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A Real Mother For You

Becoming a mother was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done, but it would have been a little easier if Hollywood had given me better role models. Unfortunately, I’m not totally kidding when I say that. My own mother was fairly traditional as role models go, and despite the fact that she worked, voted, and taught me how to drive, the way she always put herself second made me feel that feminism had bypassed her completely. I did not want this to happen to me.

After I became a mother myself, I began to understand the sacrifices she made for our family, but I still had ambitions that wouldn’t be met by carpools and chocolate chip cookies. I needed to know there were women out there whose identities flourished rather than tanked after marriage and children. So when I couldn’t find a real-life woman to idealize all out of proportion, I went back to the movies.

That Hollywood likes its moms good and stereotyped is no surprise; the surprise was that I hadn’t noticed it sooner, I’d scoffed at the fading beauties and the smotherers and the drudges along with the rest of America. But where were the funny-yet-nurturing ass-kickers, the peerless matriarchs? Who was our Don(na) Corleone?

For two (male) people I asked, it was hard to come up with a memorable movie mom. When I asked my husband to name one, it took him a full ten seconds before he said, “Mammy from Gone With the Wind.” Another ten seconds elapsed before he said, “Elastigirl!” My son, who’s ten, thought about it and then gave up, saying he’d have to get back to me later. (So much for creating positive models for the next generation.)

So in the absence of what I want, which is a mother figure who’s Thelma, Louise, Gandhi and Charles Foster Kane all rolled into one, I’ve made a list of movie mothers and tried to coax out both their human and heroic qualities. It is neither comprehensive nor particularly current, and the main thing I’ve come to understand is that the only way to keep this topic from making me sad and crazy is to keep digging into the mud and looking for specks of gold.

Please leave a comment if you have another mother to add.

Norman Bates’s Mom in Psycho

  • Strength: After her husband died she found a new love in middle age
  • Weakness: Not being able to escape murder and subsequent mummification by her jealous teenage son
  • What we can learn from her: Kids need a lot of help during the transition after a parent dies; that Oedipal stuff is serious

 


Mammy from Gone With the Wind

  • Strength: Would take no guff
  • Weakness: Red petticoats
  • What we can learn from her: Speaking your mind can make someone respect you more, especially if that someone is Clark Gable

 


Rosemary from Rosemary’s Baby

  • Strength: Had good instincts
  • Weakness: Didn’t follow them
  • What we can learn from her: FOLLOW YOUR INSTINCTS

 


Lana Turner in Imitation of Life

  • Strengths: Pursuing a successful Broadway career; being a strong single mom
  • Weaknesses: Favoring her maid’s light-skinned daughter; competing with her own daughter for a man; then her maid died and, oh man, it gets pretty complicated
  • What we can learn from her: It takes real commitment to wear a girdle for fourteen hours straight

 


The Alien in Alien

  • Strengths: Devotion to children; total, focused badassery
  • Weaknesses: Lack of compassion for those not of her species
  • What we can learn from her: In the suburbs, as in space, no one can hear you scream

 


Sarah Connors from The Terminator films

  • Strengths: Quick thinking; crazy biceps; she’s a lover and a fighter
  • Weaknesses: Addiction to crushing/melting killer cyborgs
  • What we can learn from her: It pays to be skeptical, but sometimes the cute guy really is from the future!

 


Elastigirl in The Incredibles

  • Strengths: Flexible; patient; quick-witted; cool under pressure; no problem with either emotional or physical confrontations
  • Weaknesses: Worried about the size of her butt
  • What we can learn from her: Stay present, stay sharp, ask for what you need, and remember that even kids who have superpowers can still get grounded

 

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