Marge: That's crazy. Bart's not a shoplifter, he's just a little boy.
Don Brodka: Oh, sure, now he's just a little boy stealing little toys. But some day, he'll be a grown man stealing stadiums and...er, quarries.
Marge: My son may not be perfect, but I know in my heart he's not a shoplifter.
It's not unusual for fiction to depict the effects crime can have on the criminal's family. This trope is about when the criminal's family reacts with either disbelief, disavowal of responsibility or, if they're hedging their bets, both. When confronted with evidence of serious wrongdoing, they often go through predictable emotional processes, most prominently denial. Denial as a psychological phenomenon can manifest in many forms, and they may just have Failed a Spot Check on the criminal's behavior.
When a family member or guardian is brought face-to-face with strong evidence that their child or more rarely other relative is a criminal, it will of course affect them in different ways. Some will sadly accept it and move on with their lives; some will be angry at their child but maintain ties. To fall under this trope, though, the family must either:
- React by denying any responsibility at all for the offending party.
- React with rhetorical disbelief, where the family uses an expression of disbelief to show surprise.
- React with totally irrational disbelief, some form of psychological denial.
Whichever way it is expressed, this trope can sometimes be used to help show that it is not just the victims' lives and families that are disrupted by serious crime, to humanise a criminal character, or for laughs.
Even if these reactions apply only temporarily, they count. People change, and few people in fiction or real life remain in denial their whole life.
Contrast: The Family That Slays Together, where not only did the parents raise their kids to be criminals, but also treat crime as a family activity, and Don't Tell Mama, where the child tries to hide their criminal behavior from their parents.
Compare Parental Obliviousness, where the parents never realise their offspring is a criminal or otherwise unsavory subconscious cases of Mama Didn't Raise No Criminal might be stopping them from seeing the truth in some cases. Also compare I Have No Son!, where family members deny even the physical fact of their blood relationship.
- Death Note:
- Light Yagami uses the title notebook to murder criminals, earning himself the name "Kira". His father, Police Chief Soichiro Yagami, gets put in charge of the investigation to find Kira and bring him to justice. His own son quickly becomes the prime suspect, causing much angst.note
- Even more so in the film, where he survives to see irrefutable proof of Light being Kira: his gloating over L's death, followed by an attempt to kill Soichiro himself.
- Lucky Star: Discussed in an episode. Konata says "And they always ask the neighbors and they always say "He was such a nice boy. He didn't seem the type who could do that," to which Kagami responds with the subversion: "If you ever did something horrible, 'I always knew deep down she'd do something like this' is exactly what I'll tell everybody."
- The page picture comes from JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders, and shows Holly Kujo referring to her son, Jotaro Kujo. It's also a subversion in that Jotaro actually is innocent and the police want to let him go he's just refusing to leave the cell out of fear of the 'evil spirit' haunting him (it's actually his recently discovered Stand, which he didn't know about before and had no conscious control over yet).
- Apparently, it runs in the family. When Jotaro's daughter Jolyne was 14, she was arrested for stealing a car. In flashback, her mother / Jotaro's wife can be heard pleading with the police, "This has to be a mistake! My Jolyne would never...!"
- A Cruel God Reigns: Jeremy reads in his mother's diary that she knew he was being abused by his step-father all along, but chose to ignore it along with claiming that Jeremy wouldn't be in a sexual relationship with Greg. Leads to Jeremy's Go Mad from the Revelation, Driven to Suicide, and Bungled Suicide, and one of many Break the Cutie moments.
- In Bitter Virgin, after Hinako finds out she was pregnant via the pain of a miscarriage, her mother immediately asks who the father was. When she says it was her stepfather, her mother slaps her and accuses her of telling horrible lies (Hinako earlier mentions that her stepfather was the first man she saw her mother happy with). After Hinako ends up pregnant a second time and again names her stepfather, this time with a doctor using bruises on her to suggest that she was raped, the mother believes her and chases the stepfather out with a knife.
