Sliding Scale of Parent-Shaming in Fiction
This is the scale which tries to encapsulate how abusive and not-so-abusive parents's behaviors towards their children are judged by writers. As some authors like to remind you that a single bad day makes you evil
and some others think that teenagers from 13 and up should be left to fend for themselves
, this can create serious Values Dissonance
The usual examples of said dissonance usually consist of this: mothers tend to be portrayed more sympathetically
than fathers (unless they have a career), the protagonist will usually
have an excuse
or be forgiven for
the neglect that befalls upon her/his children, a Hot Dad
or an Hot Mom have much lower chances
to be seen as a villain, and the dad who left the mom and the child fending for themselves to die a hero in the war becomes much more beloved than the mother who tried to prevent the child from staying up too late for years, and neglectful parents
who let their children do whatever they want with no ill consequences are usually more popular with a young fandom than a rightly Overprotective Dad
An high level of parent-shaming is usually a warning sign for The Woobie
, and a high number of these parents is usually a warning sign for a Crapsack World
Note that it can include older siblings and caretakers behaving as parents would.
Off the scale: That was a bad day
Even the protagonist can indulge in this and remain sympathetic. The author will tell you these are forgivable mistakes, often with no knowledge of the bad consequences on the child, and understandably so: a better alternative could be imagined, but this one isn't this bad. It is really no big deal and will have no consequences even though the Bratty Teenage Daughter
will complain about this for long.
No examples, please, as it is too subjective !
Type I: That was bad parenting
The protagonist can indulge in this and remain sympathetic, but
expect either a redemption, or a small temporary decrease in popularity. It is mostly well-intentioned extremism, but can also be indifferent neglect of something they think not so important for the child.
See mild and comedy examples of Overprotective Dad
, Knight Templar Parent
, Knight Templar Big Brother
, and Hands-Off Parenting
as they are usually treated. The Disney Trope Codifier
is the Sultan in Aladdin
Anime and Manga
- Ariel in The Little Mermaid II, to Melody, but only by hiding her a part of her heritage in order to protect her. The dramatic music playing on the background when Melody breaks in tears because of Ariel's reprimand makes clear that the writer considered this was serious buisness. Perhaps her only mistake was not to trust her for the case.
- The Sultan to Jasmine in Aladdin. He didn't force her into an arranged marriage, but strongly encouraged her, because he genuinely thought it would be the best for her. She dreamed of freedom and recognition to such a point that she puts herself in danger in order to have a taste of it. She also sets doves free while dreamily looking at them flying to a far away place, which is not a good omen to begin with...
- Various instances in the works of Jane Austen:
- Mrs Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility. She is one of the best mothers in Jane Austen's books, but she never realizes that Elinor, her eldest daughter who isn't as passionate as her and her younger daughter, can suffer as deeply as them, and acts much more constructively as the author quickly notes before explicitly writing that the favorite is Marianne, not Elinor. It reinforces Elinor's isolation in a painful situation out of which she pulls herself alone.
- In Persuasion, Lady Russel encourages the young and innocent Anne to dump her fiancÚ. Despite her good intentions and true generosity, she is proven wrong when she imagines the marriage wouldn't have worked only because of class pride and a quick first impression of the gentleman. This despite the fact that she has been around Sir Walter Eliott for years, and knows that aristocracy isn't the guarantee for a good personality. She even recognizes it innerly.
- Emma: Mr Woodhouse let his daughter become the mistress of the house and convinced her that he couldn't bear her marriage if she left home. Being clever, cunning, and having no future perspectives for herself, she fully focuses on a hilarious matchmaking business. Need we say it goes as awry as it can in a Jane Austen novel ?.
- Lord Thomas Bertram in the Mansfield Park adaptations. He is portrayed as a cold, but well-meaning father figure to Fanny. Much more efficient and generous than her Affably Selfish father and mother.
