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?