Why Cartoons Need More Single Moms
A Family Favorite
My now six year-old son learned to read with the help of the late Anna Dewdney’s “Llama Llama” books. The rhyming text with occasional bold colored words helped him to memorize short sight-words. These books were the first he read on his own. But, it wasn’t until the Netflix series was released this year that I realized that Mama Llama is actually a Single Mama Llama.
Why Representation is Important
When my son began to read, his father and I had only being divorced for a year. He never questioned where Llama Llama’s daddy was, or why there was only Mama Llama. It was normal for him. It is not, however, normal in children’s cartoons.
Scouring my memory, I can only name a few cartoon shows in which a single parent is represented: Pearl’s dad, Eugene (Mr.) Krabbs, in Spongebob Squarepants, Pepper Ann’s mom, Lydia, from Pepper Ann (of course), and Chuckie’s father, Chas (who actually remarries) from Rugrats. You might notice that these are mostly single dads. (Several other cartoons that I thought had single moms, actually turned out to not have any represented at all upon further research.)
Disney movies, on the other hand, seem to have cornered the market on single moms. Single moms can be seen in Toy Story, Bambi, Dumbo, Snow White, and Cinderella – just to name a few.
I find your lack of single moms disturbing.
So, why the lack of single moms in cartoon series? One probable cause is that the majority of cartoon show writers are men (the only one on my above list that isn’t written by a man is Pepper Ann). They might even be single dads themselves, which would make it easier to write single dad characters. We already know that media has an overall lack of females in leadership positions. (Click here for a list of 15 powerful women in TV.) While single moms make up almost 60% of working women, they are less likely to have college degrees or hold positions of power.
Another cause could be the all too common bias against single mothers, especially in more conservative arenas. In a recent Pew survey, “64 percent of those surveyed said that the increasing number of single mothers in the U.S. is a ‘big problem'”. As one would expect, young adults are less concerned about the trend than older Americans, with 78% of Republicans saying that the growing number of children born to single moms is concerning, compared to 51% of Democrats. *insert immature anarchistic eye roll here*
Despite these facts, Anna Dewdney was a single mother. She was divorced with two daughters, whose interest in farm animals owned by their local vet inspired the successful Llama Llama books. Jennifer Garner, who voices Mama Llama in the Netflix series, is also single mom of three. For single mothers, such as myself, it is extremely important to see ourselves represented in media because it helps us feel somewhat normal, and like we are not alone.
But it is also important for our children.
When children are exposed to media that contains characters similar to themselves, they show a rise in self-esteem. When there is a lack of this diversity, the opposite is true. (Click here to read a study.) This is fairly obvious to us parents, but sometimes scientific evidence helps. We generally want our children to grow up in a positive environment with good self-esteem. If they can see examples of children in situations similar to theirs in media, it will help encourage them.
What I think is great about Mama Llama’s role as a single mom, is that the Netflix series (and the books) do not explain why she is a single mom. There is no drawn out story-line of Papa Llama’s death, nor any mentions that she is divorced. These types of stories are generally helpful more for adults or older children, not the preschool age that the series is targeted towards. While it may be important for children to see these represented in a family-centric show to help them deal with their feelings, not explaining the “why” behind Mama’s singleness reaches a wider audience of single moms and their children. Any single mother can relate to her, and any child from a single-mother home can relate to Llama Llama.
While Mama Llama does have some help from Gram and Grandpa Llama, she is typically depicted as calmly caring for Llama Llama by herself. She seemingly has a job as well as owns her own home. These depictions may not be the majority, is empowering for single moms to see this type of representation. Long gone are the frazzled, harried, overworked, single moms of TV-shows past. Mama Llama knows just how to handle Little Llama’s outbursts and hyperactivity common to many a preschooler.
The love that Llama Llama and his Mama have for one another is also especially sweet. They respond kindly to each other (for the most part) and seem to know just how to speak to get their points across. Mama Llama responds patiently when Little Llama has meltdowns, and Llama often shares hugs with Mama. Seeing the affection they have for each other makes me want to sit on the couch and cuddle with my son just for “just one more episode” even more.
Check the series out for yourself! Season 1 is now available on Netflix. (This post is not sponsored.)