Since someone had to give birth to these paragons of virtue, troubled souls, wicked but utterly reformable rakes, and innocent but oh so wise maidens (and occasionally widows), we must as matter of course have parents.
Now then, in all the really good novels, they kill off the mother. Perhaps it’s a throwback to the classic fairytales or perhaps it’s just the reality that children, especially girls, with mothers often have relationships with those mothers and don’t tend to be quite so prone to running away, having strange romances, etc etc. So please, do consider abolishing the mother before you start the first page.
Mother often died early, perhaps even in childbirth. This is not necessarily unrealistic, many women did die at that time from giving birth. And all of their children apparently promptly grew up to star in Regency Romances. If the mother dies, it allows one to make her a sainted creature, fondly remembered and loved and without any flaws a woman who had to survive the teenage years of her child.
But sometimes you need the mother to live.
If it’s the girl’s mother:
If she survives the father (killing him off, also popular) often she’s useless and all burden of supporting the family, being an active character etc falls upon the daughter about whom the story is written. Mother is often relegated to having trunks of beautifully made clothing that can be remade for the daughter to wear when snaring the noble who’ll be her husband by the end of the book. Said noble then gets mother and other siblings as new dependents.
Other mother daughter options to consider:
* Mother ignores daughter in favor of another child: either a boy or a much more beautiful sister
* Mother is the grasping mushroom type trying to buy her daughter a title she doesn’t want
* Mother is running around with all sorts of inappropriate men, which embarrasses virginal daughter
It’s very very helpful is the girl’s mother was disowned by her gentry/noble family for marrying the girl’s father, reconciliations between grandchildren/grandparents are very popular.
And, occasionally, mother is a pretty regular normal decent parent with a pretty normal relationship with her daughter.
If it’s the guy’s mother:
* She was the only one who loved him but died early because his father was cruel to her
* She abandoned him at a young age to run off with her lover
* She had him with her lover but he’s been acknowledged/raised as the heir
* She is vitriolic and plans to rule his house forever and has to be thrown out.
Those are the extremes. Usually the guys have much better mothers and much better and more realistic relationships with their mothers, the moms mostly having the role of complaining about them not being married and providing grandchildren.
Fathers are more likely to be alive for the girls. If they have died, they’ve left massive of debts behind so their daughters are impoverished (the charming gamester dad or poor cleric dad) or they’ve left them as heiresses with bad guardians.
For your heroine, her Father
* raised her like the son he never had but hates her for being female and/or for behaving like a boy.
* ignored her, hated her for being female.
* is the vague professorial type who educated her too well for men.
* has remarried and the woman he’s married is awful for variety of reasons
For your hero, his father
* hates him for surviving his older brothers, or being wife’s ill-begotten child, or being born at all (take your pick)
* loves him and thinks his being a rake is perfectly marvelous
* is dead and was horribly mean, causing the hero never to want children or get married.
* is dead and was wonderful, in which case he only gets mentioned in passing.
Occasionally both parents are still alive and do seem to have a good relationship with their child. More often these are his parents and then they are either wonderful people who have a lovely marriage or they are cold, harsh aristocrats who sneer upon anyone except a frigid girl like themselves and who hate each other.
(At least I’m giving you a variety of options…cut them all up, draw them out of a hat, and go.)
Ah but we can’t forget remarriages, now can we.
These poor women are, ninety percent of the time, bad mean evil women. They resent daughters and sons of first marriages, they are grasping, money grubbers.
Generally it is the heroine’s father who has remarried. Those women, often younger than sainted dead mother would be, always want to marry off the daughter as fast as possible in hopes the daughter won’t require any more money from their fathers. If the father has remarried the stepmother wants the son/heir to die so her children can inherit or some other random and strange thing.
Such it is, it comes as a pleasant surprise when there is a healthy relationship between stepmother and hero/ine. The best example I can give is Julia Quinn’s book The Viscount Who Loved Me.
Stepfathers are rare. Sometimes the mother has remarried before she goes off to sainted death and now the stepfather is selling the heroine off to the highest bidder or one of his old cronies. Sometimes the mother is still alive and this same situation is happening. Rarely do they just portion off the daughter and let her marry some nice man.
But then, that wouldn’t make a good story now would it.
Siblings and other relatives on the way soon!