- This is how Mr. and Mrs. Bennet are portrayed in the 2005 movie version of Pride and Prejudice. Mrs. Bennet is neurotic and self-focused, but both practical and well-meaning. Mr. Bennet is overly snarky and not implicated enough in his two youngest daughters' lives, but also kind and well-meaning (it is stated in the many analysis and in the DVD commentary). The book was much more pejorative in its treatment of their education.
- Robby Ray is this, sometimes, in Hannah Montana. He likes to criticize his son Jackson as a Running Gag. Except, when you see all Jackson goes through, it isn't even funny, and numerous times it isn't completely supposed to be. This was finally acknowledged in an episode where Miley accused her grandmother of favoring Jackson over her. Grandma's answer? "Of course, I do. If I didn't, who would?". Robbie Ray recognizes that the situation is bad, tells Jackson that he is proud of him. Unfortunately Miley unwittingly steals the spotlight and by next episode everything snaps back. He lets Jackson be abused by his chief, and refuses to ask a smaller discount for the abuse episodes to decrease in intensity, but can't bear it when he is subjected to a day of it himself. Now remember that most of Robby Ray's time is used to make his popstar daughter have a successful career.
- Alison Dubois and Joe, from Medium, were this at worst during the first couple of seasons. They are very conservative and quite strict, but they mean well and (unless Alison is possessed or they are possessed) treat their daughters in a coherent, constructive and loving way. However, they also force them to apply themselves to quite high and sometimes contradictory standards. This leads to many The Reason You Suck Speeches from one of them to the other. Their daughter Bridget later feels neglected in comparison of the two other much more glaringly perfect sisters. Ultimately, they all regress into a not-abusive-at-all state, after some type III episodes when the visions badly shake one of them, or in very dramatic Alternate Universes where they understandably lose control.
- Since Arielle, the eldest daughter, behaves as a caretaker and is influenced by their behavior, she is also a part of the equation. She behaves mostly as they ask but treats Bridget much more harshly than they do, and finds her free-minded, less socially conformist behavior annoying. Bridget ends up lashing out at her, viciously telling her why she won't miss her when she goes to college. Arielle is very affected, and it takes a ghost intervention to set things right.
- Once Upon a Time has Regina, who tried to avoid this trope after indulging in it in the first season. This serves to contrast her with her mother, The-Woman-Whose-Name-Makes-The-Fandom-Tremble, Cora.
- The Doomy Adventures Of Irken Doominess showcasts Deef and Alyssa's parents. They are type 2s bordering type 3 because they neglect their children, Deef and Alyssa don't seem all that affected but Deef often comments that his mom "Isn't really a good mom".
Type II: That made you a bad parent
This is short for "That made you a bad parent but since Status Quo Is God
, we may forgive you in twenty minutes, or provoke your Karmic Death
big deal, at least for the writer.
The character can remain officially sympathetic, but he has got to pull a Daddy Had a Good Reason for Abandoning You
, or a My God, What Have I Done?
. At this point, they are deemed redeemable, things may improve and everything may be fine, but the bad memories will never
fade. If they aren't redeemed, expect the parent to cross to the level 4, the child to forgive them while acknowledging implicitly all this damage or the parent and the child to be estranged.
See (usually) examples of Overprotective Dad
, Knight Templar Parent
, Knight Templar Big Brother
and Hands-Off Parenting
. May still cause Designated Villain
complaints, even among people whose views do not get much farther from the author's.
The Disney Trope Codifier
is Chiew Powathan from Pocahontas
- In Disney's Pocahontas, the chief Powathan proves quite forceful in pushing Pocahontas into marriage with Kocoum. He also refuses to listen to her pleas and tells her "You cannot imagine how much I am ashamed of you" while he knows his approval and her people were so important for her that she considered letting go of the possibility of freedom for them. He eventually betters and had apparently always been kinder up to this period, but during this moment, he clearly crosses (albeit briefly) in this. It was not approved by some highly-regarded members of Native American communities, as it goes against a Native American principle to always listen to one's children. However, he redeems himself for this and becomes non-abusive when he listens to her in the end of the movie, which an American Indian spokesman described as the moment in which the movie redeemed itself by showing someone practicing an American Indian culture accurately by way of this character, on this point.
