Lessons learned from fictional mothers

This Mother’s Day, our staff reflect on some of the most important lessons they’ve learned from fictional mothers – in books, TV, films, and more.

‘In the world of fictional mothers, Lorelei Gilmore has taught me to embrace pop culture at every opportunity, Emily Gilmore showed me to take no shit from anyone, Tami Taylor demonstrated how to have a successful marriage (nine parts love and kindness, one part great hair), Ellen Ripley was the ultimate maternal badass, Molly Weasley is the queen of both loyalty and knitting, and Christina Alibrandi was a fiercely independent role model.’

Nina Kenwood, marketing manager

‘Even since I’ve loved reading books I’ve been drawn to adoptive parents and stories of relationships between displaced kids and the adults who look after them. A favourite as a child was Marilla Cuthbert in Anne of Green Gables. Initially a formidable matriarch, her heart of gold slowly emerged over the course of the series. More recently, the loving Aunt Bella in Taika Waititi’s utterly delightful film Hunt for the Wilderpeople proved again that unconditional love is definitely not limited to biological families.

In a similar vein, my favourite fictional mother of all time would have to be Cheryl from Miranda July’s novel The First Bad Man. Cheryl does not ever give birth to her own biological child, but though the course of the novel experiences the pain and pleasures of parenting in a completely fresh way. This is a wry, daring and boldly feminist novel that starts off as an absurd drama and develops into an immensely moving portrait of motherhood and what it means to take care of a child.’

Stella Charls, marketing and events coordinator

‘I tried to think of a fictional mother from something that was wonderfully smart and literary, but I just can’t go past Jessica Huang – the matriarch (and star, FYI) from the TV show, Fresh off the Boat. As the mother of three sons she’s tough but loving and has a take-no-prisoners approach to life. She knows her own value, and is prepared to demand the respect that she deserves, but she’ll always admit when she’s wrong (practically never).’

Lian Hingee, digital marketing manager

‘Some of the most memorable mothers for me in books have the saddest stories – Sethe in Toni Morrison’s Beloved, and Ma in Emma Donoghue’s Room both broke my heart and have stayed with me throughout the years. I also love Molly Weasley, of course, and she easily comes to mind when asked about fictional mothers. Honestly, mothers often get a bad name in children’s books.

But ultimately, the mother I identify with the most is Aunt Tasha from Christos Tsiolkas’s The Slap. Tasha looks after her niece, Connie, whose own parents have died, and she plays my favourite kind of mother role – giving Connie space to grow, while always making sure Connie always knows she’s there to provide support if needed. I always remember the scene where Connie and her friend Richie come home after their first big night out, and Aunt Tasha makes them brekkie – gold.’

Chris Gordon, events manager

‘One of my all-time favourite books, Hideous Kinky by Esther Freud, has a complex mother at its core. It’s the sixties and two sisters are taken by their single mum on the hippie trail to North Africa, moving from place to place, making new friends, and scrounging for shelter, food, clothes and entertainment all the while.

Because the book is narrated by the younger sister, the tone is dreamy, impressionistic, matter-of-fact and without judgement. Their mum is beautiful, charming and carefree, but too often puts her children’s needs last. As an adult reader, it’s impossible to resist some judgement of the mother’s actions, but it’s also possible to see that her chosen lifestyle provides the kids with stimulation and excitement. Still, I do like to imagine that the two sisters grew up and rebelled against their unconventional upbringing by becoming accountants and living in Tunbridge Wells.’

Leanne Hall, children’s and YA specialist

‘I’ve tried to think of lessons I’ve learned from fictional (book) mothers, but drew a mortifying blank. Maybe because I’ve so consciously drawn motherhood lessons from memoirs, and real-life mothers? That’s my excuse anyway. My fictional-mother models are both from television.

Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham) taught me that it’s okay to be a mother whose core parenting skills revolve around emotional support, movie nights and rapid-fire pop-culture conversations. Thanks for the validation! ‘What not to do’ lessons from Lorelai Gilmore include dating your child’s teacher, constantly referring to your child as your best friend. (Even if you might, hypothetically, secretly think that way, friendship is a parenting bonus, not the main game, and would you tell your best friend that if they don’t do their homework, they can’t go out?)

And the imperfect but awesome Frankie (Claudia Karvan) on Love my Way – aka the Best Australian Television Show Ever Made – gave me a similar blend of validation and inspiration. Some things include: missing your child when they’re at the other parents’ house, behaving like a teenager on occasion but also switching into strict parent mode when it’s needed, and letting your child be themselves rather than a replica of you. But the most important lesson? That you can remain essentially yourself when you become a mother, rather than changing yourself to fit what you think a mother should be.’

Jo Case, editor of Readings Monthly

‘My favourite fictional mothers are those with strict or forbidding exteriors that hide hearts of gold, perhaps because I fear that discipline is what I’ll struggle with the most as a parent. (And, well, every part of it…) For me, nobody better exemplifies this kind of mother role better than Marilla Cuthbert who opens her home to the dreamy, passionate, orphaned Anne Shirley. Marilla has to learn on her feet how best to be the mother Anne deserves, and while she makes mistakes along the way, she always owns up to them and is fiercely protective of Anne from others. No matter how many times I reread these novels, I’m always moved by the relationship between Marilla and Anne.’

Bronte Coates, digital content coordinator

Browse our collection of memorable mothers in books below. You might discover other lessons from there, maybe even on not what to do… (For example, probably don’t keep your children hidden in the attic and then try to poison them!)

Looking for Alibrandi

Looking for Alibrandi

Melina Marchetta

$19.95Buy now

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