learn from literary parents, both good and whack jobbish.

Quite a bit, actually. Let’s take at some parenting tips I put together based on lessons I’ve learned from literary parents.

Like, be around and stuff. I believe in God, but I have a gripe with him. Why he ever allows some people to become parents is beyond me. The number one rule of parenting? Your kids should know you exist. Scarlett O’ Hara, my dear old friend from Gone With The Wind, failed miserably at this.

Had Casey Anthony existed 150 years ago, she might have looked something like Scarlett O’ Hara. “Here, Wade, go play with the nanny while I chase lots of fancy men around.” I don’t like this woman.

Don’t bathe an infant while under the influence. This bit of parenting advice comes to you by way of Rabbit Angstrom’s alcoholic wife, Janice, in John Updike’s Rabbit Run. First off, let’s try and not be under the influence of drugs and such, okay? But if you find yourself in that situation, let’s avoid bath tubs and infants at all costs.

How about that as just a general parenting rule? Beers, babies, and bathtubs just don’t mix. This is one of the few scenes from books on the Time list that have made me cry.

Don’t beat your kids (or wife). If your first response to your child’s misbehavior is to beat them, then maybe you shouldn’t have got into this whole parenting thing. Gabriel from Go Tell It On The Mountain is an awful, hypocritical dad who is a church deacon on Sunday morning and beats his wife and kid on Sunday night.

Again, why does nature allow people like this to become parents? If you beat your wife or kid, you should automatically become impotent. No seed for you! If I was God, that’s how I would have done it anyway.

Nagging accomplishes nothing. Enid Lambert from The Corrections is every young man’s worst nightmare as a mother. She’s like the Orkin Man of happiness. She will find that junk and spray it ‘til it’s dead. Okay, that’s probably a bit much.

In fairness, Enid tries to keep the family tight, but she does it by constantly harassing her adult kids to get together as a family just one more time. Now I’m starting to feel bad for her. It’s been two years since I read this book, so maybe I got it wrong. But, bottom line: Enid is a naggy parent. Don’t be a naggy parent.

Walk the walk. Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird was like an idealistic hippy from the 1960s, except he didn’t sell out when he got into his adulthood. This guy made things happen. He didn’t just talk about helping people—it wasn’t just a quote to put on the fridge. This guy went out and walked the proverbial walk.

That right there is what being a parent is all about. Simply put, every parenting book ever should have a picture of Atticus Finch that says, “Be like this guy.”

Momma’s always right. Let’s just go ahead and settle this right here. Daddy might be louder, and daddy might think he’s always right, but he’s not. Let Ma Joad from The Grapes of Wrath be your guide.

Momma might be quiet, and momma might not always speak her mind. But when she does, you better listen, boy. Just ask old Tom Joad. That boy knew momma was always right.

Mold does not have nutritional value. There’s a scene in Infinite Jest where a young Hal Incandenza comes out of the basement of his house feeling a little queasy with mold residue around his mouth. I don’t know at what point Hal thought the mold looked tasty, but his parents never communicated that piece of information to him.

“Mold should not be eaten” is probably not something you’ll find in a parenting handbook, but your kids need to know that anyway.


Now, am I right or am I right?

Are these terrible parents or have I misinterpreted any of them? Who would you elect to the literary parenting hall of shame?

14 Comments Post a comment
  1. Marvellous – and written up v well too as i’ve come to expect. there are a huge number of books where the parents are absent or in old-fashioned books the nanny not watching too closely. In the uk this was often war-drama triggered by the evacuees’ experience. i’m not sure jane austen’s pride and prejudice can offer good parenting tips. I think Mr & Mrs Bennett would be terrible parents, even though their household is remarkably calm, they are sober at bathtimes and neither beat each other (or their children). Nicola


    March 29, 2013
    • Sober at bath time is a great place to start for parents.


      March 29, 2013
  2. Reblogged this on Das Culturas.


    March 29, 2013
  3. This is seriously brilliant. I am sharing this for two reasons, people need to not only read more but critically assess what they are reading and take lessons from it and two, not everyone is cut out to be a parent – so don’t do it if the above points don’t make sense to you.


    March 29, 2013
    • Thanks for sharing. Yeah, I wish people would think a little more before that take that step.


      March 29, 2013
  4. Reblogged this on Dogpatch Writers Collective and commented:
    Hello from the Dogpatch,

    Here’s a parenting lesson from 101 Books to which we at the Dogpatch bow down. Major Woofs for this post!


    March 29, 2013
  5. Loved this post. As a mother of two young kids who’s had it up to here with the breastfeeding/bottlefeeding/bedsharing/separate beds arguments, it’s nice to see some reminders of what really matters: Be around. Be a role model. Don’t nag too much.

    Succinct and beautiful. Thanks.


    March 29, 2013
    • Amen on that! I get fired up over pretentious parents who preach about that kind of stuff. If a parent takes care of their kids and treats them well, that’s all you can ask for.


      March 29, 2013
  6. I’d like to nominate the mother from Impersonation by Tamsin Kate Walker. Talking to her adult daughter (who lived in another country) every 2 weeks wasn’t enough for her. So did she call more? no. She hired a private investigator to trail her daughter so she could learn about her life and find a way to weasel her way into it. She lied to and manipulated her daughter rather than just call her more often. No parent, especially a mother, should manipulate her child in that way for their own self serving reasons past the age of five. (at which time you can usually reason with a child if you’ve done a half-decent job of parenting.)


    March 30, 2013
  7. Read this post while at a young authors conference with my 8th grader. On the way down we had yet another laugh about the lack of positive parents in Disney remakes or the Grimm/ Christian Anderson vein. Your post left me thinking of the books with bad or no parents on this list and not.Two good parents rarely make for good stories. It seems only to come up when a good parent has to clean up the messes from the other. It ties in well with most kids desire at some point to have their parents vanish. It is hard work being a good parent and often not very dramatic. Always more fun to read about the excitement and situations that dysfunctional relationships encourage.

    Enjoy everyday!


    March 30, 2013
  8. What about Bob Ewell? He forces his family to live in squalor, he is racist, and it is hinted that he raped his daughter. Furthermore, poor Mayella doesn’t even know what a friend is, and is terrified of him. I haven’t even started about his failed attempt at revenge on Atticus’ children…


    March 31, 2013
  9. LOL and yet not really. Art imitates life right? 😦


    April 1, 2013
  10. Reblogged this on Annakatherinec's Blog.


    April 2, 2013

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