My issue with Caitlyn is not that she suffers exclusively from being a bad mother, but that she suffers from bad judgment. She makes a crapload of extremely poor decisions throughout the series, including poor parenting decisions.
Of course at 17 she wasn’t going to be a perfect parent. But she’s not 17 anymore, she’s a thirtysomething mother of five, and as an almost-thirtysomething mother myself, it’s frustrating to watch Caitlyn make bad judgment call after bad judgment call, not really accomplishing anything in the way of helping Robb’s cause, and doing so much harm to Ned’s, while her preschooler is at home screaming for his mother. Forgive me if my own maternal instinct produces a visceral reaction to the idea of someone abandoning their youngest, most helpless child for a year or longer while she digs a deeper and deeper hole for herself, but that’s the way it is.
Motherhood may not be Caitlyn’s only role, but her children, particularly the ones too young to think or care for themselves, are her greatest responsibility.
I’m sorry, but when she supposedly “abandoned” Bran and Rickon, she wasn’t exactly skipping off to Las Vegas. Her OTHER two young children, Arya and Sansa, were being held as hostages by the people who just killed her husband. From Winterfell she can do nothing. At Robb’s side she can try to influence the policy decisions that affect her girls’ safety. Meanwhile Bran and Rickon are in the care of the people who have cared for them all their lives. Bran and Rickon are the safest of all her children, and wouldn’t you know it, harm befalls them because Robb didn’t listen to the advice she offered to keep Theon with him. Sansa and Arya didn’t make it home because Robb didn’t listen to the advice she offered to trade Jaime for them. Robb got trapped into the Red Wedding because he broke the tenuously forged alliance his mother made for him that he himself said he desperately needed. Wow, wow, look at that. Cat was in just the right place she needed to be to prevent all the shit that befell her children.
And it doesn’t work because Robb didn’t listen. Try, just try to spin that into her fault. I dare you.
As for Ned, make the case for me that Cat arresting Tyrion is more stupid than Ned going to Cersei with his knowledge. Had Lysa not lost Tyrion, Cat would have had an extra hostage during the war that would have inevitably happened regardless of her actions because there is no way in hell Cersei is letting Ned Stark get away with letting her secret out and installing Stannis.
As for telling Ned to go south in the first place, Petyr Baelish was perfectly willing to help Ned until he made the idiot choice to refuse Renly’s offer. That was Ned’s choice. Cat made her mistakes, Sansa made her mistakes, but nobody was more the architect of Ned’s fall than Ned Honor-Before-Reason Stark. (Unless people actually start blaming Joffrey for Joffrey’s order. Novel idea, that, holding people to their own actions.)
Sorry, I’m sorry if it’s hard for you as a mother to watch. I don’t care. It’s hard for me to watch people use their ‘credentials’ as a mother to criticize other mothers, the way my mother was by women who had more money and privilege and support than she ever did. We all have a sob story, so what?
Cat would have accomplished a lot more with the power that Martin anviliciously points out is limited and subject to the will of the militant/chauvinistic men around her if men had listened to her. Her story is the story of a person who has to scrap and fight for any bit of power because she is a woman who chooses to stay within a system that is difficult to break out of without severe punishment. At the end of the day, if Robb had listened to her all her children would be alive and well, save possibly Arya, and nobody knew where she was. Too bad Ned didn’t get his girls home before he chose to brooch Cersei with his brilliant ultimatum.
I don’t really do this much, chime in to these sorts of conversations, mostly because I find the people on my dash do a brilliant job of expressing my thoughts and in a way much more succinct and reasonable than I can ever manage (see OJ’s excellent response above). But I just want to point out that branding Cat as shirking her responsibilities as a mother by not being physical accessible to her children as she tries to fix her fractured family, reminds me of arguments that tried to keep women out of the workforce and in kitchens and nurseries at home. Personally my mother left me to latchkeydom at a very young age, but did that suddenly make her a bad mother just because she chose to nurture and provide for me in a different way than what was gender-appropriate at the time?
When I look at Catelyn leaving Winterfell for King’s Landing and then the Eyrie and then for Robb’s camp, I don’t see a woman who is flinging herself about the Seven Kingdoms willy-nilly; I see a woman desperately trying to do everything in her power to salvage what is most important to her, her only and absolute priority. Which is her family. She may make bad decisions, but everyone in these goddamn books makes bad decisions. And to take her bad decisions and suddenly make them about her being specifically a bad mother seems wrong and unfair, when her primary motivation in everything she does is to keep her family together and mend the fractures that come from forces both without and within. It’s like saying Narcissa Malfoy is a bad mother on the sole basis of hanging out with Death Eaters.
If you want to talk about parenting fail, there’s plenty of it in ASoIaF. But I never see, oh, Robert Baratheon being raked over the coals for his neverending parade of bastards the way I see Cat being taken to task for choosing a path of action and agency over the more classically nurturing image of motherhood.