An immutable truth of parenthood is that thoughts about parenting eventually seep into and warp every aspect of your life. While I tell myself I have come to terms with this reality, it is still disorienting when parenthood claims a new, once independent, part of me. Its latest conquest is my love of Star Wars.
The imminent arrival of Star Wars: The Force Awakens has inspired me, like many other people, to re-visit the Star Wars universe. That has meant re-watching all six movies, catching up on Star Wars Rebels, and plowing through Star Wars: Aftermath. I did something similar before Episodes I-III were released, but this time, as I worked my way through, I kept getting distracted by all the parenting lessons that I had never noticed before.
There are disturbingly few traditional parent-child relationships in Star Wars, but there is still a lot of parenting that goes on. So instead of enjoying the lightsaber fights and bombing runs that I did as a child and young adult, my parenting-warped brain wondered things like, “was Obi Wan or Chancellor Palpatine more effective in inspiring an interest in faith, and why?” Eventually, I grabbed my laptop and started writing down parenting lessons for myself. Here are 10 I hope to always remember:
1) No amount of power or Force will compel your children to tell you something they don’t want you to know. At the beginning of A New Hope, neither Vader nor Leia knew they were father and daughter, but that didn’t keep them from acting out a common parent-child conflict. Vader wanted to know something about Leia’s personal life that she didn’t want to share, the location of the Rebel base. He threatened her, cut off her communications, threw her into a locked room, and eventually destroyed what she thought was her homeworld. None of it worked. If a Sith lord with the full might of the Empire and a fully operational Death Star at his disposal can’t compel his daughter to talk, I probably can’t either.
2) Be wary of letting your children mess around with new tech unsupervised. Immediately after buying C-3PO and R2-D2, Uncle Owen sends Luke off to clean them up and prep them for work. Maybe he’s not as good with droids as Luke, or maybe he’s too busy keeping the farm going to spend time supervising his ward. Whatever his reasons, the result is that Luke finds the message from Leia, allows R2 to escape, and stays out too long chatting with Old Ben. Yes, Luke’s disobedience probably saved his life, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that a bit more supervision with the new tech would have served Uncle Owen well.
3) Introduce faith through practical exercises and real world applications. When Obi Wan decided to teach Luke about the nature of the Force, he didn’t spend a long time explaining particular aspects of the Jedi belief structure or begin with a historical account of the faith. Instead, he handed Luke a lightsaber and allowed him to experiment with and feel the power of the Force for himself. It seemed to work pretty well.
4) When you want to lead your kids in a certain direction, it’s useful to position your instruction as a request for help. This is how Chancellor Palpatine began the process of converting Anakin to the dark side. As opposed to the members of the Jedi Council, who used a combination of direct orders and exclusionary tactics to keep Anakin on the Jedi path, the Chancellor asked for Anakin’s help and earned his trust.
5) Capitalize on exhaustion in order to maximize your probability of compliance. When dead Obi Wan needed to get Luke to go to the Dagobah system, he didn’t choose a random time to appear and give Luke his instructions. Instead, he waited until Luke was exhausted and almost frozen to death on Hoth. The information that Yoda was in the Dagobah system wasn’t exactly helpful to Luke and his struggle to stay alive, so I have to assume that Obi Wan was opportunistically using Luke’s weakened state to get him to listen. I can’t prove that Luke wouldn’t have gone to find Yoda anyway, but he didn’t exactly have a great track record of listening to the advice of his elders, so Obi Wan’s timing couldn’t have hurt.
6) Recognize when it’s time to let your kids follow their destiny, and let them go with no guilt. This isn’t groundbreaking parenting advice, but Anakin’s mother was particularly graceful and selfless in the way she let her son go. She simply said, “this path has been placed before you. The choice is yours alone.” Then she actually lived with his decision and never complained. It’s not complaining that is the tricky bit.
7) It’s easier to make parenting points when John Williams creates your background music. Imagine being able to make a parenting point that gets hammered home by the perfect accompanying musical notes. No additional persuasion needed–the music gets to your child on an emotional level. It’s an unfair crutch that only works in the movies, and it made me jealous.
8) The weight of expectations can be crippling for children–even extraordinarily talented children. Anakin was the chosen one, and while he did eventually kill Chancellor Palpatine, he came nowhere near reaching his potential as a force for good in the universe. Without the expectation of greatness burdening him from a young age, his path may have been easier, and he might not have lost his way so spectacularly.
9) However poorly you react the first time someone kisses your daughter in front of you, remind yourself and your family that you could have handled it worse. Take out your copy of The Empire Strikes Back, fast forward to the 95th minute, and let them see what Vader did to Han after he kissed Leia. No, he didn’t know she was his daughter. Yes, he was going to freeze Han anyway. None of that matters. You will have made your point.
10) Even with the patience and skill of a Jedi master, teens will be rebellious and rude, and things might turn out quite badly. As I watched Obi Wan struggle with how to guide and nurture the petulant Anakin, I kept trying to come up with different ways of responding that might have worked better. Then it hit me–Obi Wan is a Jedi master, and the whole Jedi Council is there to help him. None of them could get through to Anakin. Sometimes, your children’s actions are beyond your control–and that’s okay.