17 Parenting Lessons From Downton Abbey

 Downton Abbey, for all its popularity, has some of the best parenting lessons of the last 90 years.

Lisa and our friend and fellow blogger Sharon Greenthal write: Like so much of the nation we are caught in Downton Abbey’s thrall.  Sunday evenings have been transformed from the dreaded night when preparation for the following week begins, to “Downton Night,” a blissful evening of mindless English fun.  But is it mindless? Layered into Julian Fellowes’ crackling dialogue are some of the best parenting lessons of the last 90 years.  Looking on from our American twenty-first century vantage point we feel that Earl and Lady Grantham and their brood have taught us a few things:

Downton Abbey, Maggie Smith, Dowager of Downton Abbey

1. Grandparents have a crucial role to play in any family as dispensers of wisdom and healers of souls.  No one can put a situation into perspective better than someone who has seen seven decades pass. In times of pain and panic, it is the Dowager who is needed most.

2. If we do not change with the times and listen to those much younger than ourselves, our children in particular, even when they seem callow and naive, we will soon become obsolete. The world is spinning on and we listen to the young or risk forever being a prisoner of a bygone era, be it 1924 or 2014.

3. We mustn’t wait until caught in the grips of grieving to tell our siblings how much they mean to us.  The sibling relationship is life’s longest and we would be fools to take it for granted. Edith’s words to Mary as they watched their sister die were heartbreaking.

Downton Abbey mansion, manor house

4. A home is truly only a building, even if it is Downton Abbey.  Losing possessions matters little compared to losing those we love. We did not shed a tear when we thought the family would lose their beloved Downton, the same cannot be said of Sybil’s passing.

5. If our child finds true love (or friendship) whether or not the object is someone whom we would have selected, we must rejoice for them.  A seeming gentleman might jilt our daughter at the altar but a good man will love her until her last breath. One only needs to look at the sad episode of Edith and Anthony versus the true love shared by Sybil and Tom.

6. Our children need and deserve our understanding and forgiveness, true forgiveness, even when they have done wrong.  We love them and that love must transcend their mistakes. Mary’s painful transgression with Kemal Pamuk did not deprive her of her father’s love.

7. Never underestimate the power of a few well-chosen words. Speaking softly but strongly can have amazing results. The Dowager and Dr. Clarkson chose their words judiciously and, although Cora’s heart was breaking after her daughter’s death, she was not alone.

8. People can reinvent themselves – give them a chance to prove that they’ve changed and avoid being judgmental and closed-minded, as the family was with Ethel.

Downton Abbey death scene, Sybil dies on Downton Abbey

9. When our deepest gut feeling tells us that there is something wrong with our child, even when experts may not agree, we need to follow our gut.  Watching our child for a lifetime, through all of its up and downs, makes us an expert. No one knew Sybil better than her own mother.

10. Turning on those we love at life’s worst moments, although perhaps understandable in our rage, will only magnify our grief.  True consolation and understanding comes from those we love the most as Robert and Cora were to learn.

11. If someone truly cares for us, we should give them the chance to show how much. It is amazing what good things happen by letting love into our lives as Daisy did with Mr. Mason. When things are difficult, it helps to have someone to talk to honestly.

Downton Abbey, Mrs. Hughes and Mrs. Patmore

12. True friendships are one of life’s greatest gifts. We must not keep our problems bottled up inside. Where would Mrs. Hughes be without the loyal Mrs. Patmore?

13. We should teach our children to have faith in the people they love, even at the worst of times, like Anna and Bates.

14. If we have different rules and standards for our sons and daughters, things will not go well. If Mary could have inherited Downton Abbey, the show might have ended after the first season but all would have been well with the Crawleys.

15. We must teach our children to be careful with their trust and alliances. Some who appear to be their friends will betray them. It is hard to know if someone is an O’Brien, Thomas or Mr. Green.

Mary Grantham and Lord Grantham, Downton Abbey father and daughter

16. The loyalty and love of our children is one of life’s greatest blessing, never to be taken lightly. Mary’s loyalty to her father, when he is right and when he is wrong is a source of comfort and strength.

