What Game of Thrones Tells Us About Parenting

When the controversy over Cry It Out gets out of control…...  Thanks to fourthhdayuniverse.com for the image

When the controversy over Cry It Out gets out of control……

I caught the bug. I read the books. I have been glued to the screen for three seasons of Game of Thrones. Thank you Mr Martin for this rollicking good entertainment. As a mother of three under five, it has been a vicarious thrill to dive into a world where Teletubbies fear to tread.

However, stepping back into my mother role for a moment. What can I learn about parenting from the families warring across the Seven Kingdoms? As in the mundane, zombie and dragon free dimension that we call home, there are a fair few different approaches taken by the mums and dads of Westeros:


1. The Tywin Lannister Approach- Tywin likes to take a firm (King’s) hand with children and grandchildren alike. They are to do his bidding, or be manipulated into it. He claims that what matters most is the eventual success of the family, but one wonders if his ego would allow him to go down with a Lannister ship. He prefers a distant, often cruel, style of parenting. All the better to pull his children’s strings and watch them dance. This tough love does give his kids a taste for rebellion and revenge. The lesson here is that it is not a good thing to win every power struggle against your offspring. No one benefits, least of all the parent.


2. The Cersei Lannister Approach- Cersei appears to capitulate to her father’s rule on the surface, but has her own ideas underneath. She has become an expert at playing the good daughter while pursuing her own agenda in secret. Perhaps as a reaction to her father’s strong will in regard to what and who she does, she tends to let her kids do whatever they want. With sweet-natured Tommen this is not such a problem. With no boundaries set for him, Joffrey is well known as a sadistic little sod, which proves as dangerous to him as to his subjects. A bit more time on the naughty step and some laying down of expectations would not have gone amiss I imagine.


3. The Lysa Arryn Approach- There is no doubt that Lysa loves her son. She adores to hold him close while holding court, and capitulates to the majority of his whims. So what if it involves shunting the odd Lord through the Moon Door? A small price to keep little Robin entertained. It is commendable that she has managed to keep breastfeeding on demand for ten years, despite a great deal of disapproval. With his sickly constitution, a bit of breastmilk might help boost his immune system, but looking at her wizened pallor, I wonder if it might be a bit of a strain after all these years. Determined that Robin be kept safe from danger, Lysa does not allow him to explore the world outside their mountaintop fortress, leaving him with her company as more or less the only option. This appears to have stunted his social development somewhat. If there is a lesson here it is that we have to let our children make their own mistakes and suffer the odd sling and arrow of outrageous fortune. I’d say they should both spread their wings a bit, but that is a dicey way to go in the Eyrie.


4. The Daenerys Targeryen Approach- As the Mother of Dragons, Daenerys has her work cut out, more than most. I’ve heard of toddlers with fiery tempers, but keeping three infant dragons on the straight and narrow has to be a real challenge. She does her best to look after her brood, while making amends for their destructive tendencies. Leading by example is a powerful way of modelling behaviour, but one doubts the message is going to get through. Attempts to get strict may also..erm…backfire. As a single parent, and working mother, she is under a great deal of pressure and only time, or at least the long-awaited book 6, will tell if she can bring out the better nature of her three children. If anyone can do it, the Khaleesi can.


5. The Balon Greyjoy Approach- Who can blame Balon Greyjoy for losing touch with Theon over the years he spent as Stark collateral, locked away from his Island home in the custody of an enemy. Who can blame him for growing closer to Asha (Yara?!) who remained at his side and became a true leader of the Iron Born. On the other hand, a greater show of affection and trust from his dad might have averted Theon’s decision to go against orders and take Winterfell, which proved to be Westeros’s greatest cock up (excuse unfortunate phrasing), and resulted in him becoming Ramsey Bolton’s plaything. A hug at the right time can go a long way, even if your cold, bitter, drowned heart isn’t in it at that moment.


