So maybe there was that incident with the apple. Or the embarrassment at the dance at Netherfield. And trying to rip Beowulf from stem to stern was probably a bit extreme. But really, aren’t some of fiction’s mothers just misunderstood? There are plenty of good mother role models: Marmee in Little Women. Mrs. Miniver. Mrs. Lancaster in The Fault In Our Stars. But are the “wicked” moms really so bad? Or are they victims of bad publicity? Maybe they just need a second look:
For a do-it-all modern mother, look no farther than Mayor Regina Mills. Regina might have a problem with jealousy, and an overenthusiastic use of her supernatural powers, but she gets a bum rap as the wicked stepmother. Yes, she blamed Snow White for losing the man she loves after expecting a little girl to keep a secret from her manipulative, sorcerer mother, and poisoned Snow White with an apple. And, sure, she put a curse on an entire land, transporting them to New England. But Regina was just trying to escape her unhappy past and build a new life with her adopted son, Henry. In spite of literally having no heart, she loves Henry and will do anything to keep his life stable and idyllic, even if it means controlling an entire town through intimidation and mass amnesia. You go, girl!
We only know her as Grendel’s mother, one of three foes the namesake hero faces in the epic poem, Beowulf. High school English teachers tediously teach that she was a monster. But that’s just plain wrong. While the epic is short on details, we know she was a great warrior and loving mother, stricken with grief. Like Regina, all she wants is for her son to be happy and safe. In the end, she makes the ultimate sacrifice, dying to defend his honor. Who can blame her for avenging her son’s death?
a.k.a. Fanny, a.k.a. The Mother
Pride & Prejudice
If you want a model for perseverance and success, look no farther than Mrs. Bennet. To the world she is a shallow, foolish woman with little or no control over her daughters including a silly, reckless girl who plunges headlong into a scandal that might ruin the whole family. She could easily be awarded Worst Regency Mother Ever. But take a closer look. Fanny Bennet is married to a man with an estate entailed to the eldest living male heir, and has five daughters, no sons. In a time when women have no legal standing, she knows that they must marry for their survival. In reality, she is the best of mothers. She relentlessly pursues husbands for her daughters, stopping at nothing to ensure their security. And there is no denying her success – three daughters married in a year, and two of them to the biggest fish in town.
a.k.a. Cinderella’s Stepmother
Lady Tremaine almost single-handedly gives stepmothers a bad name. She is reviled for making her stepdaughter sleep in the attic, for spending all of Ella’s inheritance and forcing her to do the housework, earning her the nickname Cinderella. But she has another side to her. She is a doting mother. Her daughters are given every advantage, as well as affection. Like Mrs. Bennet, she is ambitious for her daughters, confident they can attract the eye of a nobleman or even the Prince. And what about Cinderella? She grew up to be a resilient, clever girl who ultimately landed the Prince. If it were not for Lady Tremaine, Cinderella might not have married a prince.
Elizabeth “Betty” Francis (nee Hofstadt)
a.k.a. Betty Draper a.k.a. “The Witch”
It is no accident that people compare Betty Francis to Grace Kelly. Beautiful, elegant and a former model, Betty is the epitome of the Hitchcockian icy blonde. She strives for perfection in herself and in those around her, including her children, especially her teenage daughter, Sally. Betty has been known to slap her children when they are bad, withhold affection when she is displeased, and ridicule them in front of others. She constantly criticizes Don and his young wife for their poor parenting, blaming him for Sally’s faults. Unhappy with her daughter’s rebellion, she packs her off to boarding school. Discontented in her first marriage, she left her children to the care of a housekeeper while she started an affair with the man who would become her second husband. But is she really so bad? Betty’s strict parenting style is typical of parenting in the 1960s. Her children are polite, well-mannered, and respectful of authority. Sally is in one of the most prestigious boarding schools in the country, getting an outstanding education and setting her up for success. Betty loves her children, and, like any mother, worries that her children don’t love her. Perhaps if Betty is guilty of anything, it’s loving her children too much.
So on Mothers’ Day, let’s take time to toast these courageous mothers for their passion, drive and devotion to their children. After all, we haven’t heard their side of the story.