- Rumiko Takahashi's one-shot story, Old Man Graffiti features a woman who refuses to believe that her son is a troublemaker/delinquent who vandalises their neighbours' houses with graffiti and shoplifts from local stores. Even when the neighbours confront her with photographic proof, she insists that they've mistaken someone else as her son. The story deconstructs the trope, as it is heavily implied that the mother's delusions that her son is a perfect little angel is exactly why he rebels. When the protagonist convinces the lady to accept her son for who he truly is, Warts and All, the family seems to get better.
- In the Chick Tracts tract "Fairy Tales," Harry Garner's parents are unwilling to believe that their son could have done all the horrible things that he did, on the day that he is to be executed for the terrible crimes that earned him the nickname "The Monster." The entire tract is a How We Got Here experience that puts the lie to their assertions, by showing how he became a monster... after learning that Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy aren't real.
- In Runaways, Dr. Hayes, Molly's grandmother, adamantly believes that her daughter Alice and adopted son Gene were innocent prior to joining the Pride. Of course, Dr. Hayes is a Mad Scientist who performed genetic experiments on her own children and cats and was planning on performing experiments on her own granddaughter, so her grasp of morality is rather tenuous. Although this is slightly subverted in that she did seem aware of their more megalomaniacal tendencies, but felt the two became Drunk On Power by getting involved with the Pride. Power, she adds, she would've gladly given them had they been patient.
- In an issue of Foolkiller, the titular vigilante has been investigating a series of murders in Central Park where cyclists are ambushed, assaulted, and beaten to death with pieces of their own bicycles. He finds the killers to be a gang of teenage dropouts and begins killing them one by one with his Disintegrator Ray. The surviving kids flee into their tenement building for help, and the mother of one of the boys lays Foolkiller low with her broom. When Foolkiller tells the woman what her son has been doing, she simply retorts that since he isn't the police, it's "none of his business". Realizing that the mother knew that her child was a murderer and tacitly (or perhaps explicitly) approved of it, Foolkiller declares her an even greater fool than the kids and blasts her to hell without hesitation.
- In at least some of her appearances, the mother of Robin villain Ulysses "The General" Armstrong is in complete denial that her son is a murderous psychopath. This is especially notable given how Ulysses' father and siblings recognize his depravity and are terrified of him.
- Dick Tracy has frequently addressed the problems that go with being the innocent relative of a criminal. One of the most notable examples is Junior's first girlfriend Model Jones, who was overwhelmingly ashamed of her crook brother and alcoholic parents. In the end, she was accidentally shot and killed by her own brother during a fight with the cops.
- Averted in Ultimate Spider-Woman: Change With the Light when Spider-Woman's Arch-Enemy Jack O'Lantern is revealed as Steven Mark Levins. Instead of irrationally denying it, Jack's relatives instead react with horror and dismay when they hear the news, along with the pure shock that they're related to a psychopathic mass murderer.
- In Magical Pony Lyrical Twilight A's, King Sombra's mother not only refused to believe that her son could have become the villain he was but actively engaged in counter-Malicious Slander.
- In Saki: After Story, Teru goes into a rage and beats up her younger sister Saki, resulting in Saki being sent to the hospital and Teru being arrested. The sister's separated parents are shocked, both what happened to Saki and that Teru would be capable of doing such a thing.
- In Frozen Hearts, a Frozen (2013) fanfic (found here), the mother of Prince Hans is unwilling to believe that her youngest son could have plotted to kill Elsa and Anna to usurp the throne of Arendelle, reacting with rhetorical disbelief. Although Hans' father is aware of what he did in Arendelle, he has difficulty with the idea of punishing his child. Lampshaded here by his father.
George: My old eyes could never have seen the day when I would be witness to see my son before me like this... the Southern Isles need the trade opportunities only available with neighboring countries in order to prosper, and my youngest son's actions have seen that our country's very livelihood may be at stake. [walks back to the throne, sighing] Until I decide what the punishment for such actions must be, the Prince Hans is confined to the castle. We will close the gates as I deliberate. There is to be no contact with the citizens of the Southern Isles, audience or otherwise. We cannot risk the consequences of the people knowing before the judgment is handed.
