What ‘Game of Thrones’ Taught Me About Parenting
It's more than just, "Don't raise a Ramsay or Joffrey."
All photos courtesy of HBO
It's May, and Mother's Day was just yesterday. As a mother-to-be myself, expecting a baby boy in weeks, I've been on the lookout for parenting wisdom. I haven't had to look far—everyone seems to have something to say about parenting, no matter their qualifications. So why not look to the cast of characters on Game of Thrones for some guidance, too?
Even Varys has kind words for kids. As he explained in last night's episode, "Oathbreaker," "Children are blameless; I have never hurt them." Certainly not—Varys only uses a threat to a child's well-being as a tool to achieve a greater good, like convincing a loving mother to spill the beans about who is funding the Sons of the Harpy. Game of Thrones teaches us that children can be loved and useful.
Some say the show is all about violence and nudity, but I'd argue that these aspects of the television show are just an exciting veneer on the heart of the Game of Thrones saga: the importance of family, especially when that family contains a potential inheritor of the Iron Throne in the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. Here are a few of the more useful pieces of parenting advice the series has provided so far.
"The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword." —Ned Stark
One of the first scenes we get is of Eddard (Ned) Stark passing along these words of wisdom to a young Bran before personally beheading a deserter of the Night's Watch. Ironically, Ned later loses his own head in this way, but the lesson remains true: Your words and your actions should coincide, and this sometimes means following through with difficult or unpleasant tasks, like lopping off heads when the rules call for it or slitting the throat of your daughter's direwolf.
An upstanding guy, that Ned Stark. A shame he had to go so soon, but there is another lesson here for children everywhere: Be prepared for anything. Someday, you'll have to fend for yourself, and that day may come sooner than you think, especially if your last name is Stark. One day you could be engaged to marry a sadistic, blond-haired boy-king; the next day you could be marrying a sadistic, brown-haired young Hitler. Life, like the gnarled roots of the weirwood tree, is full of twists.
"It's the family name that lives on. It's all that lives on." —Tywin Lannister
Patriarch Tywin shares this timeless advice with his son Jaime to urge him to step up to the plate and retrieve his other son Tyrion from the Starks. Sure, Tywin's statement is more about honor than love, but this truth remains: A parent will do anything for his or her child, including but not limited to fleeing in sub-zero temps with your newborn, thwarting would-be assassins, and going to war.
Of course, as with many utterances on the show, Tywin's words contain unfortunate foreshadowing—it's Tyrion who lives on by ending his father's life, not on an Iron Throne but a porcelain one (or whatever Lannister toilets are made of).
Lesson: We may not always be valued by our own children, though we seek to protect them ourselves. Such are the sacrifices of parenthood.
"A dragon is not a slave." —Daenerys Targaryen
No one recognizes the power of her own children like the Mother of Dragons. When a slave master agrees to trade 8,000 of his soldiers for one of Daenerys's dragons, the Khaleesi knows she's got the better deal—her dragon child is loyal because she treats him well, as a good parent should. When she subsequently commands her dragon to burn the slave master, the well-treated dragon child doesn't hesitate to obey his momma and disregard the slave master's pleas, much like a child might not listen to the random stranger trying to tell him what to do.
But alas, even wise parents sometimes forget their own wisdom. Dragons grow up and their power cannot be contained even by those who raised them, as Daenerys learns when the charred bodies of small livestock, and eventually children, start turning up, courtesy of her well-treated, fire-breathed babes. Her response? Lock them up in a windowless basement. The plan doesn't go over so well, it turns out, because a dragon is not a slave.
Parents, if you love your children (or if you are Tyrion serving as an adoptive daddy after Daenerys flees), you have to set them free, even if it means a few villagers gotta burn.
"The night is dark and full of terrors." —Melisandre
This is especially good advice to heed if you are friends with someone like Melisandre, who thinks she knows better than you and isn't shy about telling you. Remember: People from all over will offer suggestions as to how to live your life and how to raise your child, but the choices you make in parenting are ultimately your own. Don't let persuasive voices get inside your brain and drown out your instincts, or you may end up like Stannis Baratheon, burning your only daughter during that dark, terrible night, and losing your chance to take Winterfell when half your army consequently abandons you in disgust.
"Bastards are born of passion, aren't they? We don't despise them in Dorne." —Oberyn Martell
Children aren't in control of their beginnings. Westeros has many societal rules in place, such as naming a bastard child "Snow," convincing them they deserve a monastic life on the Wall (at least until they're reborn), or lording their illegitimacy over them, leading someone like Ramsay Bolton to get his due through more devious schemes. But imagine how much more peaceful that world could be if all children were treated equally? Let's all move our babies to Dorne.
"I thought if I could make something so good, so pure, maybe I'm not a monster." —Cersei Lannister
Having children is a powerful experience, a time when we see our own selves reflected back to us, and maybe see parts of the world in new ways we never dreamed imaginable. Some say our children are extensions of ourselves, and in Cersei's case, this became a hope to cling to: If Cersei could produce something so good as Myrcella Baratheon, maybe that was proof she had some good in herself in order to do so.
And maybe poor Cersei deserved a little good in her life, as all dedicated parents do. After all, she's had to live through the poisoning of one son and the abandonment of another, who couldn't even do the Westerosi version of calling back his mom when she was imprisoned and shamed through the streets.
Hopefully, in time, Tommen will learn how to step up more for his poor beleaguered mother—at least he's starting to try. The High Sparrow summed it up nicely in his fatherly chat with the young king in last night's episode: "Her love for you is more real than anything else in this world, because it doesn't come from this world." I'd argue that the mothers really are the unsung heroes of Westeros. Perhaps it's time for the Seven Kingdoms to stop all the fighting for a minute and institute a Mother's Day of its own.
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