Haven’t we all been entranced by the beauty of the greatest ever musical, ‘Sound of Music’? Well, the film also offers some parenting lessons for us.
By Dr Priscilla J S Selvaraj
If you thought the all-time beloved classic, ‘Sound of Music’ was only about captivating songs, picturesque hills, and a powerful story, you are mistaken. There is a lot more to this outstanding family movie. It highlights family relationships, underlines the importance of standing up for one’s ideals, brings out emotional struggles, and even offers a lesson or two on parenting. Surprisingly, these lessons include what we learn from the approach of a young governess, who becomes a step-parent later, and from the Reverend Mother at an Abbey!
Lesson 1: Play-way methods can work for parenting too.
When young Maria enters the Von Trapp household as a governess, she is put off by the cold parenting methods of the Captain. She notices that it doesn’t do much good to the children, except making them appear to be well-behaved in their father’s presence. Behind his back, they prove to be unruly and mischievous. Many governesses before her had left without being able to cope with the ‘handful’ (actually, more than a handful – they were seven!) that the children proved to be.
So, Maria adopts a gentle and friendly approach and brings in a lot of fun in her interaction with them. She teaches them music, takes them on outings to the hills, allows them to play freely (including climbing trees), takes them on boat-rides and, finally, even puts up a puppet show with them. In short, she brings joy and laughter into the household. Her approach changes the children’s attitude and helps bring out the best in them.
Lesson 2: Do not adopt an authoritarian style of parenting.
The widower, Captain Von Trapp, expects military discipline from his children. This is clearly depicted when each child steps out from the line and introduces him/herself after each blow of the Captain’s whistle. Also, in the Captain’s own words, “They don’t play – they march.”
He also tells Maria, “Every morning, you will drill the children in their studies. I will not permit them to dream away their summer holidays. Each afternoon, they will march about the grounds breathing deeply. Bedtime is to be strictly observed - no exceptions...You will see to it that they conduct themselves at all time with the utmost orderliness and decorum. I am placing you in command.”
The Captain also has his children clad in uniforms – again, another sign of his military approach to parenting.
As a result of the Captain’s dictatorial methods, the children ‘fear’ him more than they love him.
Lesson 3: Get to know your children; spend time with them.
The Captain is absorbed in a world of his own that he hardly spends time with his children. Maria tells him, “You're never home long enough to know them.” In the case of Maria, she is very observant of the children and tries to understand their needs, especially their emotional ones. In an agitated conversation with the Captain, she says, “…Friedrich, he's a boy, but he wants to be a man and there's no one to show him how.” About Brigitta, she says, “She notices everything.” About Kurt, “… pretends he's tough not to show how hurt he is when you brush him aside.” And, most importantly, when it comes to sixteen-year-old Liesl, Maria understands her feelings when Rolfe joins the Nazis and behaves in a curt and cold manner with Liesl. When Liesl turns to her for advice and reassurance, she is ‘there’ for her. And, who can forget the famous, ‘High on a hill was a lonely goatherd…’, which Maria sings with the children to drive away their fears of thunder? She went all out to be with them and understand their feelings.
Lesson 4: Learn to let go. Do not shelter children from problems.
Young Maria is studying in an Abbey to become a nun and lives a sheltered life. But, from her behaviour and attitude, the Reverend Mother figures out that Maria is not cut out to become a nun. So, she suggests she try something else for a while and sends her to the Von Trapp family to be a governess. This is a very important step that the Reverend Mother takes. Again, when Maria comes back to the Abbey confused about her feelings, the Reverend Mother tells her, “Maria, these walls were not built to shut out problems. You have to face them. You have to live the life you were born to live.” The beautiful, ‘Climb every mountain’, song says it all – asking Maria to pursue her dreams.
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Dr Priscilla J S Selvaraj