- RainbowDoubleDash's Lunaverse: In "At the Grand Galloping Gala", the reason why Night Light is so hard on Trixie and Ponyville by association is that he can't believe Twilight did anything to cause trouble back in "Boast Busted" and instead lays the blame solely on Trixie. Ditzy eventually calls him out on it, using the fact that she herself is a mother to slap down his attempts at self-justification, stating that just because they're parents doesn't mean they should ignore their children's wrongdoing.
- Kara of Rokyn: At the beginning, Lex Luthor's parents refused to believe their smart little boy was an unrepentant murderer, and they believed Lex when he declared Superboy had framed him out of jealousy; but then Lex went after the Boy of Steel again, and they couldn't deny the facts anymore.
Nasthalthia: "Lex's folks, Jules and Arlene, didn't want to think their brilliant sonnyboy was capable of stuff like that. At first, I think they believed Lex when he told them it was all a frame, that the Superkid was jealous of him. But when he got released on a good-behavior bit and went back after Superboy again, they knew the stories were true."
- Throughout The Seven Misfortunes of Lady Fortune, Madame Zhou insists Xiao Lu is as benign a guy as they get in the Triad, and is not the type to be behind the plot. Turns out he is behind it, and is also her son.
- Turning Red: While the criminal activity on Meilin Lee's part is limited to sneaking into a concert without payment and arguably roughing up a classmate, her mother Ming's reaction to the idea that her Mei-Mei could possibly do anything that contradicts the image of a dutiful and studious "Sweet, innocent child" (i.e. perving on the clerk at a local convinience store or exploiting her newfound shapeshifting for profit) unless manipulated or forced by others is heavily informed by this trope.
- The Brothers (1979): In this Shaw Brothers Heroic Bloodshed film, the protagonist is a mob enforcer who lies to his mother that he works as a travelling executive, buying a huge mansion for her with his money. But when his true identity as a mobster is exposed, his mother ends up disowning him, although she re-accepts him when he dies in the hall of that same mansion he bought for her at the end of the film.
- The 2009 Korean film Mother is about a mother's attempt to exonerate her son, who has been convicted of murdering a teenage girl based on shoddy evidence. It turns out he actually did kill her.
- Sophia Loren did the same thing in 1974 Verdict. Doubles as Evil Parents Want Good Kids, since she took over her late husband's criminal enterprise and used her vast resources to make Jean Gabin's judge heavily influence the trial.
- In The Hoodlum, Mrs. Lubeck is the only one who does not believe her son Vincent is an irredeemable hoodlum. It is her impassioned plea to the parole board that gets him released. At the end of the film, when she realises that he has committed murder and is headed for the electric chair, it breaks her heart and she dies.
- Averted in .45, where even Big Al's mother has written him off, saying he has been nothing but trouble his entire life. She complains that he can't even get being a criminal right: saying that if you're a jailbird you should at least go to jail for robbing a bank or a gas station — something you can be proud of — rather than the penny-ante crimes he gets locked up for.
- In God Told Me To, a sniper randomly shoots fourteen people from a tower. His mother refuses to believe he had anything to do with it, saying he was a good student who couldn't possibly have had such good aim. She thinks there must have been multiple snipers, and the police are covering it up and pinning the murders on her son.
- Referenced and inverted in Rush Hour, in which Carter rants about how the LAPD are the most hated cops in the free world: so much so, his mother tells people he's a drug dealer instead.
- 2666: Lotte for Klaus. She knows he committed a few minor crimes when he was younger, but knows hes no murderer.
- In the Harry Potter series, Dudley Dursley's mother Petunia refuses to believe her son bullies smaller children. Meanwhile, poor Harry gets punished for even the slightest offense by his Muggle Foster Parents until he is whisked away to a new life at Hogwarts.