 17. We don’t need to like or even approve of everything our children do, but we can still offer encouragement.  When our children’s passions emerge and they show real enterprise, they need us as their supporters.  It is hard not to imagine that someday Robert will be proud of a daughter who is a successful journalist.

 

Comments

  1. says

    what a wonderful and smart post – really enjoyed reading this and agree on all counts – you have a real depth of understanding

  2. says

    I have never seen an episode of Downton Abbey – although I really hope to be able to catch up one of these days. Your post has made me want to see it more than ever!

    • says

      Kim you would love it. You can watch back seasons and episodes online so catch up, it is great fun.

  3. says

    I’ve been meaning to watch, but can’t find it on my screen. I keep hearing such good things about Downtown Abbey these days!

    Thanks for sharing this well written piece.

  4. cathy donovan says

    What a wonderful and thought provoking piece…I am a huge follower of Downton and never miss an episode. Your piece is right on. I loved it.

  5. says

    I have never seen this show, but now am going to check into it. You made me want to see it! Great post!
    (found you through SITS)

    Tabby

  6. Phoebe says

    Thanks for identifying the wisdom of the ages as witnessed in Downton Abbey! I just became hooked on Downton over the holidays and am all “caught up”. I’ve also just recently been following your blog and am all “caught up.” I’ve had quite the time finding blogs I can identify with…G & F is one of the few!

    • says

      Phoebe, that is so kind, thank you. Catching up on Downton Abbey must have been great fun. We are really so glad that you are here.

  7. says

    I know where you’ll be on Sunday night! Thanks for writing this post with me – it was great fun, as they might say on Downton.

    • says

      So much fun writing this together another lesson about what wonderful friends are for…writing blog posts together!!

  8. Anitra says

    I have never watched the show but I have friends who are super fans. Clever post. Visiting from SITS.

  9. says

    What a great post – so fun to read and so spot on. The themes are universal, aren’t they? I’m sure it’s why we all love to tune in. It carries us along. I’ve also learned that you can be wealthy and of great stature, and still be kind and compassionate.
    And what else have I learned? That I love the clothes those women wear.
    What am I puzzled by? That once you’re a married woman you must eat your breakfast in bed. (??) Uhhmmmm – why is that no longer a tradition?
    And someone to brush my hair – please. I’d be in heaven. ;)

    • says

      LOVE the clothes though I saw the cast interviewed and they said that they were amazingly uncomfortable. I have been married 20+ years can’t say that it has involved breakfast in bed, ahhh the downside of the 21st century!

  10. Jane de Beneducci says

    What a great post, so many life lessons are hidden amongst all the fantastic costumes and scenery. I have seen all the episodes, and I could tell you what happens next, but……..as I am sure Mrs Hughes would say “patience is a virtue”!

    • says

      Don’t tell us!! Already sad thinking that we only have two more episodes. May need to go rewatch Upstairs Downstairs.

  11. says

    SPOT ON! What a great essay on life lessons from Downton. Stopping by from SITS! Have a great week!

  12. says

    I’m stopping by just to say I think it’s awesome you two collaborated with Sharon on this post. Thumbs up for collaboration! I started to read this on Sharon’s blog but ran into spoilers and had to run fast as I’m not yet caught up. I’ll return here to reply once I’m caught up … and will READ the post rather than scroll quickly to the bottom. :-D

    Love Downton Abbey and regret being late to the party.

    (PS: Thank you both for the kind words on my Friday post. ♥)

    • says

      Spoilers are a huge problem. Looking for photos I had season 4 runnier, promise myself never to do that again.

  13. says

    I’m sorry to admit I haven’t watched Downton Abbey yet. But it’s on my list! Great post.

    Stopping by from Saturday Sharefest :)

  14. Emily says

    I am one of the few who still has not watched this show…I have friends begging me to watch, so I’m downloading Season 1 this weekend and going to start!

  15. says

    I’m struck by what happens when we try to stick w/ our old scripts. Upstairs and down the men of the house are fiercely hanging on to an outmoded way of life–showing us what happens when we can’t learn to shift and adapt. There are some powerful lessons here for all of us, children, parents–grandparents.

    • says

      I love the grandmother role. She sees right through every crisis dispensing wisdom when the young need it, even if they do not want to hear it. She is truly my favorite character.

