Toby, the hero of my current book (oh, and right now I think I’m leaning toward A Lady of Persuasion as a working title, in case you’re wondering) has something most romance heroes don’t – a mother. And she’s a mother who isn’t vindictive, backstabbing, jealous, drug-addicted, murderous, manipulative or otherwise evil… she’s just a very strong, intelligent woman who cares deeply for all her children, and she and Toby have a very close, affectionate relationship.

So be honest – is this an automatic turn-off?

I mean, there are reasons I need my hero to have this relationship, both for his characterization and plot. And he’s not overly dependent on her–she doesn’t meddle in his romantic attachments or ever come between him and the heroine. I want to make sure I walk the line without crossing it, though. So I’m trying to think of other romances where the heroes have strong-yet-affectionate mothers who actually play a role in their lives…and I’m coming up kinda empty. There are the Bridgertons, of course. And the Carsingtons have both parents living, right? Any others?

And what do you prefer? Do you love a RL guy who’s close to his mom, or does it make you suspicious he’ll always put you second? Any particular incidents that crossed the line from Responsible Son territory to Relationship Reject? I’m looking back on my own relationships, and I’m realizing all my bf’s have always been pretty close to their moms…interesting.

18 comments to “Mama’s Boys”

  1. irisheyes
    · March 4th, 2008 at 8:43 am · Link

    You already posted the example I was going to give – The Bridgertons. And I LOVE the relationship Violet has with her sons.

    Mother/son issues are huge in relationships, IMHO (as are Father/daughter). That is one of the aspects I looked for in a boyfriend/spouse. I’ve always felt that if they are having problems with the mom they are going to have problems with you! My DH was very close to his mother and he is a great husband and father.

    What I’m talking about, though, is a healthy relationship with his mother. Mama’s boys have a whole other set of problems and those relationships aren’t good ones. But if a man loves and respects his mother it’s pretty likely that he’s been taught to love and respect women in general.

    I also love reading about healthy mother/son relationships in books, Tessa. So count me in – I’m all for it!

  2. Tiffany Kenzie
    · March 4th, 2008 at 8:48 am · Link

    I can’t think of any good books either.

    Don’t trust mama’s boys. My husband’s parents are both deceased so don’t know how his relationship was with them–though he speaks highly of them.

    Just don’t do a DH Lawrence and you’ll be fine… sorry not great words of advice but that’s all I got.

  3. CM
    · March 4th, 2008 at 9:06 am · Link

    There’s a difference between someone who’s dependent on his mother (huge turn off) and someone who has a good relationship with his mother.

    In non-Romancelandia, I like men with solid family relationships–and not just mom, but dad, brothers and sisters. How people get along in family is important to me; likewise, it’s also important to me that Mr. Milan get along with my (extremely crazy) family.

    In Romancelandia, I think the reason why the heroes so rarely have mothers is because it gives them a brittle vulnerability, and it gives the heroine the chance to be the woman who opens his life up to family.

    You’ll notice that in Bridgerton land, the focus on family often shifts to the non-Bridgerton partner, or focuses on the Bridgerton finding his role in the family. So Sophie in “An Offer From a Gentleman” is the one who is being brought into the family, and who needs to learn to trust and rely on others and believe in her own self-worth. Penelope has living family, but her relationship with Colin is what helps her learn to value herself.

    The only one that isn’t really true for is Anthony–and he’s got his own separate set of issues brought about by Daddy, and so Kate is a perfect match for him: Someone who can understand how much family and responsibility matter, but simultaneously bring him from just being responsible, to really being a part of a family that he’s been unconsciously distancing himself from because of lingering issues with his father’s death.

    What I think is that “dead mother syndrome” is just an easy (and perfectly reasonable) way to give someone an off-balance family life. The HEA is all about finding that balance and healing at the end.

  4. CM
    · March 4th, 2008 at 9:29 am · Link

    BUT since this is TMI Tuesday, I have to add that the one family relationship that really annoyed the crap out of me was not mother-son, but father-son. My first husband was very close to his father. Dependently close. Like, he’d ask his dad what classes he needed to take, and his dad would tell him, “No, don’t take that class–it’s useless liberal arts crap. Can’t you find something to meet your requirements elsewise?”

    His dad pretty much made up his mind that his oldest son was the computer whiz, the middle son was the business guy, and the youngest son was the science geek. And so he didn’t let them stray. When youngest son wanted to learn to play the sax, the father said, “No, I’ll buy you a chemistry set instead.” When middle son thought about running for class president, his dad offered him $200 not to, but told him he had to invest it in stocks.