- Judge Dee: In "The Morning of the Monkey", Judge Dee gets a confession of murder from a pharmacist 'who fiercely denies that his son is mentally disabled, despite this being quite obvious), who confesses to the wrong murder method. He breaks it to the pharmacist that with his father in jail, the son will be left utterly alone in the world. This causes the father to break down and admit his son was the murderer due to suffering the delusion that the victim was stealing his girlfriend, and the judge promises the son will be treated as humanely as possible.
- In the Inspector Montalbano mystery series, Montalbano has a childhood friend Gege who grew up to be a drug dealer and pimp, with whom he retained a sort of friendship even after they embarked on very different careers. Gege is killed by gangsters in the second novel, and Montalbano goes to console his older sister, who taught both of them as children. The narration describes how the two reminisce about Gege being a lovable mischievous scamp as a child, but no stories are told of any of his life after adolescence. It's not clear how much his sister knew about his criminal life, but she obviously had some idea, especially because she had poor health and Gege would use his funds to afford surgery for her.
- We Need to Talk About Kevin is told entirely from the perspective of the mother of a school shooter. Naturally, she struggles with her conscience - did she raise him to be a criminal?
- Bryony in Outcast of Redwall refuses to believe her adopted son Veil is growing up to be a psychopath (he gets it from his birth father) until it's too late.
- In the Japanese novel Kokuhaku ("Confessions") and its film adaptation, Student B's (Naoki's) mother is like this, absolutely refusing to believe her son had any role in the death of Moriguchi's daughter. It's revealed he is the one who really killed her; he threw her into the pool to drown, as he desperately wanted Watanabe/Student A to be his friend.
- The Agatha Christie book Pocket Full of Rye has old Miss Ramsbottom who refuses to answer the police's questions about the murder of her brother-in-law because, "Living in this house are two of my dead sister's children, and I refuse to believe anyone with Ramsbottom blood could commit murder." The murderer was in fact one of her sister's children, and based on her conversation with Miss Marple at the end, Miss Ramsbottom knew, at least subconsciously.
- A Song of Ice and Fire zig-zags this with Cersei Lannister and her son Joffrey. In spite of his being a sadistic little shit, Cersei always takes Joffrey's side on everything, acting as if he's blameless. As time goes on, however, Cersei acknowledges the cognitive dissonance it takes her to love him unconditionally.
- In the police briefing near the beginning of Red Dragon, on a specific (bitey) habit of the killer they're gathered to catch, Agent Graham mentions how parents will lie about how a child was bitten and keep up the lie to cover for a "snapper" in the family — you've all seen that".
- The Marvellous Land of Snergs: Joe and Sylvia tend to get into mischief together. Sylvia's caretaker Miss Scadging swears that Sylvia is a little angel and Joe is a terrible influence, whereas Joe's caretaker Miss Gurbblestone argues that Joe is a good guy who is always goaded by Sylvia. The reality is that Joe is a mischief-maker, and Sylvia does encourage his antics.
- Walker's Crossing: Lon and Doris Walker have difficulty accepting that their eldest son is a member of a gun-toting Neo-Nazi group, with Doris (who is fairly racist herself) trying to rationalize Gil's behavior and beliefs while Lon does his best to ignore the signs.
- Game of Thrones: The roles are reversed, but Daenerys finds it difficult to accept the actions of her father, almost to the point of denial. Only after having a heart-to-heart with Ser Barristan is she able to see the deceased madman for what he was.
- Played with in Gotham. Mama Cobblepot at first seems like a textbook example of Parental Obliviousness concerning her son's criminal activities, but there are hints that she suspects more than she's letting on and is just in denial. Played cruelly straight when Don Maroni accuses her of knowing and shoves the truth down her throat, and she faints in shock and denial.
- The Shield included an episode where the characters arrest a teenage vandal. Her mother arrives at the police station and harangues the officers about what a perfect angel her child is until they open the door and the child is in the process of vandalising their interview room.
- Long Runner that it is, listing every single time this has happened in Law & Order and its various spinoffs would take up far more space than the database has. In fact, it'd probably be easier to list the ones that don't have this happen on a semi-regular basis. That would be... um... there has to be one... Let us get back to you on that.