6. The Stannis and Selyse Baratheon Approach- Of all the children of Westeros, Shireen is one of the least fortunate in the parental lottery. While it seems unusual for a child of the seven kingdoms great families to have two intact parents in the picture, hers are present, but never there for her. Both Mum and Dad are in thrall to the Priestess Melisandre and her God R’hllor. Side-lined already at court due to her facial scarring, she is deemed an uncertain prospect in terms of fulfilling her Royal duty, marrying, and  birthing future rulers. She wiles away her days in almost total isolation, with only a smuggler and a sinister fool to talk to. On top of this, her mega-religious parents will do what is right for the Lord, before they consider what is right for her, to the point where it could get very dangerous for this young lady. This is a sad story of religious extremism winning over human decency. I only hope she leaves them and their neglectful ways to pursue her own destiny.


7. The Ned and Catelyn Stark Approach- The Starks are the only example of a parenting team who seem to love their kids (with the exception of the understandably tricky relationship between John Snow and Lady C). They give them boundaries, and support them, but do not bend the knee to them, even when their son becomes King of the North. They know they cannot protect their children from the world, and try to equip them as best they can to fight their own battles. Well, for the most part, unless you are Sansa, in which case you get equipped to have nice hair and do needlepoint. They challenge their offspring to live according to an individual philosophy, where they act on both their sense of duty and their personal strengths. They are willing to accept that their children can make some choices about their lives and that other choices will be beyond the family’s control. It is unfortunate then, that this leads to Ned, Catelyn, and their firstborn son being brutally killed, leaving their remaining kids scattered across the Seven Kingdoms. If the Starks do eventually prevail, perhaps it will be a testament to a parenting style which helps children live out their potential as independent thinkers, fighters, and survivors. We can protect our children only so far, but we can help them to protect themselves and surprise us with their unique abilities. Also, we can give them wolves as pets.

Valar Morghulis. We all must die, but who must triumph?



Mothering Demons in Wonderland


It is 5pm on Sunday afternoon. A family car meanders along a country road, returning from a day out at the beach. In the back seat three small heads nod, and six eyes close. Up front, their father is driving, while their mother, let’s call her Alice, is gazing out of the window. Green fields line the roadside, bordered by a pretty stream.

Alice considers the view through her window. She imagines undoing her seatbelt, opening the car door. She is jumping….

In her mind’s eye, she tumbles to the pavement, gathers momentum, and plummets into the ditch, stopping just an inch from the water. She pulls herself to her feet and dusts herself down. She is alone, but for a few storks flying overhead in lazy arcs.

She is about to hurdle the stream and climb up the bank, heading for those verdant pastures, when she hears scurrying footfalls. It is a white rabbit, carrying an enormous, wipe-clean, messenger bag, and hustling three small rabbits who are lagging behind. All the while it checks its watch with an air of panic.

“I’m so sorry my little ones, I know you wanted to stop and play with those pebbles, that leaf, and the abandoned ice cream wrapper. We’re so terribly late you see. There’s no time. We were due at the party at five and now it’s getting on for half past. Everyone will judge me, I just know it. And your shoes don’t match and your tails aren’t brushed. What a to do!”

Taking no notice of Alice, the rabbits disappear into a tunnel dug into the ditch’s side. Overcome by curiosity, she follows them down the hole. She descends deep into the earth, until a light appears in the gloom.

She stumbles onto an overgrown woodland path, and picks her way over roots and under branches. There is a sudden brightening as the trail opens into a clearing. In front of her is a table set for an abundant tea. There are crumpets and banana bread, whoopee pies and iced buns, not to mention scones, cupcakes, and the odd gateau. In the centre, is a huge teapot. The elder rabbit is searching for the bibs and wet wipes she forgot to pack. The little bunnies are lined up at the table’s edge, poised with an air of expectation. Their eyes are fixed on a woman in a huge top hat, wielding a cake-slice with precarious imprecision.

