February 22, 2013
Being a parent is hard. We all know that. Sleepless nights, hours spent elbow-deep in vomit, pressure to do the right thing by your kids every waking hour of the day. You love them unconditionally, but you’re never off the clock. Most days you’re lucky if you find a minute to sit down and breathe.
But if you think you’ve got it hard, spare a thought for the characters in AMC’s hit TV show The Walking Dead. Scheduling nap times can be a bitch, but it’s a virtual impossibility when you’re dragging your kids through a violent post-apocalyptic hell, populated by looters, homegrown gun-toting militia, and flesh-eating corpses. You may fret over how much TV your kid should watch, but trust me – you’ve never encountered a true parenting dilemma until your son has helped deliver his baby sister in a prison block, then shot and killed his mother to keep her from turning into a slavering people-eater. Suddenly an extra hour of Sesame Street doesn’t seem so terrible.
The Walking Dead has come under fire from parenting groups for its Jackson Pollock-style canvas of splattered gore and decimated brains, but if you look closely there are still some parenting lessons to be learned from Rick, Lori, Carl, Carol, Sophia, and the other dysfunctional family units in the show. Here’s what we’ve learned so far:
1. Give Your Kid a Gun
Okay, let’s get one thing clear from the start: we do not advocate the giving of guns to children. No, seriously. Wherever you stand on gun control, guns and kids do not belong together. It’s little wonder that there was a flood of outrage online when Rick started training Carl to use a firearm. This is a bad, bad idea. But as a metaphor for empowering your kids it can still teach us a lesson. We all have a tendency to be helicopter parents, micromanaging our little ones’ lives with a degree of attention that most prison guards would find obsessive. Sometimes we have to bite our lips and set them free. Let them explore the world for themselves, let them make their own mistakes. Just, you know, not with a gun. Not unless civilization has collapsed and the countryside is overrun with ravenous zombies.
2. It’s Never Okay to Eat Cat Food
There’s a brief scene in the Season Three opener where Carl tries to open a can of cat food. Rick takes it from him before he manages to get into it. The group are on the road, starving, struggling to make it from day to day—but it’s still not okay for Carl to eat the cat food. It’s never okay to eat the cat food. Even at the worst moments in our lives, we have to hold on to our dignity, and our children’s dignity. It’s about retaining your humanity and refusing to stoop to the level of animals. Plus cat food is really, really gross.
3. Don’t Lock Your Kid in a Cell
This might seem obvious, but apparently it’s open to debate. When parenting groups spoke out against The Walking Dead, one of their main complaints was that Rick and Lori were terrible parents. They barely seemed to know where Carl was from one episode to the next, and we lost count of how many times he blundered into trouble. The show’s executive producer, Glen Mazzara, had this to say on the issue:
“I don’t know if it’s plausible that he would always be within her eye line or wouldn’t he, like most boys, try to give mom the slip and go out there and get in trouble? That feels plausible to me. If it means that she’s a horrible parent, or Rick’s a horrible parent, well, it feels real to me… It makes sense to us and if people don’t like it, well, then we’ll have Lori lock him in a cell when we get to the prison.”
Mazzara has a point. As much as they might want to, Lori and Rick can’t chain their son to a tree. If he’s anything like I was at that age, he’d take every opportunity to break away and find some space of his own. Even if that means almost getting mauled by a drooling walker. Kids will be kids. And no, you should never, ever lock your child in a cell. No matter how irritating he gets.
Cell time is out of the question, but Rick and Lori have been a little… distracted. Some might say that’s understandable, given their marital infidelity, the constant struggle to find food, and the hordes of undead waiting to rip their intestines from their still-twitching corpses. But even under the most stressful circumstances, you want to know where your kid’s at. Otherwise they go the way of Sophia, and you end up having to shoot them in the face. (Bonus tip: Never, ever shoot a child in the face.)
5. When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Need Daycare
Yes, life can get crazy sometimes. It’s tough looking after your little bundle of joy while still keeping them safe, putting food on the table, and retaining a vestige of your own identity—and even harder when you have to do all those things during the zombie apocalypse. That’s why we’ve seen Rick rely more and more on the help of others. In many ways the band of survivors in The Walking Dead has become a family unit over the last two and a half seasons, and Rick has learned the hard way that it’s sometimes okay to ask for help. So next time you have to collect corpses to burn, just ask someone to keep an eye on junior for you. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign that you care.
6. Bury the Dead and Move On
We hate moving on with our lives. There’s a reason that nostalgia is such a boom industry. But Hershel found out the hard way that you can’t cling to the past. The best thing you can do for yourself, and for your loved ones, is to press forward into the future. He wound up with a barn full of walkers. You might find yourself stuck in a rut or, even worse, you might slow your child’s development. Children change on a daily basis, and they grow up at frightening speed. Don’t fight the tide. Keep challenging them, and broadening their world, and moving forward. Otherwise Old MacDonald might get his head ripped off and his brains sucked out through his ear.
7. It’s Never Okay to Kill Your Mother
When Carl had to shoot Lori to prevent her from turning, many of us breathed a sigh of relief. For the best part of two seasons she’d been the show’s most irritating character, and her death has paved the way for a whole new season of single-parent plot lines. But Carl’s cracked psyche is perhaps the biggest lesson of all. Don’t kill your Mom. Not ever. That never turns out well for anybody.
Of course, we’ll have to wait and see what other parenting lessons The Walking Dead has in store for us. There might be tips on raising siblings in Merle and Daryl’s standoff, or lessons on caring for your grown-up kids as Glenn and Maggie continue to rut like rabbits whenever Hershel turns his back. Or maybe there will just be lots of blood and gore splattered across our screens in a wanton orgy of undead violence. Either way, we’re all living among the zombies now.