- Veronica Mars had Lianne Mars as a type two. She starts off as a Missing Mom, the reasons for which weren't entirely in her control (it's complicated). But later on, after she's found again, Veronica learns that her mom has never fully recovered from her alcoholism. She dumps her college fund to get her mom into rehab. Her mom not only skips out before her program is complete, but steals Veronica's 50-grand bounty before disappearing (again). However, as she was an alcoholic, the writers maintained a reasonable doubt as to whether we should blame her or her sickness for her most desperate acts.
- John Winchester of Supernatural is sympathetic once we know his history, but still falls here. He ostracizes Sam for going to Stanford when he could be hunting monsters; Dean has an obedient and authoritarian attitude towards John that John apparently prefers; he made his sons spend their childhood as traveling Hunters despite the many disadvantages of this lifestyle; and he is usually portrayed as an emotionally distant drunk. But he did it all because the Yellow-Eyed demon has plans for Sam and there was probably no course of action that had a better chance of saving Sam from these plans. (Although we can still ask, was he right to keep so much of his rationale a secret, instead of telling Sam and Dean?)
- Jane Austen liked using this type :
- Lord Thomas Bertram and Lady Bertram in the book Mansfield Park. They let Mrs. Norris bring Fanny down, Lady Bertram is lazy and self-involved and Lord Bertram is offensive and critical while it is not needed and tries to make her accept an Arranged Marriage. But Lord Bertram means well and treats her decently and Lady Bertram loves Fanny dearly. This is evidenced by the generally positive view of Lord Bertram and his (justified after the narrator) My God, What Have I Done? moment, and Lady Bertram's ironic but ultimately sympathetic portrayal as a sensitive but self-involved Lazy Bum. Their actions nevertheless lead to Maria and Julia turning into inconsiderate spoiled young girls, which leads to a lot of the problems in the story, but this part was unintended. The Aesop of the book seems to be partly that deep and well-thought education is an important thing, and musn't be neglected in order to avoid creating self-destructive and self-centered people.
- Mr. and Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. It is outright stated in the book that their parenting mistakes and Mr Bennet's failure at showing respect to his wife are the cause of the family's problems. It can be explained thus:
- Mr Bennet, despite a great intelligence allied with quick wit and much Jerkass Dissonance, is a cold, critical and neglectful father who leaves all the parenting to his impulsive, mean-spirited, verbally abusive, self-involved and extremely neurotic but ultimately loving wife. He unwittingly forces the children to "choose sides", which is very blatant with all the sisters but the eldest: Elizabeth is a younger girler version of him, with more compassion and indulgence, but still a proud Deadpan Snarker and Horrible Judge of Character. Mary tries to impress him by gaining knowledge and a level-headed exterior, but ultimately ridicules herself. The two other sisters are younger versions of the mother, one of which may be hurt by her father's disdain and controls herself, while the other couldn't care less and ruins the family's reputation because she really doesn't care about the only rational parent's opinion (seeing the way he treats her, many modern readers may accept this as understandable).
- This directly causes: Elizabeth showing interest in Wickham and imagining that Darcy is a monster while he is more a Jerk with a Heart of Gold and after the revelation becomes her future husband, being asked to marry Mr. Collins, and getting humiliated, Jane to temporarily lose her fiancÚ, Lydia to marry a remorseless Gold Digger who likes her, and Mary and Kitty to witness all this and react in the most screwed-up way possible.
- All of the daughters have skewed up ideas of how people are supposed to behave in relationships, perhaps caused by a feeling of inferiority. Jane doesn't show her interest, Elizabeth is perfectly fine with the man she flirted with marrying a mildly richer woman (and even comments on how modest he is by choosing someone not-so-rich) and Lydia is no exception.
