Several years ago, a friend of mine ended a long-term relationship. And when I say ended, I mean fled. The police were called to ‘keep the peace’ with her partner, who stood by fuming silently, while she packed a suitcase and finally left him for good.
While I had known my friend’s reasons for ending that relationship, many of those around her were not privy to her private turmoil. Questions flew from family and friends alike, demanding explanation: What happened? What went wrong? Why are you leaving such a great guy?
In a slightly different way, I remember people asking me similar questions when my first baby was born. Just like the relationship that appears rosy from the outside, so too is having a new baby expected to be a time of joy and love. When it wasn’t exactly that way for me with a newborn, people asked: What’s going on? Why aren’t you happy? Aren’t you pleased to have a healthy baby?
Even though domestic life may look blissful from the outside, it can often be an entirely different story behind closed doors.
These are some of the themes I wanted to explore when, about four years ago, I began scratching down ideas for a new novel. This is where The Good Mother was sparked. By writing this story, through the safer lens of fiction I was able to explore many of the ‘what ifs’ that we so often see posed about our lives and relationships – with friends, on social media, in the news.
When something that looks so perfect turns out not to be, the questions asked – Why? How? – can be tricky and even painful to answer.
Humans are curious and social creatures, and in today’s world with 24-hour news media it seems that very little is kept secret or private. When questions are raised we expect answers; when things go wrong or seem out of the ordinary we feel entitled to explanations.
We are also herd animals, and we take certain comfort in knowing that someone else has been through what we have been through, or that someone else can validate our experiences.
So sometimes, if someone finds out there are things that have been kept hidden from them – especially by those closest to them – it can be incredibly confronting. Even tragic.
What makes a good mother, or wife, or partner? What actually entails a ‘good’ relationship? What is expected of mothers, partners, friends and family – and just as importantly, how is society cultivating those expectations?
Despite this desire for openness and sharing, however, all families have certain skeletons in their closets. And most will do anything they can to keep those skeletons locked out of sight.
Creating the characters in The Good Mother gave me a chance to examine some of these questions and more: why do humans so often hurt each other in the name of love? Why are there boundaries around who we should and should not love? What do we need for ourselves, in order to be able to give to others?
And when things aren’t as perfect as they seems from the outside, why is it difficult to tell the uglier truth?