  16. says

    This is an awesome post. I saw the title and thought this might be a funny, silly post. But instead it was a beautiful and thoughtful piece full of truths. Thanks so much for pointing all these things out. I love the show and will say I was struck with the lesson of trust your gut with the baby storyline, but the rest of these are fantastic and I didn’t pick up as many as you. Thanks for sharing!

    • says

      Funny how this show can be seen in so many different ways. Many have seen it politically, or the costumes and beautiful homes…for us it is all about the family relationships.

  17. says

    What a fabulous post! So many people tell me I would LOVE this show… if only I would take the time to watch. From your images I can see the costumes should be lure enough. I love them! The hats! The fabrics! The expressions on their faces!

    So glad to have had the chance to visit from SITSSharefest. Its never too late for Saturday reading!

    • says

      You would love it, such a fun jaunt back in history. First snowy/rainy day treat yourself to a Downtonfest!

  18. Jennifer Comet Wagner says

    I loved reading this. Downton has become one of my favorite shows and I love the writing. I hadn’t really noticed all of these lessons before and I’m glad you pointed them out to me.

    • says

      I am afraid we went a bit overboard with our love of Downton Abbey, but it really is nice to watch a show that everyone can enjoy together.

  19. says

    First things first..I lOVE this show. Now I will love it even more as your words resonate in my head while I’m watching. You are dead on with your observations!

  20. says

    I loved this post enough to forward it to my 81 year old mother. She and my (85 y/o) father watch Downtown religiously. Each week they watch the first hour on PBS to re-watch last week’s episode, and then they watch the current weeks. My mom wanted to make sure I told you that she LOVED this post and is in total agreement with all you said. Coming from her that’s quite a compliment.

    I’d like to add a great big thanks for the lovely card you sent thanking me for my readership. I want to thank you for your wonderful blog and fabulous posts from two (and Sharon) fabulously marvelous women. Thanks!

    • says

      You are so kind, thank you. And please say thank you to your mother. What a gift to have her as a reader, thank you.

  21. says

    I don’t watch Downton Abbey although I have seen it advertised on the box.
    Thank you SO much for the card you sent – it is such a lovely gesture ! I love being part of your community and hope that somehow what I have been through as a parent will help someone else !!
    Have the best day !
    Me

    • says

      SO glad you liked the card, we owe our readers more than just a card, but I hope that at least it conveyed our gratitude.

  22. says

    It is such a well-thought series, isn’t it? I love Maggie Smith, she is perfect in it!
    I think the moment when Sybil died was the saddest of all even though I have already watched ALL the episodes!

    • says

      Heartbreaking, really a bolt out of the blue. It is amazing how invested we can get in a TV show!

  23. says

    Congratulations on your Huffington Post piece! I haven’t been able to get into the show yet, but this definitely makes me want to take another look. Very thoughtful!

    • says

      Thanks so much, Jesscia. Give it a try, I think you will love it and you have a year to get ready for Season 4 in January 2014.

  24. Diane says

    Loved this blog post. So much of it hit home for me, especially the part about losing family, nothing comes close to being as devastating as losing a loved one and especially not possessions.

    • says

      Sybil’s death hit audiences so hard, a real kick to the gut. The prospect of losing Downton….well life goes on.

  25. Roshni says

    I haven’t really followed Downton Abbey much but your post is very insightful about human nature and how we as parents should love and support our children

  26. says

    Wow. What a great post full of so much wisdom and downton fun. I’m so sad the finale is next week. :( I agree with so much of what you’ve said!

  27. Momfever says

    Great post. I really enjoyed Downton Abbey and I’m having withdrawal symptoms now that it’s finished.

  28. says

    I just watched all 3 seasons of Downton Abbey over the last couple of weeks and am currently going through severe withdrawal. I love how you’ve captured the essence of the show into parenting lessons – I think I’d extend them to be life lessons! Great post.

  29. says

    I was a late entrant to the show and watched all the episodes over, I think, one week, obsessively. Loved it. Especially can relate to going with your gut (Sybil) and turning on your own when stressed.
    Great analysis!

  30. says

    LOL, just realized I commented on this post twice! I was being nostalgic about Downton Abbey and reread your post, not realizing I’d commented before!
    sri

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