Okay, so parent/child relationships aren’t exactly at the core of the Whedonverse’s timeless linchpin – Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In fact, Joyce Summers, Buffy’s mom, might be the only regular character in the crucial genre dramedy/horror show with traditional parental responsibilities. But as the reader knows, there’s much more to raising a child than helping he or she cope with being humanity’s lone defense against the forces of unholy big badness.
Buffy ran for seven seasons, which equals somewhere in the ballpark of 388,800 minutes of TV (unless I’m botching my math, which is a possibility). Does anyone believe that many minutes of story can pass without imparting numerous lessons about being a good mom or dad? If so, here are some Buffy-inspired parenting tips to make those people look stupid.
DON’T LIVE IN DENIAL
It took more than two seasons of frequent encounters with supernatural peril before Joyce Summers finally figured out what kind of shenanigans her daughter had been up to all these years. In Becoming, the landmark finale of season 2 when the show started getting reeeally friggin’ good, Buffy stakes a rando vamp in front of the Summers’ household, and Joyce still has the tunnel vision to ask “Are you sure you’re a vampire slayer?” Buffy later replies, “How many times have you washed blood out of my clothing, and you still haven’t figured it out?”
Their argument ends with Joyce booting Buffy out of the house, and they don’t get back to being on good terms until season three. Could this falling out have been prevented if Joyce had simply asked Buffy what was up with all the blood a lot earlier? Probably!
The metaphor here is pretty cut ‘n dry. Instead of avoiding the reality that her kid is a vampire slayer, Joyce could be ignoring evidence that Buffy’s a pot smoker, a vegan, a Republican, or really anything that would make Buffy a less-than-ideal kid in Joyce’s eyes. But there’s no such thing as an ideal kid. So it’s best to accept your child’s unchangeable quirks early on, instead of keeping your fingers crossed that he or she will turn out to be someone they clearly are not.
BE HONEST (EVEN IF THE TRUTH MAKES YOU LOOK BAD)
Buffy’s real dad is almost utterly MIA throughout the series, but Rupert Giles makes a cooler surrogate dad than Hank Summers ever would’ve made a “real” dad anyway. Like any father/teenage daughter relationship, Giles and Buffy butted heads from time to time. On one occasion, in order to honor some bizarre rite of passage deemed necessary by the Watchers Council, Giles dopes Buffy up with muscle relaxers without her knowledge, to make sure she fights an uber-vampire sans-slayer powers. It’s hard not to feel a little disturbed when he administers shots to an oblivious, tranced-out Buffy.
Sooner rather than later, Giles comes to his senses and helps Buffy vanquish the wicked and possibly eunuch vampire Zachary Kralik. For putting Buffy’s safety ahead of council protocol, Giles’s higher-ups fire him from Watcherhood and bring in Wesley Wyndam-Pryce to oversee Buffy and Faith. Wes started out a big pansy and eventually became absolutely badass, but that’s a subject for another post.
Throughout the show, Giles never really makes any bad decisions, and maybe that makes him a less-interesting character. This time, he came close, but didn’t follow through. If Buffy had wandered into the encounter with Kralik without her Captain America-levels of physical prowess and survived, would she have been stronger for the experience? Probably! She also would’ve come out bitter as hell about being manipulated and thrown under the bus by someone she trusted.
What does any of this have to do with real parenting? Well, G.I. Joe never let us forget that knowledge is power. So, perhaps, when they eventually ask the questions, some honest answers about sex, drugs, and similar topics might serve young’uns well in upcoming battles with those tricky bastards? Graphic details are unadvisable, but nobody’s better off for hearing their parents tell them “I’ve never so much as glanced at a joint and I didn’t get laid until I met your other parent and you better do all the same things or else.”
DON’T FEEL TOO GUILTY IF YOU FORGET HOW MANY KIDS YOU HAVE
Bold indifference to the metaphysical ramifications of events that unfolded before her very eyes would be her biggest parental blunder, but Joyce Summers could be accused of a few other missteps during her time raising Buffy. For instance, when ancient monks turn their energy key to a hell dimension or whatever it is into Dawn at the onset of season five, Joyce naively assumes she has two daughters instead of one. But considering the wacky magic spell involved, it’s hard to fault her too much for that. Plus, she died of brain cancer 14 episodes later. Joyce had a rough year.
DON’T BURN YOUR SON OR DAUGHTER AT THE STAKE
There is more allegory than you can shake a pitchfork at in “Gingerbread,” one of the standout episodes from season three. A demon takes the form of a pair of murdered children with occult symbols written on their hands, and Sunnydale uncharacteristically flies into a fit of magicphobia. Local parents decide supernatural elements must be wiped out of their community, and mob hysteria ensues.
Everyone knows that witch hunts and religious intolerance can turn otherwise well-meaning people into monsters. Perhaps a less-obviously, but more important lesson we can learn from “Gingerbread” is never make the same mistake Sheila Rosenberg made when she tried to burn her daughter at the stake, Salem-style.
Many children would emancipate themselves after such an incident, but Willow understood the nature of the mystical whammy the demon put on her mother. Superficially, the incident didn’t have a major impact on Sheila and Willow’s mother/daughter relationship. But notably, “Gingerbread” stands as the first and last onscreen appearance of Sheila Rosenberg. So if the prospect of traumatizing your children isn’t enough to prevent you from setting them on fire, ask yourself, “Am I sure I’m not on a TV show? Do I want to risk sharing the fate of Richie’s older brother on Happy Days and Mandy Hampton on The West Wing, and have everyone I know forget I exist? Because that’s what can happen to TV characters who try to set their kids on fire.”
DON’T AFFIX DEMON PARTS AND ABILITIES ONTO YOUR UNBORN CHILD
Is it safe to assume Professor Maggie Walsh and Adam are nobody’s favorite Buffy villains? Kind of like how Riley Finn is nobody’s favorite among Buffy’s love interests? Only with the introduction of Tara Maclay and her corresponding marvelousness could Buffy season four, if it spoke for itself, say “Hey, not all the characters who first appeared in me suck. Tara’s pretty awesome, right?”
Quite true, but the villainy of Maggie Walsh still looks pretty weaksauce compared to the diabolical machinations of The Master, Angelus, Glory, Mayor Wilkins, The First and the rest of Buffy’s rogues gallery. But the head researcher of the opaque government black-ops program, The Initiative, isn’t just a poor excuse for a Big Bad. She’s also a negligent parent.
In season four, Walsh spends her workday turning remnants of the unholy into WMDs for Uncle Sam. While on the clock, she adds all sorts of mechanical and demonic appendages to the carcass of one of her deceased lieutenants, named Adam, figuring he’ll be handy to have around once she reanimates him. It would be exactly like the story of Frankenstein’s monster, except Adam skewers Walsh to death with a retractable bone-sword in his forearm as soon as he becomes self-aware.
What we can learn from Walsh’s sad saga won’t have much relevance to real life until the world inevitably becomes like Gattaca, with pregnant women rearranging their children’s DNA in utero. Most people will only want to change harmless aspects of their offspring: eye and hair color and the like. But we guarantee someone out there is already thinking, “Wow, I can’t wait to change my baby’s DNA so my baby gets born with retractable two-foot long bone spears that’ll shoot out of its hands, and friggin’ rocket launchers in its knees and razor teeth and stuff.” To that person, we say, please let nature take its course, because babies are clumsy, and not to be trusted with rocket launchers or razor teeth.