- Helen Graham from The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is considered this in-universe by her neighbors as she is an Overprotective Mom who won't let her son drink alcohol or do dangerous things, and even claims that she would rather see him dead than becoming what her neighbor call "a man from the world" after a stresful moment. She is actually a combination of Broken Bird and Good Is Not Nice, and tries to avoid the situation in which he would become like her own father and her husband, both alcoholics, neglectful fathers, and generally hedonistic men.
Type III: That made you a bad person
The parent can still be well-intentioned misguided, though in most cases, he is either a huge Jerkass, or a lunatic. Yet he may have canonical redeeming qualities, enough vulnerability, or enough limits to save himself from being pure evil. This character can be sympathetic, but expect in most cases a condemnation from the writer and a Karmic Death
See the most misguided examples of Knight Templar Parent
, Knight Templar Big Brother
, and Parental Abandonment
The Disney Trope Codifier
is Mother Gothel from Tangled
May cause canonical Cry for the Devil
- Lady Tremaine from the 1955 Disney cinematic version of Cinderella is certainly evil, but she cares for her eldest daughter (whom she abuses like the younger) and wants the best social position for both. It is acknowledged surprisingly easily for such an evil character (even though she never marks her concern, just acts on it).
- The Wicked Stepmother from Cinderella is very evil to Cinderella, and undoubtedly has a completely negative effect on her life. However, she wants the best for her daughters, who are described as ugly but, for one of them, not irredeemable and sometimes considerate to the heroine.
- The enchantress from Rapunzel is very hostile with the young girl's undeserving lover, who is her Prince Charming, and locks away her daughter. Other than that, she is a loving and good mother, and a very responsible person for the two thirds of the fairy tale. Then, she abandons her in the desert and inflicts a painful revenge on her lover.
- The magician queen mother of the first version of Snow White reported by the Brothers Grimm could be this, as she sincerely desired a child.
- The daughter Sir Walter Eliott from Persuasion loves the most is the one who looks and acts like him. He puts down and neglects the daughter who looks like his dead wife, never brings her emotional stability, and also participates in postponing her wedding to seven years later (it is a long story). He doubles as a Hypocrite as, while extremely proud of his rank and looks, he is ready to marry a woman without wealth and looks while he would never let his daughters consider this lack of highly-valued qualities for society suitable for a husband.
- In Coraline, the Other Mother is abusive and locks up children's souls in a secret place, but she seems to love them.
- Rodmilla de Gent from Ever After is certainly evil, but she cares for her eldest daughter and wants the best social position possible for her, while not abusing her other daughter in a different way than when she insults her... There are hints that she was abused by her mother and misses her husband.
- Mother Gothel in Tangled is not unambiguously evil or abusive, but even if she loves Rapunzel, she wants to be eternally young more than anything and manipulates Rapunzel, maintaining in her a slight inferiority complex and paranoia. She is in type IV just like her fairy tale counterpart. Despite her obvious good sides and Pet the Dog moments, she shows how far she is ready to go quite quickly ...
- Jason's father in Something Positive was a Type III. He was a psychiatrist who performed experiments on his children and literally tested how much they loved him. As in with multiple choice tests. The fandom had no qualms about Jason putting him down with a single punch the first time he appeared in the comic.
- The Nostalgia Critic's parents only stay in Type III because he can remember a few good moments and still love them despite portraying them as monsters when he was little.
Type IV: I barely acknowledge you as a sentient being
These are the worst cases of Antagonistic Offspring
and Archnemesis Dad
. These people are often described as so irresponsible or self-centered that their good sides do not even succeed in making them canonical Anti Villains
Writing about Anti Villains
, this is often where Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds
parents end up.
For the Disney Trope Codifier
, see the Evil Queen from Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
, and Frollo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Anime and Manga
- Frollo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame is this to Quasimodo, whom he terrifies and manipulates. He tried to murder him at the beginning of the movie, took him home because he feared damnation, and he is ready to murder him in the end of the movie.
- Snow White's stepmother from Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs qualifies, as she makes the heroine of the movie work as a servant and feels jealousy for her and acts cruelly on it since a considerable amount of time even before hurting her directly physically.
