Literary Adoption

So you’re thinking about expanding the family? More specifically, you’re considering giving your heroine a child for more plot complexity or to provide a strong source of motivation and conflict. (Unavoidable with children.) A man who single-handedly raised an infant from birth would think more than twice about falling for a pregnant heroine, or maybe try not to think about her at all.

Even raising a child in print can be a complicated affair, so let’s investigate the possibilities for fitting a child into your story line.


Newborns seek the safety of a full belly and dry diapers, lavishly interspersed with snuggling and loving words of promise. The heroine will be so busy meeting these needs, hourly, that she could miss her hero completely unless he rolls up his sleeves and pitches in (or the baby spits up all over his expensive new suit.)

From birth to six months, the baby becomes more alert and can enthusiastically interact with familiar people. As bonds strengthen, the single mother might focus more on the future of her child, and marry with the right offer. The baby will have more control over her body, including babbling and using her voice to express displeasure at the hero telling her, no, she cannot scrunch his nose until it breaks.

Between six to eighteen months, the baby learns to sit, crawl, stand, walk, and talk, keeping the heroine very busy catching figurines hurtling toward the floor and apologizing to the hero when her daughter lobs mashed carrots at Mommy’s handsome date. She can say a few words and even imitate an accidental bad one.

The toddler years from eighteen months to three years challenge the heroine’s patience, leaving her ready at desperate times to seek out anyone with advice on toilet training and avoiding a fierce battle of wills in the struggle for independence. The hero might rescue her in a local chat room by sharing his success with the same plight. So what if the solution involves a three-pound bag of M&M’s and a tutu?

Curiosity characterizes children from three to five years. “Why?” sprouts loudly in conversation all day. Junior might repeat what Mommy said about the hero’s tight buns and embroider the original comment with his imagination, especially if the hero is giving him the attention he craves. When the heroine doesn’t hear him talking or playing, she should be suspicious. He’s in the hero’s bedroom smearing Vaseline on the walls, windows, floors, and everything else in reach to make them shiny.

School-aged children from six to ten years are aware of the rules, have made some interesting discoveries about the world, and now focus on learning. They discover the magic of reading and may use a discarded love note to test their skills. They learn about right and wrong, but may not choose correctly when a new stepmother hangs in the balance. Testing limits can alternately provide conflict or comic relief in the storyline.

Peer acceptance becomes the hallmark of early adolescents ten to twelve years old. The heroine’s shy son may try out for the basketball team, bringing both into contact with the coach, a potential hero. If she doesn’t set a good example, her son may challenge her authority, certainly after catching Mom in a suspicious situation with coach, a man he looks up to and consults for advice.

In middle adolescence, ages thirteen to fifteen, changes in development and hormones can wreak havoc on a teen’s search for love and acceptance by parents and peers. The hero’s daughter yearns for the security of structure and rules, but if consequences for breaking the rules are not consistent, she may make poor choices in an effort to become independent. The poised school counselor draws the hero to her with vast knowledge of the female mind and the relief it provides.

Late adolescence, from sixteen to eighteen, involves serious decisions and fears concerning school pressures, social life, impending adulthood and the future. Trying to fit a hero into the mix of a mother-daughter team facing the issues of sexual activity and illicit drugs can generate sparks to fireworks. Although the teen may not want anyone to see her with Mom, she may resent the hero’s intrusion into the little family. The sky is the limit on the number of conflicts an older teen can inject into a struggling romance.


The descriptions above only touch on the vast characteristics of each age range, given as a guide for mixing up a plot with the right unpredictable elements a child can provide. When the age range and plot click, the real research starts. Fortunately the Internet or a good child development text can provide a plethora of stages describing the particular age you target.

For those with children, or who blocked out their child’s stages to preserve their sanity, The American Academy of Pediatrics provides lengthy, solid information on child growth. Also worth investigating for a more in depth study are Jean Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development, and Erik Erikson’s theories on the emotional stages of development and the key struggle in each one. He provides the conflict for you!

Go ahead and bounce that little one on the hero’s knee, or have the heroine’s teen exclaim, “My life is over!” when Mom starts dating a pastor. Enhance your plot by adopting just the right child.



Copyright 2005.  Originally appeared in Rumpled Sheets, November 2004, Publication of the Missouri Romance Writers of America.  Please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for right to reprint.