Character Relationships: An Alliance of Rivals

After all of yesterday’s reasons why parents and adults with distance are often portrayed as rivals, you’d expect them to be like oil and water, right? But it doesn’t have to be that way; in fact, there are plenty of ways in which the parent and the adult with distance can be allies, even if you don’t take into account preexisting connections and teamwork.

One is in dealing with family squabbles. If he isn’t actively taking the character’s side, the adult with distance might still be able to help defuse tensions through his neutrality, pointing out the rightness in the parents’ argument that the child might not be able to see or, conversely, stepping in on behalf of the child because the parent’s missing an important point. (This goes double if the adult with distance is in collusion with the nonconfrontational parent; each one’s translating for one of the people arguing, and it’s that much likelier that important points will be brought up and straightened out).

Another is in getting information across. Sometimes, there are lessons a parent just isn’t the right person to teach; perhaps it comes across as “do as I say or not as I do”; maybe there’s an experience that one has had that the other hasn’t. Whatever the reason, it’s something where the adult with distance is likelier to be able to get the necessary point across, and the parent has but to ask. Conversely, if the adult with distance is being treated as the primary fount of wisdom by a child who really doesn’t respect the parent, he might be able to convince the kid to “go ask your mother” when the parent herself wouldn’t be able to get the child to listen.

What about role modeling? A lot of societies have different expectations for how different portions of the population behave—take gender roles, for instance—and children are supposed to learn how to fit these roles from their parents. But there’s usually more than one way to fit a given role, and if the parent and the adult with distance are two different versions of the same group, they can model different types of behavior appropriate to that group, both demonstrating acceptable behaviors and showing that there is no “One size fits all”. Or the adult with distance might be from a different group, and model for the child what she should see from that group.

If you’re dealing with a culture that does gift-giving occasions, there’s a lot of collaboration that can go on at that time of the year. Each of them can hint for what the other wants or run interference while the other’s doing their present-arranging. And of course, there’s the matter of resources in general; what one family cannot provide on their own, a family plus another person might have a better chance of being able to. That alone can almost be worth the other complications.

There you have it—the adult with distance can be just as much the parent’s ally as the parent’s rival.

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