The Parent Problem

Nowadays it seems as though many authors just kill off the parents in their YA/Teen Fiction novels.

Here are two articles that address both sides of this coin.

Are you guilty of postmortem parents in your story? What’s your opinion on the trend?

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No dead parents in my current YA story (in fantasy, one parent is dead). I honestly don’t think this trend is much of an issue if it serves the plot, but I don’t exactly like it much when it’s only to get the parents out of the way (though I don’t blame the writers who do that. I totally understand.) Though I do think parents should definitely be playing a bigger role in Teen Fiction, especially since parents are a big part of a teenager’s life. But if it’s fantasy or sci-fi, I feel like it’s easier to get away with the “dead parents” trend.

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The parents in mine are both alive and mostly well. My MC’s parents are Jeff and Rebecca. They live in a farmhouse and the barn is converted into an art studio.

Jeff makes pottery. He’s a very tough looking dude, standing at 6’5, has long hair and a beard. He’s a burley beast of a man, but a lovable sweetheart who would do absolutely anything for his family.

Rebecca makes jewelry and is tipsy in about half of her scenes (or stoned). In the early chapters of the book, she’s told that her Huntington’s Disease has began (not sure how else to phrase that, as I am very tired right now) and I think the alcholol helps her to keep a smile on her face and appear stronger than she probably feels on the inside. She’s a very quirky woman who loves teasing their daughter, the MC, because the MC is pretty straight laced, eyes on the prize, while everyone else just goes with the flow.

Rebecca was actually Jeff’s best friends girlfriend. But they fell in love and she eventually realized she was with the wrong man and left him for Jeff. They’ve been together since she was about twenty and, though they’ve never been married, are very happy together.


I’m one of those people that always used to write dead or absent parents. I can’t remember what published book I read, but it was about this family of hippies that had a monkey and were just fucking ridiculous people. The daughter was a social worker and brought a kid home for them to foster.

I really remember very little about it, but I remember the family just being a blast to read about, especially with a daughter who really doesn’t fit in, but is still embraced for who she is.

I was thinking of that book when I started mine, realizing that a family really can make for incredible and hilarious scenes.


If parents are deceased, that’s fine. I think it should serve a plot purpose, but it certainly doesn’t have to.

A lot of books I’ve written have had an mentally abusive and toxic parent that killed themselves when the MC was young. Only one of these books was ever published on here because that would frankly just feel incredibly repetitive.

I did this because I had a mentally abusive and toxic father who constantly put us in dangerous situations to the point where my mom moved us to the other side of the state, away from him. My childhood was all sorts of effed up, and writing parents that reflected him was my way of coping with that.

He floated in and out of my life for a long time, sending letters filled with hate toward my mom and sister and used the rest of the letter to spout philosophical shit about letting go of resentment (the irony was strong with him). Eventually, about seven years ago, I told him I would no longer be replying to his letters because he couldn’t learn how to be a father and I had to give up trying to teach him. His hate would always outweigh his love and he would never take any responsibility in what happened in the past.

Last month, he sent a letter, telling me he’d be dying soon and this would be the last letter he sent me. Though he didn’t really ask, I sent him a return letter to tell him about my life and my sister’s life to give him some kind of peace. That was the funny thing. In all the letters he sent me throughout the years, he complained that he didn’t know anything about my life, but he never actually asked me. Anything he said was phrased as grievances against him rather than just trying to have a regular conversation.

Apparently, during his last year, he was really coming to terms with how he’d lived his life and felt shame in how he treated us. I received news on his death on the seventh of this month and his neighbor told me not to be surprised if the results come back as a suicide by overdose (he’d been clean the last year, after he tried killing himself by overdosing).

I’ve now found out that he repeatedly atttempted or planned suicides, whereas my mom thought he would be way too proud of a man to do such a thing.

Anyhow, it’s interesting that so many of the toxic parents I wrote committed suicide, and now here my toxic parent is, following their lead.

I wrote these people to share small pieces of my childhood with my readers because it gave me a sense of comfort. But I do understand that it’s often just used to bring sympathy to the MC.

