Beartown is filled with stories of parents and children—stories of love, loss, disappointment, and failure. Even parents’ best intentions for their children can end up causing harm, both to their children and to others. Some of the deepest anguish in the story comes when parents face their failures to protect their children—not only do they usually fall short, but their efforts backfire. On the other hand, parents who encourage their children to break harmful patterns and become better people often see more hopeful outcomes. Through various stories of the struggles of parenthood, Backman argues that while overprotective, defensive parenting often sets up children for failure, encouraging children to take risks to better themselves often benefits both children and their communities.
Parents try to protect their children, but this often ends up hurting them more in the long run. Having grown up in the shadow of her older brother’s death, Maya carries the burden of trying to protect her parents from pain—even trying to shield and comfort them after she has been raped: “Even then, in the police station in Hed, she knew she would survive this. Even then she knew that her mom and dad wouldn’t. Parents don’t heal. […] And she could see in her parents’ eyes how the story made the same terrible sentence echo through them, over and over again. […] ‘We can’t protect our children.’” Paradoxically, the Anderssons’ efforts to protect their children end up costing Maya dearly, as she feels responsible for protecting them from their own failure. This suggests that fixating on protecting one’s children can actually end up harming those children.
In a far more sinister way, Kevin Erdahl’s father tries to protect his son from the consequences of his actions, thereby enabling his son’s own entitlement. After a hockey victory, Mr. Erdahl tells Kevin, “People in this town are going to try to stick to you more than usual now, Kevin, so you need to remember that viruses make you sick. You need to be immune to them. And the final isn’t just about hockey. It’s about what sort of man you want to be. A man who goes out and grabs what he deserves, or one who stands in a corner waiting for someone to give it to him.” The result of Erdahl’s efforts is to help nurture an entitled attitude in Kevin, who thinks he’s above the rest of the town and “deserves” to use others as he likes.
By contrast, other parents in Beartown encourage their children to become better people, even when doing so comes at great cost. After Amat explains to his mother, Fatima, that Mr. Erdahl has offered to provide her a better job in exchange for Amat’s silence about Kevin’s rape of Maya, she tells him: “I don’t need a man to drive me in a big car to the rink each morning, and I don’t need a man to give me a new job that I don’t want. […] I only need one man: my son. And you’re not alone. You’ve never been alone. You just need to be better at choosing the company you keep.” Fatima’s words spur Amat to reject his teammates’ demand that he fall in line and support Kevin. Instead, he eventually stands up to them and tells the truth about what happened to Maya, even when he’s physically attacked and ostracized for it. In other words, Amat, like Kevin, becomes the man that his parent expects him to be—but unlike Kevin, he becomes a true leader instead of a predator.
The importance of teaching one’s children to aspire to better things is also illustrated near the end of the book when Tails, a major hockey team sponsor, hears his son making a joke about rape: “Tails doesn’t remember exactly what happened after that. […] he lies there hugging his son. They’re both crying, one out of fear and the other out of shame. ‘You can’t become that sort of man […] you need to be better than me...’ Tails repeats, over and over again, in his son’s ear, without letting go of him.” This scene also contrasts with Kevin Erdahl and his father. Backman suggests that, even though Tails’s intervention in his son’s behavior is awkward and shame-filled, it doesn’t come too late; unlike Erdahl, Tails actually demands better of his son than the example he himself has set, giving his son—unlike Kevin—a chance to rise above the town’s culture.
These are just a few of Beartown’s many stories of parenthood; Backman also explores Kira Andersson’s guilt about being a working mother, Benji Ovich’s grief over his father’s suicide, the fatherly dynamic between David and his hockey team, and many others. Each of these stories portrays parenthood as a complex, risky endeavor that doesn’t just affect isolated family units, but also has repercussions for entire communities.
Parents and Children ThemeTracker
Parents and Children Quotes in Beartown
His mom always says they must be grateful, the pair of them, and he understands her. No one is more grateful than her, toward this country, this town, these people, and this club, toward the council, their neighbors, her employer. Grateful, grateful, grateful. That’s the role of mothers. But the role of children is to dream. So her son dreams that his mother will one day be able to walk into a room without having to apologize.
He blinks the sweat from his eyes, adjusts his helmet, and pushes his skates into the ice. One more time. One more time. One more time.
When the kids were little she saw so many other parents lose control in the stands at the rink, and she couldn’t understand them, but now she does. The children’s hobbies aren’t only the children’s hobbies— the parents put just as many hours into them, year after year, sacrificing so much, paying out such huge amounts of money, that their significance eats its way even into adult brains. They start to symbolize other things, compensating for or reinforcing the parents’ own failures. Kira knows it sounds silly; she knows it’s just a silly game in a silly sport, but deep down she’s nervous too, as well as feeling nervous on behalf of Peter and the juniors and the club and the town today. Deep down she could also do with winning at something.
Even then, in the police station in Hed, she knew she would survive this. Even then she knew that her mom and dad wouldn’t. Parents don’t heal. […] There will be days when Maya is asked if she really understood the consequences, and she will nod yes, and of all the feelings inside her then, guilt will be the greatest. Because of the unimaginable cruelty she showed toward the people who loved her the most.
They sat there in the police station. She told them everything. And she could see in her parents’ eyes how the story made the same terrible sentence echo through them, over and over again. The one every mom and every dad deep down most fear having to admit:
“We can’t protect our children.”
My name is Amat. I saw what Kevin did to Maya. I was drunk, I’m in love with her, and I’m telling you that straight so that you lying bastards don’t have to say it behind my back when I walk out of here. Kevin Erdahl raped Maya Andersson. I’m going to go to the police tomorrow, and they’ll say I’m not a reliable witness. But I’m going to tell you everything now, everything that Kevin did, everything that I saw. And you won’t ever forget it. You know that my eyes work better than anyone else’s in here. Because that’s the first thing you learn on the Beartown Ice Hockey Club, isn’t it? ‘You can’t teach that way of seeing. That’s something you’re born with.’
Inside the house his dad is sitting with a newly opened bottle of whisky in front of him. They didn’t get everything they wanted this evening, but they haven’t lost either. Tomorrow their lawyer will start to prepare all the arguments why a drunk young man who is in love with the young woman is not a credible witness. Then Kevin will start playing for Hed Ice Hockey, taking his team with him, almost all the sponsors, and all their plans for life will be intact. One day very soon everyone around them will simply pretend that this has never happened. Because this family does not lose. Not even when they do.