    Very gentle nudges, but all in all, there was so much charming despotism. And the message–“Gosh, you could learn to play the sax, but I don’t think you’d be any good at it, so do this instead” was just awful.

    Then I started getting the same kind of nudges.

    I think you know me well enough to imagine exactly how I responded to someone telling me not to do something because I wouldn’t be any good at it. 🙂

  5. Kelly Krysten
    · March 4th, 2008 at 9:38 am · Link

    I think it’s great that your character has a good relationship with his Mom. And it’s nice to read something that goes against formula. Even the Bridgertons mom was a matchmaker. It was fun to read ,though, of course.
    In RL you can usually tell how a guy will treat you based on how he treats his mom. Sorry I don’t have any TMI Tuesday info to share.

  6. terrio
    · March 4th, 2008 at 10:00 am · Link

    IRL – I married the mama’s boy. Don’t recommend it. And like CM mentions, his daddy thought for him. I could tell him something, he’d tell me I’m wrong. His daddy could tell him the same thing word-for-word and he’d believe him. Drove me nuts.

    And though he was adopted, there was still some imaginary umbilical cord. Sorry if that’s spelled wrong. We hit financial struggles and I wanted to move to the bigger city in the area where we could make more money. His parents offered him $1000 and a piece of land to put a trailer on. Guess where we moved?

    In the historicals, isn’t it just the reality that people didn’t live that long? It makes sense for a man 30 or 35 years old to have lost at least one if not both parents.

    But I like this twist. It’s very refreshing and I’d read it in a heartbeat. I trust you not to push him over the line. Many heroes have good relationships with older women in their family even if it isn’t their mothers. Grandmothers, aunts, etc… It always works for me.

  7. Lenora Bell
    · March 4th, 2008 at 1:32 pm · Link

    No it’s not an automatic turn-off. I think it will be refreshing.

    Like CM said there is a line between dependency and a healthy loving relationship.

    My BF was raised by a matriarchy and he turned out just swell.

  8. Santa
    · March 4th, 2008 at 1:38 pm · Link

    The Carsingtons have both parents, though the father is the one who ‘coordinates’ their love lives, bless their hearts.

    One of Victoria Alexander’s fabulous series centered around a group of mothers who felt it was time for their sons to wed. It worked out marvelously for them (her).

    Also, we can’t forget the Cynsters and the role Honoria (or is it Hortense) plays in their lives. I don’t remember all the connections but those heroes had no problems with their mothers having been attracted to strong women. I can only imagine this is due, in part, to having strong mothers.

    One last thing – there is the old adage – you marry what you know. I don’t know if that has anything to do with your story but you can manipulate it to infer that a good, healthy relationship with a mother who is strong, supportive, etc.. can make for finding your life’s love.

  9. Janga
    · March 4th, 2008 at 2:38 pm · Link

    Several of Georgette Heyer’s novels feature heroes who have healthy, loving relationships with their mothers. Devil’s Cub, False Colors and Sylvester immediately come to mind. The latter is particularly interesting since the Duchess of Salford sees her son so clearly and believes his love for the right woman will save him from his own arrogance.

    Jo Beverley’s An Unwilling Bride, Carla Kelly’s, Carla Kelly’s Reforming Lord Ragsdale, and Mary Balogh’s One Night for Love all have heroes who have close relationships with their mothers. And in contemporaries, both Nora Roberts and SEP have written heroes who love their mothers in a healthy and believable way.

    So I think there is ample precedence for such a hero, Tessa.

  10. Tessa Dare
    · March 4th, 2008 at 2:46 pm · Link

    Great comments, everyone. Lots to think about. I agree, it’s a matter of the degree to which a parent influences your partner – for good or ill. I mean, isn’t it equally annoying to be with someone who does everything with the goal of spiting their parents, just as much as one bent on pleasing them?

    CM – good point about the Bridgertons, and the non-Bridgerton character having a need for family. Bel has a loving family – but a very atypical one. And the stability of Toby’s could indeed fill a need for her.

    As for Toby – his father died when he was very young, and he was raised by his mother and three older sisters. So he has a very good understanding of women, respect for them, and he definitely knows how to wrap them around his finger, but what he’s lacking is a model of a stable marriage.