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I only write one ‘teen’ fic, but my others are all YA.

In one, the parents are both alive and well but also horrendously bad people. This greatly affects my MC, and part of his overall character arc is coming to terms with the fact that his parents did not do what was best for him and that he has to grow and move on from it. This is because it fits in the theme of the book, but also because I’m exploring my own relationship with moving on from abuse through the narrative as well. So it’s kind of personal.

In St Apolonius (my teen fic), the parents start off the story being against their son’s coming out, which leads to him running away. By the end of the story, there is hope of a reconciliation between the MC and his parents though. The theme of the book is that it gets better, and I wanted to end on a high.

In my final big one, the father is present and is loving and caring. There’s a step-mother who also is a good person, and even though she and the father have split up, she still cares for both her own biological children, and the children from the father’s previous relationship. I did this in purpose to show that there are unconventional families that can be nurturing environment.

I do really like stories that have nurturing parents with strong links to their children though.

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Your Dad sounds like my cousin’s father.

When she reached out to him to tell him that she had breast cancer at 40 years old and had a genetic marker that the women on his side of the family should get tested for, he was absolutely heinous in his response to her - exact words “I don’t need your Cancer guilt trip.”

It’s been painful to watch my cousin deal with it. And I know how brutal it is for her. So I’m very sorry that you too have had to deal with that type of messed up parental dynamic too.

I definitely understand using real life stuff to inspire your writing and even to exorcise some demons. I definitely do that too.

But I do get the vibe most of the Wattpad stories that the Dead Parent/s detail is a plot device mostly used for the instant sympathy factor or from the sheer laziness.

99% of the blurbs I pick up that mention “orphan” or “dead parents” I put right back down - which is odd because I loved “Star Wars” and “Annie” as a 1980s kid :joy:

One of my Teen Fics has very present, loving and stable parents.

The other is based on my own family and so it’s got divorced parents who hate each other and use their kids as a weapons against each other. They are both present and yet “absentee” in their own ways.

It’s a coming-of-age story and so the MC begins to see her parents more as people by the end - as imperfect/flawed as she is, and so they have their limits in what they can offer to her emotionally - which is a relief in many respects to her because of some other stuff (neurologically) that she has going on.

So I hope readers see that there is still a sense of love and understanding in it.

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I have killed off a parent or two in my time. For some reason, in both of my current stories, the father is gone, killed off in one and just abandoned his family in the other. In the one where he’s killed off, it’s the thing that uproots the MC and forces her into circumstances where she has to change and grow. In the one where the father abandoned the family, it served to strengthen the MC’s relationship with her mom and sister.

I’ve written quite a few stories with characters who have close bonds with their parents. Some of the parents are stepparents or adoption parents because I feel like the emotional ties mean more than blood ties.

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I killed off my characters parents. It was all for the plot sake. Plus lots of people die everyday in my universe. Death is something every knight will stare in the face eventually

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I don’t think he was a callous man, I just don’t think he had the capability of showing emotion like most other’s do. Things didn’t enter his brain as what they were, but sort of transformed in their meaning as he took it in. He suffered from a brain injury, which he blamed almost everything on, but realistically he was not a great father or person before that. Everything was seen as a slight against and he couldn’t understand how to have normal conversations. If they weren’t philosophical discussions filled with quotes from other people, it wasn’t worth talking about. He didn’t understand why people would just talk about life rather than some deep meaning behind the larger picture.

It was exhausting. Going through the letters on his computer, 90% of them sounded the same. I told my sister if we had a drinking game having to take a shot everytime he quoted a philosopher or every time he brought up his brain injury from the car accident, we’d be shitfaced in ten minutes.

P.S. Your cousin’s dad sounds like a douche.

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TBI are tricky business. If he was that way before then I could see how it would amplify his ways.

Yeah my “uncle” is a complete loser.

Even told my cousin when she was 16 that my Aunt should have aborted her.

They were only 17 & 18 when my Aunt got pregnant and that he wanted to go that route, but because my Aunt didn’t, becoming a young father ruined his life.

