Then we might start thinking about mothers in the other parts of our lives – not least in the books we read.
While there is no doubt that some real mothers out there perform acts of bravery, courage and love every day, there is something alluring about fictional mothers who can hold their own in the fact of literary disaster and hardship.
Writers include these badass mothers presumably because:
a) They’re awesome
b) They show that mothers don’t have to conform to demure stereotypes
The badass mother will often be a significant part of the storyline. Her matriarchal strength will affect and influence the lives of her child or children, her extended family and – not least – anyone who attempts to harm her offspring.
Badass mothers can teach us a lot about toughness, self-sacrifice and, often, the pure power of simply loving your children. Without further ado, here are mothers who fight, die and love to the extreme.
Thetis is not what most of us would want for a mother. For one thing, she is a cold, foreboding woman. For another, she’s not actually human, but is instead a sea-nymph and therefore a minor god.
The relationship between her son, Achilles, and his lover Patroclus is constantly overshadowed by the latter’s fear of Thetis. But Patroclus can be forgiven for this: Thetis is “taller than any woman [Patroclus] had ever seen” with a voice like “the grinding of rocks in the surf”.
Thetis probably doesn’t seem to be a particularly good choice for Mother of the Year. Even though she is a minor god, she still realises that she is a god and intends to make sure every mortal knows it.
She is the mythical equivalent of pushy parent: her son Achilles has ichor in his veins and, as such, she wants him to leave his mortal existence and attain immortality. To do this, he has to do something truly glorious. Thetis will do anything in her power to help him.
She detests mortals – with excellent reason. Achilles is the result of trickery and rape by his father. Now, Thetis is trying to steer her son down what she believes is the right path.
In a tale full of human self-interest and godly whims, she has her work cut out. When Achilles reveals that he is going to war, Thetis condemns him as a waste of her sacrificial efforts and turns her attention to Achilles’s son to raise him as a god instead.
But the thing that still secures Thetis as a badass mother is this: she knows her son will be killed. Privy as she is to the word of the Fates she learns that if Achilles slays powerful enemy warrior Hector to save his people, Achilles’s death will follow. And she is forced to let him die, as a human, because of human wars.
The Harry Potter books are chock-full of badass mothers. Molly Weasley is probably the most famous, seeing how she finally managed to murder Bellatrix Lestrange, one of the most evil characters in the series. In a 2007 Carnegie Hall interview, Rowling called Molly “an amazing exemplar of maternal love”.
When Molly’s daughter is almost killed, that love kicks in, and nothing can stop her from protecting her family. Molly is a great example of why you should never underestimate homely women – they’re more than just cooks and carers.
Lily Potter’s last act of motherhood is the element that catalyses the entire story. She throws herself in front of Voldemort’s wand and pleads with him to kill her instead of Harry. It turns out that her love will protect Harry for the rest of his conflict with Voldemort – but she does not know that at the time.
Instead, she selflessly offers herself in her son’s place, knowing that she will die. For a young woman in her early twenties, that takes an incredible amount of guts.
But it’s not just the good guys who have badass mums. Narcissa Malfoy was a woman who everyone loved to hate when she was first introduced in The Goblet of Fire, not least because she is the mother of arrogant bully Draco.
What no one saw coming was that she would eventually end up lying about Harry’s death to Voldemort’s face and getting away with it and bringing about the saving of the wizarding world. And all because she’s desperate to see Draco alive again.
The mother who is always overlooked – due to the fact that she appears on literally two and a bit pages in one book – is Mrs Crouch. The Crouch family is arguably the biggest clusterfuck in the entire series. Barty Sr. is an overly-strict career man. Meanwhile, Barty Jr. interprets his father’s neglect as a reason to join an evil cult and torture a pair of innocent people into insanity. Father sends son to wizarding prison Azkaban whilst the “wispy” Mrs Crouch sobs and faints.
We never get to hear her speak. What we do learn, however, is that Mrs Crouch learns she is dying and promptly volunteers to swap places with her son. Azkaban and soul-sucking guards the Dementors are repeatedly shown to strike fear into the heart of every wizard. What Mrs Crouch does is to use her last days to save her only child.
She knows she will suffer to the end, but she wants her boy to be free. She is perhaps the most tragic character in the series: neither father nor son fully recognise the power of her last gift, and instead remain enemies until Junior kills Senior. And it turns out the Dementors get their prize after all, when Junior is thrown to them as punishment. Mrs Crouch dies for nothing.
School can be hell, especially if it’s a school written into life by perennial favourite Roald Dahl. Crunchem Hall Primary School is under the sizeable thumb of headteacher Miss Trunchbull – someone who makes ‘death by chocolate cake’ seem a terrifying reality. Even so, whilst school is not usually a place of bliss for the average child, for heroine Matilda, Crunchem Hall is better than being at home with her parents.
Perhaps the biggest reason for this is a young teacher with one of the most telling names in all of literature – Miss Honey. She is the perfect teacher because, Dahl says, “she possessed that rare gift for being adored by every small child under her care”.
Matilda connects with Miss Honey because she’s finally found someone to encourage and nurture her talents. More importantly, and more simply, Miss Honey is someone who will give affection in spades, and accept Matilda for who she is. When Matilda discovers that her neglectful parents are fleeing to Spain to avoid criminal conviction, Miss Honey is who she runs to.
Ultimately, Matilda and Miss Honey become mother and daughter – a sweet ending to Matilda’s hitherto unhappy childhood.
Miss Honey is maybe the biggest badass mother of all. She doesn’t have any special powers. She’s human. She’s not Matilda’s blood relation and she’s only twenty-three, but she’s got so much love to give that she’s willing to adopt the neediest of all her pupils to give her the life she deserves.
And while it’s fun to think about the possibilities offered by mothers who kick ass with magic and immortality, in the end, a mother with no special powers except unconditional love is the best anyone could hope for.
Did we miss any of your favourite badass fictional mothers from our list? Do these women deserve to be on here? Let us know!
Image via WILPF.org