Raising kids in today's world is tough. Raising kids in Westeros or Essos, the mythical, magical lands of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series is damn near impossible.
Full disclosure: I don't have kids of my own. I'm sure there are plenty of parenting nuances I don't even know yet. But even in my ignorance, as I read the books, I couldn't help but notice amid all the corruption, carnage, and capon, there are a lot of questionable child-rearing decisions being made. A lot. Like, things that really push the limits of common sense.
Obviously, that's an easy judgement to make when sitting in a comfy, ergonomic desk chair as opposed to one made of the melted swords of your dead enemies. The world of A Song of Ice and Fire is as brutal and harsh as a January blizzard on the Wall. And there's no manual for parenting, as my mother was all too fond of reminding me when I would stage some bizarre teenage rebellion she had no idea how to contain. That aside, I think there are a few basic lessons from which our beloved characters could benefit, that would make everyone in the Seven Kingdoms a lot happier (and a lot less dead). Warning for non-book readers: spoilers ahead.
Lesson #1: Don't let your teenage son start a war to avenge his dead father
I know, I know, I know. We all screamed for Lannister blood when they accused Ned Stark of treason and threw him in the black cells, and by the time time Joffrey commanded Illyn Payne to bring him Ned's head, we were ready to raise an army and march on King's Landing ourselves. So, I understand why Robb Stark wanted to go all Braveheart on the Lannisters in A Game of Thrones. What's less understandable is why Catelyn, even in her considerable distress, didn't step in and say, "No, Robb, you're not allowed to start a war that will plunge our whole kingdom into chaos for the foreseeable future because you're only 15. Fifteen." Was she trying to be the cool mom that lets her kids do whatever they want? Fifteen-year-old boys are many things — rowdy, horny, vaguely gym-sock-scented — but great military leaders? Not so much. And not that it's any excuse for what went down at the Red Wedding, but how well do you expect things to end when a bunch of drunk dudes in wolfskins declare a teenager "The King of the North?"
Lesson #2: Teach your children how to resolve conflicts peacefully
Not much is said about the Baratheon brothers' (Robert, Stannis and Renly) upbringing, but I have a sneaking suspicion that this conversation never happened:
Ma and Pa Baratheon: Boys, come here, sit down. Robert, sober up. Stannis, stop acting like a creepy, head-eating insect. Great. So, today we're going to talk about what happens if there's something all three of you want, but only one of you can have, like, say, the Iron Throne. You should remember what are customs of succession are, and, failing that, sit down over a few glasses of summerwine and talk it out, you know, really listen to each other with mutual understanding and respect, and reach a reasonable compromise. You should definitely not make a pact with a crazy witch lady who'll conjure a demon to murder your brother. Absolutely, definitely, don't do that.
Lesson #3: Show your children unconditional love...
Sigh. Honestly, this is the one thing parents in the known world need to start doing, like, yesterday. Because isn't the Realm just a bunch of people with daddy issues and deadly weapons running around trying to kill each other in an attempt to resolve those things? Theon Greyjoy raids Winterfell to prove to his father that his years as the Starks' ward didn't make him soft (and pays dearly for it). Sam Tarly is disowned by his father and banished to the Wall because he likes books and music. Robert Baratheon alternatively ignores and bullies Joffrey, setting him up to be the second coming of the Mad King.
Of course, the kid who is most due for a therapeutic game of catch with dear old dad is Tyrion Lannister. Who can blame him when a typical conversation with his father Tywin goes like this: "You are an ill-made, devious, disobedient, spiteful little creature full of envy, lust, and low cunning. To teach me humility the gods have condemned me to watch you waddle about wearing that proud lion that was my father's sigil and his father's before him."? (Hallmark, get this guy started on birthday cards ASAP). And that's not to mention the whole business of condemning Tyrion to death for a crime they both know he didn't commit, and a lifetime of other torments for being born disfigured and causing his mother's death in childbed.
Pro tip, Tywin: Don't make your son suffer for things over which he has no control. Don't treat him like dragon dung because the didn't come out looking as pretty as you wanted him to; life'll be hard enough for him as it is. Love him, nurture him, give him a pat on the shoulder once in awhile. And then maybe you won't end up like this:
Lesson #4: ...But have a firm hand in case your child turns out to be a complete raging monster
On the flip side of the Lannister coin is Joffrey Baratheon. Unlike his uncle, whom everyone treats like a monster, Joffrey actually behaves like one. He's violent, sadistic, impulsive... the list goes on. And everyone, from his fake dad Robert to his real dad Jaime, knows it (when your own father says you deserved to die, well...look at your life and your choices).
But it's also not like Cersei or Robert did a lot to teach Joffrey not to be a jerk. Robert was too busy making illegitimate babies with commoners to be a good example to his real (or not real, as the case may be) son, and although Cersei wasn't completely blind to Joff's malicious tendencies — the fact that she was the only person who actually had some love for him made her indulgent and overprotective. Joffrey may be a lost cause, but other parents of unruly children would do well to follow the example of Daenerys Targaryen. When her dragon-children started terrorizing her adopted home of Mereen, she doesn't wag her finger and send them on their way. Chaining them up may be painful for her, but so is disciplining children sometimes. As they say, you have to be cruel to be kind. (I just realized that the most functional parent-child relationship in GOT is between Dany and her dragons, and that about says it all.)
Lesson #5: Keep your children close to home...
Kids can get into dangerous situations at home (touching a hot stove, falling into a full bathtub, getting pushed out a tower window for witnessing royal incest). This begs the question of why parents in Westeros are always so eager to send their kids off to a distant house in a land where taking hostages is as much as pastime as binge-watching Netflix is to us. While fostering was not an unheard-of practice in our world, the stakes are rather higher in Westeros, where a child is as likely to become a pawn in an attempt to start a war, like Myrcella Baratheon in Dorne in A Feast for Crows, as she is to learn how to dance and curtsy. Come on, when Cersei Lannister, the woman once referred to as "the mother of madness" thinks it's a bad idea to send her kids away, it's time to maybe call it a day on the practice.
Lesson #6: ...But don't leave them there unattended
I wasn't allowed stay home by myself until I was 11 years old, and that was in the Pennsylvania suburbs. So why Catelyn Stark thought it was a good idea to let 8-year-old Bran have the run of Winterfell in A Game of Thrones is a mystery to me (you'd think someone who comes from House Tully, whose words are Family, Duty, Honor, would be a little more careful with her own offspring). And although her confidence in Bran's ability to run Winterfell in the absence of his parents and older siblings is admirable, it doesn't help him much when Theon Greyjoy and his posse show up. The least Catelyn could have done was leave Bran and Rickon with this:
Lesson #7: Don't have children with your own relations
Maybe modern advances in genetics haven't reached Westeros yet. Fair enough. In that case, I'm happy to offer this bit of anecdotal evidence about children born of incestuous relationship: from Aerys "The Mad King" Targareyn to Joffrey Baratheon, the all have one thing in common — they're batshit crazy. Funny how no one has picked up on that yet. And let's not even get started on what's going on up at Craster's Keep.