Yet he never parented her anyway, so it’s baffling how he could think that at all.

Basically he’s a narcissist and paranoid to boot.

I don’t like to kill off my parents… it’s much easier to just find ways to shove them out of the picture. Business trips. Busy work schedules. Only having one parent in the picture to simplify things. Having them involved, but very permissive, so that my characters can do all the stuff they need to do without interference.

Sometimes, they’re there, but I forget to really involve them. I think that’s because my parents have always let me be pretty independent (I don’t have a curfew, I stay in my room most of the time, I can do basically whatever as long as I don’t fuck myself over, et cetera).

Sometimes I run out of means to get rid of them. One time I based a whole world off the fact that I needed to get the parents out of the goddamn picture. Unfortunately, that’s my most popular story (if you can call 500 reads popular) so everyone gets to see my laziness. ._.

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I actually have one dead parent in my story. I have to agree that fewer characters make for easier writing, but that isn’t why my MC’s mother is dead.

I began with a writing prompt, and wrote a short story where the MC sees his mother’s ghost on the anniversary of her death. My MC was not a little child, however. He was 19 when she died, which is still a teen. The story itself is him beginning his life as an adult.

Even though she is dead, her presence works it’s way into the story, from the books she wrote, to the formal pipe she made for his coming-of-age. There are moments when he recalls advice and sayings she had told him.

He is the only one with a dead parent, but he has an extensive extended family. A few of his cousins have key roles, as does his grandfather and uncle (on his mother’s side).

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H e sounds like a gem.

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I am actually an orphan. My parents past away when I was a teenager, and because the inspiration for my book sprung from events in my own life, one of the topics I had to touch upon was the loss of a loved one. So logic dictates that some of my characters have had that experience.

I’ve killed off my male MC’s mother, while my female MC has lost a brother – and one of her grandparents will pass away during the book too. This is one of the things my MCs bond over.

But I have a lot of different types of parents (and grandparents too for that matter) in my story.
– The overprotective parents who are trying to hide that their marriage is falling apart.
– The widower who is stuck with a kid he should never have had.
– The parents who are so busy being free-spirited that they don’t even realize they’re neglecting their kids.
– The parents with a big age difference who lack a sense of personal boundaries.
– The divorced single mother who just wants to see her children happy.
– – (The father is living in another country with a new wife and only “appears” via phone calls.)

As you can see, I’m a big believer in parents playing some kind of role in teen fics, and I do notice when they are missing. Simply killing them off to give your character some kind of inner struggles is a little too easy IMO. But, easy for me to say, I’ve lived through it and it would be a lie to say that it doesn’t still affect me today.

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I’m so sorry. I know it might be annoying when people say that so sorry for that. I just meant to give my condolences

For my story (a Teen Fiction), I actually have the parents in the story.

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Thank you, that’s kind of you. – They were actually reunited in the grave on their wedding day, which happens to be tomorrow, on the 31st. :relaxed:

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No. In my Meteor Girl novel, both parents are very much alive. I feel parents should play a significant role in fiction–as both a teacher and as a guide post for the characters in question.

The idea that parents need to be dead or abusive to help “move” the story plot is a bit of a misnomer and a farce.

I just realized that in my story, among my four-ish main characters:

  • One has a dead mom and a dad whose always working
  • One has a dead mom and an absentee dad (who he will meet later on in the story)
  • One has two parents that are getting divorced, so she’s staying with her sister while they fight over who gets the apartment (I must have subconsciously REALLY wanted to get rid of the parents)
  • One has two loving and attentive parents who always ask where he’s going and who he’s with

I didn’t realize I had “the parent problem” until this thread, but I’m definitely working on getting the living parents back into my characters lives.

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In my book, for all practical purposes Nikki is an orphan. But it was necessary with the themes I’m dealing with in the novel itself. Dad is in jail and mom lost her parental rights so Nikki is in the foster care system. In the three YA books I use in my classroom, all three sets of parents are alive. (Speak, Tears of a Tiger & Monster) The relationships the parents have with the protagonists run the gamut depending on which book you’re talking about.

It was interesting to read both articles.

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