- Genma Saotome from Ranma ½ is a type IV. He raised Ranma to only respect martial arts prowess and have no concept of how to deal with girls. But it was his infamous training methods, especially the Cat-Fist, which make him a complete monster of a parent.
- In Soul Eater, Medusa's behaviour towards Chrona, whom she barely treated as anything but a test subject) is this.
- In Speed Grapher, Shinzen underfeeds, slaps, belittles, and pretty much pimps Kagura to Suitengu, as revenge because Kagura's father ran out on them when she was pregnant.
- Hayate the Combat Butler's parents fulfill Type IV as they cross the Moral Event Horizon. Their abusiveness was originally Played for Laughs.
- Terry Pratchett's The Truth has an example of a Type IV parent in William de Worde's father. Snobbish, distant, cruel, and outright racist, he turns out to be the main villain when it is discovered that he engineered and led the plot to assassinate Lord Vetinari.
- In Agnes Grey, the pupils's parents are this trope. Not because they abuse them, but because, for most of them, unlike Agnes's supportive, loving and heroic parents with whom they contrast, they couldn't care less about what their children do. This is one of Agnes's biggest issues, as she must deal with Spoiled Brat or manipulative people at the best and Enfant Terrible at worst, while having all the duties of a parent and almost none of the rights and honours of the function.
- In Veronica Mars, Aaron Echols is this.
- Grimm has a special example. Giving The Scrappy Abusive Parents rarely creates audience sympathy, and can cause cries of Sympathetic Sue. But Adalind Schade, who appeared like a shallow Manipulative Bastard for seventeen episodes, is an exception to this rule. What she does is mostly supervised by her mom, Catherine. She physically and emotionally abuses her and flirts with her daughter's Bastard Boyfriend while encouraging Adalind to pursue him because he's powerful and she's got evil plans to carry out. When Adalind isn't being efficient enough, Catherine throws her out, and almost shouts : "You're Defiled Forever, geddit ?". Later on, Adalind keeps audience sympathy even amongst the fans of the ship she apparently sunk.
- In Once Upon a Time, Regina's mother abused her physically and emotionally, tried to make her a Gold Digger, and finally used the same heart spell than Regina on her fiance. There are only hints about her having a tragic backstory which are finally revealed to be a bit exxagerated (she was just poor and humiliated), so, if they aren't furtherv explored, the writers's treatment will be this. As of season 2, episode 9, she tried to rip her daughter's heart out after learning that Regina wanted her hurt. This serves to contrast Cora/Regina, since Regina does a lot of sacrifices for her son.
- As of 2x16 Cora does love her daughter, but a spell prevented her from feeling it properly for most of her life. When she is freed and feels it she says that her daughter would have been enough, even without power.
- Relius Clover of BlazBlue series. He pretty much sees any human beings as possible live specimens for his mad research, his family included and has no qualms into snatching their soul away to put them in an inanimate doll (so they becomes animate) and serve as his research project or weapons. The complete one is made of his wife, the incomplete one is made of his daughter, and he left it for his son Carl to finish, completely traumatizing the little boy and made him hate the man so much. And when the boy had the gall to call him out? Relius just either nonchalantly attempt to kill him (and the resident buxom doctor who calls out his 'awesome' parenting skill) or just shove him the extent of his mad research, knowing that he'd pass out (in which he'd probably move in for the kill if uninterrupted).
- Fire Lord Ozai in Avatar: The Last Airbender burned his own son's face for refusing to fight him.
- Yakone in the Sequel Series The Legend of Korra should also be a Type 5. He forced his sons to go through harsh training, verbally abused them, made them inflict abuse on helpless animals and tried to get them to hurt each other, all so he can raise them to be Tykebombs for his revenge. And it WORKED.
- Dr. Mar Londo in Legion Of Superheroes experimented on his unwilling son, turning him into a werewolf-like creature. He wanted to create a monster (by using a human for a template rather than an animal like his previous experiments) for the purpose of serving him as a general for his army for galactic domination. To make matters worse he thinks his son should be thanking him for this.