“Lack of time is no excuse for sloppiness you know.”
Swish! goes the cake slice, just missing a baby bunny, and impaling a jam sponge.
“I baked a dozen muffins and a tea-loaf before breakfast. It can be done. You should see what I can do with an egg, a carrot, and ten minutes. Only make sure they’re organic. Are those biscuits you brought sugar-free? I thought not. Not homemade either. They’ve got a bit of mouldy banana stuck to them too. Personally, I have no trouble making whites white and dishes sparkle, but it takes all sorts doesn’t it. I’m sorry may we help you?”

The woman in the top hat turns round and fixes her eyes on Alice, who smiles and replies.
“I was just looking round, best be on my way.”
“You must stay for a slice my dear, and perhaps a cup of tea. You look ever so tired.” Not wanting to appear rude Alice accepts the invitation.
“Well, maybe just a drop of tea.”
The woman gives an icy grin and gestures to an empty chair with her cake-slice. With much ceremony, she places a fat, sticky piece of cake on a plate and passes it to Alice. She turns her attention to the tea pot, picking it up with both hands. To everyone’s surprise it starts to speak.

“Can’t I get five bloody minutes peace? I’ve had less than an hour’s consecutive sleep since February. I finally get the baby off, and settle down for a snooze and you start shaking us about! I might have to bite you.” A small furry face wearing a menacing expression pokes its head out of the pot. An accusatory wail emanates from within, growing stronger by the moment. The mouse spits out an expletive and returns to her baby.

Without missing a beat, the top-hatted woman offers Alice a glass of lemonade instead.
“Thanks, but I really must be off” says Alice, thinking that if she is to waste an opportunity for a moment to herself in warm sunshine, it will not be for a soft drink. She turns on her heel and heads back towards the path. Before she has taken three steps a small thunderbolt, which turns out to be a playing card with limbs and a head, knocks her off her feet, looks at her askance, and disappears behind a bush.

“Off with his head” shrieks a woman’s voice.
“But, my dear, he is only three years old” pleads a man.
The couple break into the clearing. Alice identifies them as a pair of royals by the crowns that sit on their brows. The Queen’s forehead is furrowed in a resolute sort of way, while the King appears beleaguered and not a little sweaty. Footsteps follow behind them, and they are flanked by two playing card knights.
“Really, we’d be bordering on child abuse, my sweet.” continues the King. The Queen appears unimpressed.
“Very well, I shall sentence him to a Time Out.”
“But with cuddles at the end, dearest. We should always remember the cuddles you see?”
“Your cosseting will not teach him obedience. Guards! Seize the child!”
One of the knights dives behind the bush and returns with his squirming quarry. His partner tootles a quick blast on a trumpet.
“For the crime of running from Her Majesty, I pronounce you in Time Out. You may not move from this spot until it is decreed by Her Royal Magnificence!”

The diminutive card-boy drops to a cross-legged position on the ground and folds his arms in a truculent manner. Recovering from her surprise, Alice draws herself up from the dirt floor and dusts herself off.
“And who might you be?” enquires the Queen.
“Answer Her Royal Highness”
“I am leaving.” says Alice, ignoring the knight’s brandished trumpet.
“Lovely to meet you, but I’m afraid I must be on my way” The King smiles in polite acknowledgement, but the Queen is less congenial.
“You will kneel when addressing your Queen.”

Not wishing to embark on a power struggle, yet unwilling to take orders, Alice employs her very best toddler-reasoning skills.
“I can see that manners are very important to you. I wish I could stay here and take part in all your marvellous court formalities: courtesies, homage, the whole shebang, but I have to be going now.” And with that she dives for the cover of the trees. By the time the Queen has yelled “Off with her head.” she is ensconced in woodland shadow once more.

