Here are some reasons I can think of to include a child or children in a romance, some neutral, some with feminist leanings, still others that work to contain or constrain female needs and desires:
• Showing a hero or heroine acting kindly to a child can demonstrate said character's nature, and suitability for a romantic partnership, without having to have the narrator resort to telling us "s/he is a kind person."
• Likewise, because we often think of children (like animals/pets) as having an instinctual "feel" for other people. If a child warms to an unfamiliar adult, said child's instincts can help persuade the other half of the romantic couple that the potential mate is worthy.
• Or children can foster conflict—a mother at odds with her son's coach; a father who disagrees with his daughter's governess—bringing people with heightened emotions together so that the romantic sparks can flash. When potential romantic partners do not share similar child-rearing philosophies, tensions can mount quickly...
• Kids can play the role of matchmakers, working to push a reluctant parent or relative into a romantic relationship.
• A kid continually interrupting before things get too steamy helps build up the sexual tension...
• Because kids are often believed to be unable to lie socially (or at least, to keep quiet about things adults can more easily suppress), kids can point out how one protagonist is feeling towards the other.
• Interacting with a kid can force that ever-immature hero (or, far more rarely, heroine) to realize that he is ready to "grow up" and start taking on the adult responsibilities of caring for, and financially supporting, a family. For heroines, the trope seems to function more often as a curb upon work, rather than a push towards adulthood; seeing other women's babies or children can persuade a heroine to think that she, too, wants to abandon the working grind to have a child of her own.
Interesting side note: while looking for book covers to accompany this post, I discovered that stand-alone romances rarely seem to feature covers with babies or kids on them. In contrast, category romances seem to have little problem drawing on the "ah, how cute" factor. Why do you think this is?
What are your favorite romances that include babies and/or children? And to what ideological uses do the authors of said romances put their young secondary characters?
Next time on RNFF:
A pre-romance for teen readers: Erica Lorraine Scheidt's Uses for Boys