Five things GoT taught me about parenting

game-of-thronesIt is quite reasonable to argue that parents must not depend upon books of fiction or popular TV series for advice on how to bring up their children.

I couldn’t agree more. No one should turn to entertainment industry for any kind of guidance, let alone one concerning life, love or relationships.

But the characters in the series have been so well developed and their relationships so masterly presented, that you cannot help but notice the direct influence some parents had on their children’s attitudes and behaviours. Moreover, a few points in the series actually prove my personal beliefs on what parenting should and should not be, on what is truly beneficial for our kids and what may seem like an act of caring but in fact has long-term negative consequences. That is why I think there is something to be said on the topic of different parenting styles portrayed in the George R. R. Martin’s famous books and HBO’s latest rage.

Sansa Stark

sansa-stark-season-6Sansa is an epitome of a princess: delicate, innocent and well-mannered. She is also a textbook example of the harm helicopter parenting does to children — unable to take care of herself, make decisions or speak up. She knows all the rules of “proper” conduct, but anything that requires “out-of-the-box” solutions leaves her unprepared and surprised. It takes her five seasons of drawbacks and misfortunes (carelessness even, as Wilde might suggest*) to learn how to stand up for herself and confront her enemies.

But, if it weren’t for all the trials and ordeals, she would probably have ended up with a sever case of depression. Being left to her own devices taught her an invaluable lesson about her own abilities and strengths. So, instead of never realising her true powers, she ultimately turns into a fearless, prowessed queen.

Lesson no.1: Quit overprotecting your children

sansastarkTo help your child grow independent and capable you have to let them make their own choices, and even more importantly, their own mistakes. Be there for them, but for goodness sakes, let them fall, get dirty, hurt themselves, fail a test, drop out of a soccer team, fall in love with the wrong person. Let them explore and learn on their own and develop their own coping strategies. It is the only way you can truly prepare them for real life, because you will not be around forever to show them the way, nor should you be. It is their life, after all.

Arya Stark

Unlike her elder sister, Arya is a brave little girl who enjoys fencing and archery. She’s smart, determined and always on a lookout for a juicy adventure. But, behind her undauntedness is a fatal lack of good judgement. She’s impulsive and strong-headed, and her viscerally driven behaviour gets her in more trouble than even her mastery of martial arts can handle. Most of her attempts to right the wrongs fail and she’s pretty much doomed from the start because nobody ever taught her to pause and think before she acts.

Lesson no. 2: Teach your children mindfulness

arya2There’s a growing body of research advocating health benefits of mindfulness. Mindfulness helps us resolve conflicts constructively and act strategically towards our goals. It assists our children in calming down when upset and making better decisions. It also helps our kids stay out of trouble (and keep their eye-sight), in the long run. Here are some great advice on how to teach mindfulness for better life outcomes.

Joffrey Baratheon

joffrey-baratheonSpeaking of visceral, in spite of all motherly love and fatherly/avuncular affection bestowed upon him, prince Joffrey grows into a beastly little sod. Why? I believe it is because, being the first born son of a king, nobody ever bothered to put a stop to his arrogance and sadism. Nobody bothered to teach him anger management or conflict resolution techniques. Nobody even tried telling him it was important to learn how to handle yourself well, lest you should be poisoned in the midst of your own wedding feast. Hence his premature death caused by upsetting way too many influential people inclined to do away with the royal annoyance.

Lesson no. 3: Show them the right way

joffrey-baratheon-deadTeach your children how to handle disappointment and anger. Empower them to peacefully resolve conflicts and constructively solve problems. That way they will be more self-assured and turn less (if all) to violence and hatred when life gets too complicated for comfort. Plus you will help them lower the probability of ending up brutally knocked off by their innumerable enemies.

Tyrion, Jon and Ramsey

Tyrion-LannisterApparently, the whole US presidential race would be over if Tyrion Lannister ever tried running for office. Small wonder, given his well rounded personality. He’s witty, smart and resourceful. He is also kind, fair and wise. But, for some reason or other, with all his undisputable virtues, he never quite managed to make his dad proud of him. Tywin Lannister kept shaming and playing down his youngest son until his dying breath. Finally, it took one step too far in the wrong direction to trigger Tyrion’s anger and make him shoot the crossbow, leaving his father dead on a toilet seat.

Jon-SnowThe father issue is also what separates Jon from Ramsey. One a hero, other an archetype of a villain. Jon may be a son born out of a wedlock, but he doesn’t want in his dad’s respect and love. His quest for appreciation is a healthy one, he needs the world to know he is a true warrior, just like his father. The love he carries in his heart takes him a long way and helps him guide his fellow night-watchers towards peaceful resolution of centuries old war with the wildlings.

ramseyOn the other hand, Ramsey Snow never got the affection and attention a child deserves, turning him into a bloodthirsty monster. His hurt, jealousy and sense of being wronged make him hurt in return. He gets high on torturing other people, preferably the ones blessed with their family’s loyalty and support. But, not even the ultimate act of appreciation, his dad’s recognition of Ramsey as his legitimate son, can heal his deeply inflicted wounds. It is yet to be seen whether fighting alongside his father, the first time as a Bolton, will bring any change to his sadistic behaviour.

Lesson no. 4: Be kind and respectful to your children

Your attitude towards your children moulds their sense of self and the world. Parenting is like gardening, you are the one who plants seeds in your child’s hearts and minds. To quote Rebecca Eanes, it is from those seeds that “spring up either confidence or uncertainty, dignity or dishonour, worth or worthlessness.” So model kindness and respect and you will get kindness and respect in return.

Shireen Baratheon

stannis-and-shireenShireen’s dad, Stannis, thought that burning his only daughter at the stake might win him the war. He was wrong.

While Stannis is portrayed as probably not the most caring of fathers, we do get a sense that he’s rather fond of his daughter. But in his blind ambition to “reclaim what is his” he loses track of decency and common sense. And common sense tells us, has been doing it for centuries, that no job is more important than our children. Prioritizing work over kids has a cruel way of blowing up in one’s face. Hence,

Lesson no. 5: Don’t ever sacrifice your children for work. Ever.

stannis

We’ve all been there: you need to finish a project and you cannot afford to spend any more time with the kids. The deadline is lurking mercilessly. But the children need you. And rest assured, they will not need you forever.

So, just leave it and go kick ball with your kids. No work must come before playtime with children. Or dinner time. Or bedtime routine. Or sleep.

The ancient wisdom tells us that there’s no reversing the bad karma when you put your work first. The project is sure to be a huge flop, your coworkers will abandon you (and take their kids for a hike around the local lake) and the ones that stay will pity you. But, most importantly, you will miss an afternoon in you child’s life. And there are only so many afternoons before they head off to college. So, be wise, choose kids. Always.

You don’t even have to do anything spectacular. Just be. Together. And you will be left with memories of joy, tenderness and smiles, which are infinitely more enjoyable than feeling of regret and failure. Because there’s only one way to fail if you’ve got kids and that is not to play with them.

An epilogue: Daenerys Stormborn

daenerys-targaryenNow, this girl has it all. She is independent, confident and mindful. She steps into her husband’s funeral pyre with three petrified eggs only to emerge out of it intact with three dragons by her side.

The lesson learnt: Parenting is all about a healthy balance of positive intervention and fostering freedom, really. If you prepare your children for life by nurturing them with love and respect, teaching them coping strategies and, most importantly, letting them choose their own way, you might just witness a miracle unravel.

* a quote from another famous work of prose, The Importance of Being Earnest, “To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.”

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