Alice races through the trees, weaving over and under their sprawling feet and arms. Above her she glimpses a cloud of giant butterflies negotiating the tree tops, but they don’t pay her any attention. She parts the branches ahead of her, and almost falls over a large mushroom. It’s occupant, a hazy looking caterpillar, gazes up at her in exaggerated annoyance.
“Watch where you’re going! Great big oafish sort of girl.”
“Sorry, I didn’t see you there. And for your information I’m 34. That makes me a great big oafish woman.”
“Makes no difference to me. Who are you?”
“Well, my name is Alice, but I’m afraid I can’t stop.”
“What’s the hurry?”
“Look. I just want some time alone. I’m searching for the way out of here. All I really want to do is stretch out under a tree and watch the sun go down without anyone wiping their nose on me, or asking for snacks, or explanations of astro-physics.”
“Well excuse me for speaking. Aren’t you a crosspatch!”
“You don’t understand. It’s been relentless. I need a break. You ask me who I am, but right now I couldn’t tell you. Whoever I was got lost in a sea of dirty dishes and nappy changes weeks ago. If I could just breathe for a moment I might feel like myself again, but it never stops. ”
“How about you take a bite of my mushroom.”
“I’m sorry, is that some sort of euphemism? I don’t see what good that will do.”
“I am being quite literal. Just do as I say.”
“Fine. But after that I must be on my way.”

Alice leans down and pulls off a piece of mushroom. She pops it in her mouth and chews. To her surprise she begins to grow. As she broadens and lengthens her tedious domestic chores and struggles with bedtime routines seem far away. She has lifted her head above the trees. She inhales deeply. She feels what her family means to her, and she to them. She is filled with a wonderful, expansive sensation. It is power. It is joy. It is love.
“Now you are looking at the bigger picture.” says the caterpillar, with a smug smile.
“That does feel better. Only, how can I get back to the outside world if I can’t fit through the rabbit hole?”
“Just eat some more mushroom.”
Alice does so and returns to her former size.
“The pathway is to your right.”
“Thanks. I mean it. You are the most helpful caterpillar I’ve ever met.”
With that she heads off in a rightward direction, looking forward to her walk home.

After what seems like hours have passed she is still following a just discernible trail. The path forks and she hesitates.
“I wouldn’t go that way.”
A large feline is watching her from the hollow of a tree root, lazily feeding her kittens.
“Where is the path the rabbits use? The one that goes out to the fields. I was sure I must be close to it, but I can’t seem to find it.”
“That path might take you there, but the Queen’s guards won’t let you pass without inspection. The Mad Hattress might give you a scone though”
“I see. I’d rather avoid that whole bucket of crazy. Should I go this way then?”
“Rather judgemental aren’t we, for someone who threw herself from a moving car?”
“How did you….Oh never mind. I’ve been wandering around for ages and the parody is wearing thin now. I’d just like to get back to my family and forget the whole thing. So is this the way or not?”
“It is and it isn’t. It all depends on your state of mind. You’re not so different from the others you know. Just because you don’t share their particular demons. Looking at you, I can quite see that you don’t suffer from domestic perfectionism. Your anxiety and sleep deprivation aren’t so acute yet. You are not so terrified by your own sense of powerlessness. Yours is a problem that simply requires a sense of proportion.”
Alice considers this for a moment.
“So what you’re saying is, the walls aren’t closing in because I’m trapped, but I’m trapped because I am preoccupied with claustrophobia. Ironic”
The enigmatic cat just grins and vanishes.

“Time to resolve this nonsense.” thinks Alice, and she sits under the tree in exasperated silence. After a while, an idea crystallises and she sits up a little straighter. She visualises the green fields, the trickling brook, their car trundling sleepily along. She feels the space and light around her that has always been, will always be. She knows there will be a time when she can wander lonely as a cloud, at least for an hour or two. It is up to her to make it happen. Her family love her and they will understand.

“Penny for them?” asks her husband, as is his habit when she drifts off in the car. “Rabbits, crumpets, executions, hallucinogens. The usual.” The fields give way to blocks of flats and roundabouts as they arrive at the edge of town. As they turn down the road home, a small voice pipes up.

“Mummy, I want a peanut butter sandwich and I need a wee. Why do birds fly? Sam’s snotty. It’s gone all over his car seat. Can I have some hot chocolate without any cocoa?”

“One thing at a time my darling.” Back to reality.