    It’s not your standard “I had a miserable childhood and never felt loved” trauma for either of them. But I think they have enough complexity and emotional neediness to make it interesting. 🙂

  11. Elyssa Papa
    · March 4th, 2008 at 3:34 pm · Link

    I’d like to read it, Tessa. Janga mentioned Nora Roberts, who I was thinking of.

    Parental relationships with children are extremely important. Parents can really f**k up kids from what I’ve seen or be the complete opposite.

    And well, you can have real sh**ty parents, but you can overcome it. By yourself. I think romance novels, at times, rely on other people on making that change within the person who’s had a bad family life when it’s really have had to come from the person within. I hope that makes sense… I’m not saying the heroine can’t be a change or make the hero realize that what’s been going on isn’t his fault, but ultimately, it’s his choice and his ability to make things different.

    But, I think that in my WIPs that at least one of my characters have a “screwed up” parent or grandparent.

    As for RL, I agree with CM. I come with a big and well, very sarcastic family, so the future Mr. Papa (whomever he may be) will have to deal with a lot. But, I’m not going to judge him if he doesn’t fit into his “own” family… I certainly don’t.

  12. Maggie Robinson
    · March 4th, 2008 at 5:01 pm · Link

    I think your take will be refreshing, because it’s almost de rigeur to have the cold bastard disapproving dad and the dithering/conniving/bossy mother in historicals. Mothers have a very bad rap in most stuff I read. My husband’s father died when he was a teenager, and he and his mother had a lot of obstacles to surmount. She was not an easy woman (she was a head nurse, people, that says it all)but he respected her for her determination and the childhood both parents provided. Even when she had senile dementia at the end, he showed great patience and gratitude. I just hope he’s as nice to me when I lose my marbles. 🙂

  13. Maria Zannini
    · March 4th, 2008 at 5:35 pm · Link

    A mama’s boy would be a turn off for me. But stick them in the middle of a lively discussion or a dangerous situation where each holds his/her own and you’ll get my attention and my empathy.

    I think a man can have a loving relationship with his mom without coming off too wussy.

    He could inherit his strong and independent ways from her.

    I’d go for it. You’ll make it work.

  14. Tessa Dare
    · March 4th, 2008 at 8:54 pm · Link

    Thanks for the votes of confidence, and the advice, everyone! I feel like I have some good direction now on what to emphasize in their relationship and what not to do. Like many of you said, I’m not a fan of the “meddling mama” stereotype. Toby’s mom is too busy for that stuff.

    Janga – thanks especially for the reading list!

    Maggie – could Mr. R. be any more of a hero? His mom evidently did something right.

  15. Lady Leigh
    · March 5th, 2008 at 8:05 am · Link

    What an appropriate discussion- my mother in law and sister in law just moved to town! They are great assets and great babysitters, but there is still that part of me that feels like they are taking a piece of my husband away. I know it’s not rational and I think it is great he has such a healthy relationship with them (for the most part) but I want to be the only woman!! Move over, ladies, he’s mine!! LOL.

    I can’t wait to read your books! I hope they come out in early 2009.

  16. Keira Soleore
    · March 5th, 2008 at 8:29 am · Link

    You have a formidable list of examples there, Tessa, so I’ll refrain from echoing those.

    Toby isn’t a mama’s boy, rather he’s a man who has a close relationship with his mother. I think it’s healthy to have an adult to adult relationship. There’s nothing wrong with that. It bodes well for his character. I say go for it.

  17. Keira Soleore
    · March 5th, 2008 at 8:32 am · Link

    To add more to the above, parents should ideally be supportive of their children in times of stress, a sounding board when needed, a pat on the back for their succcesses, and a laugh and a chuckle when they meet. This is healthy. This is loving. Advising the hero on what he should do is the part that’s walking a fine line. It may be a line you might want to walk to show the downsides, but the healthy relationship for his parents means that he is more tolerant of life’s stresses and/or the things the heroine is going to throw at him.

  18. Saralee
    · March 5th, 2008 at 8:27 pm · Link

    Oh, hey, in “The Secret History of the Pink Carnation” the hero has a mom who’s very mom-like and funny.

    And in Georgette Heyer’s wonderful “False Colours,” the mother of the hero and his twin brother is just divine. Well, goofy, but divine. (Someone already mentioned this book–see, I’m not the only one).

    And BTW, I know that “knock-knock” joke thing. My seven-year-old son STILL doesn’t get the humor part, but he’s progressed from nonsense words to naughty words in the punch line. Don’t know whether you might think that’s good news or not.