Discussion Post: Characters With Absent Parents

characters with absent parents

Now, I apologize in advance if this discussion seems slightly more like a rant on my part. But I’ve discovered that I actually have quite a lot to say about this topic.

Not long ago, someone talked about this topic, and when commenting on their post, I saw that I was actually quite passionate about this – rant wise. I have a lot to say, and I need to get it out there somehow, so this is the topic of today’s discussion post.

So let’s talk about characters with absent parents!



I feel like every single protagonist in most YA books is missing either one of both parents.

And I just want to know…WHY???

Why on earth has it become a book trope for someone to be missing their parents? I find it so wrong that it’s been written this way so often that it’s actually a trope now!

I feel like lately, people just write out the parents of the protagonist for convenience. Because how inconvenient would it be if the main character was about to set off on this huge adventure and their mother/father wants them back by 10pm.

Now of course, absent parents happen. I know. Whether out of a divorce, break up, death, or simply bad parenting, there are countless reasons why people have missing parents.

So obviously it’s going to be written about. And as I’ve said before, there aren’t any topics that shouldn’t be written about, as long as they’re done is a respectful way.

But it’s honestly gotten to the point where us reviewers have started pointing out which books have a good family presence in our reviews, purely because it seems to be that uncommon. I even did this myself with The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer not long ago. Her family were a big part of the plot, and to me that was so different and refreshing, I felt like I needed to share it…even though everybody has a family so it shouldn’t be shocking that the main character does too!

I just don’t understand why writing about the parents would be such a huge issue. Surely they’d add more to the story? 

I mean, most of the time an author would write about a different character who cares and worries about the protagonist, whether they’re a love interest or friend. But why can’t this person who worries and frets…be the parents? It’s natural, would make the story more realistic, and could potentially add more drama to the story.

I just can’t help but think that writing about dead or otherwise absent parents purely out of convenience – to avoid that authoritive figure who could stop the protagonist doing things – is wrong. Again, YES it happens. YES it should be written about. YES it can add more to the story, if you think about books like the Harry Potter series, where it’s a huge part of the story.

BUT I just think it doesn’t need to be written about that often, just to avoid more explaining. Just to avoid an extra few conversations where the protagonist has to ask permission, or let their parents know beforehand. Or even to avoid a sneak-out scene to prevent being stopped by a person who actually cares for their safety.

Don’t get me wrong, a lot of the books I really love have characters with absent parents, for whatever reason. And I’ve never rated a book lower for this. I just think it’d be refreshing to see more families in books, and to see how they’d be handled in varying  genres.

Recommendation for books with a family presence:

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes



Now it’s your turn to join the discussion!

What do you think about characters with absent parents?

Is it used too often and becoming a trope, or should it be written about more?

Why do you think it’s written about so often?

Does a character having absent parents affect your opinion of the book at all, like other tropes (such as the hated love triangles) do?

Is it a product of lazy writing, or does it usually add more to the story?

What books would you recommend that have a family presence throughout?

Join the discussion in the comments!

Until next time…

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28 thoughts on “Discussion Post: Characters With Absent Parents

  1. Great article, you make some very valid points. I have noticed this as well in many of the YA books that I have read.
    I am not a fan of this particular trope either because I think it’s a bit of a lazy move in some cases. Don’t get me wrong, in books like Harry Potter the absence of parental figures is crucial to the story, but in other series I have read it just seems an excuse not to delve into that particular relationship.
    It is true that YA often sees the main character thrust into adult situations and the absence of a parent allows them to confront exciting and dangerous challenges without being shielded by a parental figure. This I think is the primary reason why authors remove the mother and/or father from the story.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. But even though removing the parental figure makes sense for character develoment in some cases it still irks me. Partly because I am a mum :/

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great discussion! 😀 I don’t mind having absent or bad parents in contemporaries because that’s realistic, but it really bugs me in fantasy, sci-fi, and dystopian. It feels way too convenient! The MC can do whatever he/she wants or save the world and/or die trying whenever. It doesn’t make me lower my rating, but it gets on my nerves. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I can understand not involving parents too much if the story is about their child & not them, but too often it’s like they don’t even exist at all & year that definitely bugs me. Can we at least mention they exist a few times? They don’t need to be in every scene, but come on now. Not every teen in the world has parents that basically let them roam free whenever & however they please!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly!! Even if it was just a random thought from the main character every so often about how their mother/father wouldn’t approve if they saw them or something, that’d make such a difference!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post! This really irritates me in contemporary YA so much! Especially when both parents are actually around but seem to have no control over their teenagers or just don’t care what they do. It’s just not realistic at all. I for one had to let my parents know where I was at all times. I do think it is laziness making authors write this way, and I agree, it’s like they don’t to enforce curfews or rules on their characters.

    Lauren @ My Expanding Bookshelf

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m glad you wrote this post 😀 You already know that I agree with everything you’ve said and I get irritated very easily bringing this up, I swear I wouldn’t mind a few more pages if it makes parents part of the story!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This is a really cool topic! Personally from my own writing experience, writing parents is HARD. It’s hard to find that perfect balance where they are overwhelming to the plot (if they aren’t meant to) but also to not have them seem like cardboard cutouts! But I also love reading a mix of both kind of stories, with and without parents because it can very quickly change the dynamic of the book. Great discussion Ashleigh 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I understand it can be hard to write – and it might just be the books I’m personally reading that do this. Though like you said, it’s nice to see both sides of the story!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I definitely think it’s a matter of convenience. It can be hard to write about strict parental figures who would never let their child take any risks in middle grade and YA books, but it seems to me a lot of adult books have protagonists who are orphans/whose parents were absent during childhood as well. In those cases I feel more like the author is trying to give their protagonist a tragic backstory as opposed to out of convenience.

    I can’t decide whether my current writing project follows this trope or not. My protagonist’s parents go through long periods of not being available before the story started because of reasons. In the story itself, however, I’d say at least one of my protagonist’s parents are in/mentioned in the majority of the scenes, and they both have a major role in the story.

    I’ve without a doubt been guilty of this in my past writing projects though. It’s just so much easier with the parents out of the picture, and those were my early works, so the last thing I needed at the time was anything that would make writing even more difficult than it is.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I think it’s been this way for a long time. When reading as a child, I found myself wishing I was poor and didn’t have parents because all the characters in the books I read had such fun and exciting adventures without them. I suppose looking back now, would it have been believable for parents to let their kids get up to what they did or not know what was happening? Probably not. It’s a tough balance and will depend on the individual story but it certainly is far more common for them not to have parents around. It shouldn’t be the case.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s horrid thinking that it’s become that much of a trend, that people actually start wishing they didn’t have parents, like it’s OK for them not to be around. Like you said, it can be a difficult thing to balance.

      Like

  10. I did a topic like this a while back in February talking about the lack of families in YA. It’s SO ANNOYING! And I know the 1950’s nuclear family no longer really exists nowadays, but that doesn’t mean YA should abandon a family unit altogether! It’s quite frustrating especially in contemporary, where families don’t even give a damn whether or not their child is underage drinking or failing classes.
    Great discussion post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!
      I’m glad you agree! Like you said, it’s not exactly the most common thing for a full family unit to be around, but it does still massively exist, and needs to be written about.

      Liked by 1 person

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