- Zig-zagged in one episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, where a lawyer's son appears to be responsible for a robbery in which one of his friends was killed. At first, he defends his son until his son flat-out admits that he let his friend die after he was injured and then shrugs off the severity of the action because "he was going to die anyway". At that point, the lawyer coldly tells Logan and Wheeler to "read my son his rights".
- In Wiseguy, Vinnie's mother thinks he is a criminal when he's actually working undercover for the Organized Crime Bureau. She eventually finds out the truth... but then worries that he's gradually becoming more and more like the criminals around him.
- In the Star Trek episode "The Ultimate Computer", The "M-5" is a living computer that commits murder, but Dr. Richard Daystrom, its creator, defends the events as "accidents." Dr. McCoy says that "even when a child kills, a parent will usually continue to defend that child."
- Criminal Minds:
- The show dealt with this in season three: it turns out that the perpetrator of the Galen murders was a mentally impaired man who didn't really understand what he was doing. When his father found out, he covered it up on the grounds that his son wasn't a bad person, and he made the killer send the victims' kids stuffed animals every year on the anniversary of the murders so that his son wouldn't forget that he's capable of terrible things and would be careful never to let it happen again.
- In a season one episode, Gideon deconstructs this trope with a father who continually makes excuses for his serial killer son.
- Also appears in another episode of season one where a mother easily accepts that her son's murders aren't her fault. It was her fault, but it wasn't her son's murders. She was the killer.
- Subverted in Season 2 Episode 17 Distress. Morgan and Gideon are at a crime scene. A mother marches her teenage son up to the police and tells the officers and agents I didnt raise my son to be a vandal. She had been taking him to the police station but saw the police investigating the vandalism. She makes the boy own up to his part in the vandalism and promise never to vandalize his own neighborhood again. Then she asks how much damage was done. The officer tells the Mom that they are there about a murder, not vandalism. The Mom and son are both clearly scared to learn the security guard was killed. The boy swears the guard chased them and they fled scared. Gideon asks a couple of questions to find out what had happened before the murder and sends the Mother and son on their way because it was impossible for a boy that size to have killed the security guard in the manner he was killed.
- An episode of The Fugitive has Kimble reuniting with his family. His father and sister are handling his situation well, but his brother is bitter over his difficulties holding a job once his bosses find out he's the brother of a supposed fugitive murderer.
- Day Break (2006): During one of the repeating days, Detective Hopper visits his mother's home to further the investigation by digging up information on his dead father. When she chastises him for not visiting her more often he explains that he's too busy at the moment since he's wanted for murder in Los Angeles, although he didn't actually do it. Her response? "Well of course — I didn't raise a murderer!"
- Ghoulishly subverted on an episode of CSI when a murder suspect mistakenly thinks that his son is dead. When the victim's body is found bricked up in his house, he nonchalantly attempts to pin the entire crime on his son...unaware that the son is alive and well and watching the interrogation through a one-way mirror. This leads to an I Have No Father moment from the son.
- Madeline Westen in Burn Notice is adamant about this, especially when the FBI interrogate her about Michael's murder of Tom Card
- In The Middle, the Glossner boys are the terror of the neighborhood. Whenever someone confronts their mom (who is no saint, either) about their delinquency, she always responds with "Them's good boys!"
- In Supergirl (2015), Lillian Luthor thinks this of her son Lex, to the point where she has convinced herself that Superman, a "false god from an alien planet," is the real villain.
- CSI: NY:
- There's an episode where an older couple are savagely beaten, to the point that the husband dies and the wife suffers permanent brain damage. Although the evidence points to their son as the perpetrator, his mother refuses to believe he did it. It turns out that she was right. The family had moved into a house that was owned by a couple who decided to move away from the neighborhood after their son raped his girlfriend in high school. The CSIs conclude that years after being released from prison, their son went back to the house to kill them because they testified against him in court, but he ended up attacking the new owners.
- Played straight much earlier in the series. The mother of the perp in the season 1 finale has this exact reaction when Mac and Stella tell her that her son is wanted for murder. She reluctantly relents and lets them search her property for him.
