by Gail Z. Martin
I survived the Mommy Wars of the 1990s.
Back then, it wasn’t enough to make a decision on what was right for your individual family in terms of going back to work after having a child. According to the media-induced frenzy, it was necessary to state your choice as a moral absolute, and to regard those who made a different choice (regardless of their rationale or circumstances) as the enemy. Oddly enough, when about 80% of women with small children went back to work in some capacity, the Mommy Wars lost steam as a polarizing issue and we all went on with our lives without experiencing the apocalypse.
I bring this up because while it takes a village to raise a child in the most positive sense, those same villages often impose tight culturally-proscribed limits on how “good” mothers are supposed to act. What happens when your vows as queen and heir to the throne conflict with your responsibilities as the mother of a young infant?
Most of the kick-butt female characters in modern fantasy are conveniently single and childless (with the exception of the Carpe Demon series). In my book, The Dread, one of my main characters, Kiara Sharsequin Drake, must make a no-win decision. When her father, King Donelan of Isencroft is murdered by a usurper’s assassin as the kingdom stands at the brink of war with a looming foreign invasion, Kiara, as heir to the throne, is the only one who can unify and lead her people.
Seems like a clear choice. Except that Kiara is married to King Martris Drake of Margolan, a marriage that is both love match and political arrangement, and she has just given birth only a few months before. Her infant son is not quite “right,” and no one knows exactly why. She is also a few months pregnant with a second child, one who might stand to inherit both thrones if the first son is incapable of ruling. The crowns of two kingdoms hang in the balance.
“Family” issues make it even harder. The two kingdoms have a long history of mistrust. Many within Margolan view their new queen as an outsider with questionable motives. Many in Isencroft view the marriage and resulting joint throne as tantamount to treason. A usurper backed by a powerful foreign force has landed to stake his claim to the Isencroft throne. Martris Drake has already taken Margolan troops to fight a multi-pronged foreign invasion.
Should Kiara stay or should she go? If she stays, she abandons her own kingdom in its moment of dire need. But by doing so, she could remain with her infant son and protect him amid the instability of what has become a world war. If she goes, leaving her son with trusted protectors, her new subjects will consider it desertion, and her political enemies will brand her both a faithless queen and a bad mother.
As I wrote The Dread, I realized that while kings are rarely censured for their suitability as fathers, history makes many judgments about how well queens performed as mothers. (Remember the criticism lodged against Queen Elizabeth II during the Princess Diana years?) This made Kiara’s subplot all the more interesting to me because she not only had political choices to make and physical hardship to face, she also had to confront personal, social and cultural expectations around her role as a mother. There’s no way she can make everyone happy. No matter what she chooses, she’ll feel agonizing guilt (ain’t in the truth), and she will be her own harshest critic.
To my thinking, bringing in the Mommy War dynamic makes Kiara easier for readers to identify with, because while few people in real life are warriors and fewer still are royalty, if you have children, you’ve felt pulled apart when one set of urgent duties conflicted with your beliefs about how a “good” mother should act.
How does she resolve it? Imperfectly. As most of us, I suspect, have done in real life, she weighs her options, looks at the pros and cons, tries to envision the long-term repercussions and potential damage, and then makes her choice, knowing that no matter what she chooses, a part of her heart will break, and half of the onlookers will vilify her. If you’re reading this and you’re a mom, you’ve been there, and so have I.