- The Practice: Skip's mother assumes Lucy is a slut who seduced him and inspired his wire fraud to pay for an engagement ring, without any evidence, since she apparently can't fathom that her son was capable of this otherwise.
- XTC's "No Thugs In Our House" is about a police officer who confronts an oblivious judge's family about their son's neo-Nazi attacks on foreigners.
- Taken to extremes in Oingo Boingo's "Only a Lad" when Johnny's girlfriend refuses to condemn him even after he shoots her in the leg and steals her radio, kicking off the chorus with "He's only a lad!"
- Played for Laughs in the Italian song La mamma del Gino ("Gino's mom"), where the mother in question is incredibly oblivious of her Obviously Evil son's crimes, and insists that he must have been arrested by mistake, that the old lady he punched must have done something to deserve it, and so on.
- Neal Boortz is annoyed by this trope so much, he will preemptively suggest that the family will say such a thing when covering stories on criminals.
- Lampooned in a Bill Hicks routine mocking the TV show COPS, and the people who appear on the show. Specifically the spouses and significant others of criminals being carted away by the police.
"He didn't mean to hit me, officer! He didn't mean to hit me! He's a good man, don't take him away! I fell asleep in the driveway and he ran over my head with the truck! He's a good man, he don't mean no harm!"
- In Double Switch, Eddie's mother knows that her son is insane. However, she is strongly in denial over it and even acts as his accomplice at one point.
- Subverted in No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy In H.A.R.M's Way: throughout the game, the Big Bad Director of H.A.R.M. keeps getting calls from his mother who keeps expressing her shame at her son's criminal activities.
- Professor Trunchbull in Selkie falls into this with his son, and had successfully sued his former school when he'd gotten suspended for his behavior. It took video footage of him threatening to beat up a teacher for Trunchbull to see the truth.
- When Taylor's father from Worm discovers that his teenage daughter is a ruthless supervillain who holds the city of Brockton Bay in an iron grip, he's shocked. After she turns herself in he takes the opportunity to talk to her and get her side of the story, but the fact that she then murders two people in front of him damages chances for reconciliation badly.
- This is sort of subverted in the second episode of Below Board, where the main character has a phone conversation with the mother of a jewelry store robber, who is fully aware that her son is a criminal, just not that he'd let his foreman manipulate him into pulling off a large heist and get himself killed in the process.
- On the really illogical side of the trope, a mother in Not Always Legal insists that her son's court case must be civil, despite him being accused of kidnapping and assault because there's no way her boy could be a criminal.
- In The Batman, the Cluemaster lives in his mother's basement, and she seems completely oblivious to his criminal — and horribly sadistic — plans of revenge. In fact, she seems to have lost touch with reality over the years, seeing nothing odd in the least when Batman — in full costume — comes in to ask about him, regarding him as just another visitor.
- In The Simpsons episode "Marge Be Not Proud", this was initially Marge's reaction when Bart was confronted for shoplifting during a family Christmas photo. But when the security guard shows her the undeniable proof, all bets are off.
Marge: Oh, Bart...
- Papa didn't raise no criminal, when Reverend Lovejoy couldn't believe his daughter stole from the church collection plate.
- Spoofed in Drawn Together, when Foxxy finds that her teenage grandson Ray-Ray is robbing the house, and responds with "I did not not raise your mother to not raise you to be no criminal!"
- Al Capone's mother always denied that her son was a ruthless gangster. In her own words: "Al is a good boy." (And she was probably right in the most superficial sense: Al was at least nominally a good Roman Catholic, funded kitchen soups and was very fond of the priest who counseled him while in prison.)
- It took a lot to finally convince Ted Bundy's mother that her son was a Serial Killer. Even then, she still refused to believe that his killing spree began when he was a teenager (an 8-year-old girl from neighborhood disappeared and was never seen again), insisting that he was a normal boy at the time.
- Much like the "Law & Order" example cited in the "Television" section, there's too many other examples to list.