You know that scene where the mom or dad is yelling at the coach, staring down the competition, or screaming at their own child? It is a train wreck of parenting, and sadly for many, considered entertainment at its finest.
When it's on TV, you can switch the channel. But what do you do when the "dance mom" comes to life, and worse, into your life?
About a year ago, my little girl was asked to be in a fashion show. She had never laid eyes on a fashion show, so the first run through was a bit daunting and she was scared. The designer was supportive and encouraging, and we all knew she just needed to get comfortable. When my daughter and I walked back for another fitting, another mother leaned in towards my then-five-year-old to give what I assumed would be encouragement.
This mother, who had an older child in the show, asked her hard questions about whether my daughter thought she could do it. I tried to offer the reasons why she would be fine (in a nervous Mary Poppins sing song voice), but she offered more obstacles—my daughter would be facing a big crowd, walking alone, etc. I was reeling. What just happened there? This woman seemed to take it upon herself to dissuade!
Was this woman concerned with the integrity of the show? Or... was she just being mean?
I asked other friends with kids in performing arts, and this behaviour is sadly not unusual. Angie, whose son is getting roles in various movies and stage productions, shared that although everyone has been welcoming so far, she has been warned by other parents in the business that some parents will never let their “star” child fraternize with an extra or someone with a smaller role.
Jen, who now lives in New York, has a ten year old daughter who is taking the fashion world by storm. My friend wasn't thrilled about her starting in modeling, but she was scouted, really wanted to try it, and so she gave in. I asked her if the world was competitively crazy. Without hesitation, Jen said “completely.” She has seen mothers berate their children at auditions with “Why can't you do what she does? You'd get more call backs!” In fact, Jen finds the world so crazy that she asked I not use her real name, afraid that other moms would find out she was speaking out about it.
Scary stage parents are out there and one must be prepared. There's three ways you can protect your child:
It is important to be present for your child to provide encouragement, kind words, and protection (unfortunately). Be mindful of how others are treating your child and use it as an opportunity to educate. What happened to my daughter was unnecessary and unkind. When an adult is acting inappropriate, even bullying, it is important to address the situation. In our case, I was in shock that it even happened, and my daughter seemed oblivious about the intent of the woman's words as she peeked out shyly behind her stuffed animal.
If I could go back, I would tell her that our family would discuss the challenges on our own and that we prefer to focus on the positives. If she had any success stories or tips to share, we would be all ears.
If you are in this world, reluctantly or enthusiastically, take the sage advice of Mahatma Gandhi and be the change you want to see. Encourage other children, be courteous to those you are working with and fight a scarcity mentality. If it is meant to be, there will be opportunities for your child.
Especially with modeling or acting, where call backs dangle and lives could get put on hold, keep encouraging other interests.
When my friend Jen's daughter doesn't get a modeling job, they keep and truly mean the positive spin of “Great! More time for hockey!” or “Let's plan that family vacation.” My friend Tracey had a son in competitive dance, but when they had to take a break from the constant rising costs of choreography, costumes, travel and lessons, she was pleased that he still had a keen interest in basketball.
Other interests help take the pressure off everyone.
If your child is involved in a competitive activity, it is an opportunity to teach and grow. Your involvement, response, and fresh breath of reality to the situation will help your child gain a proper perspective when facing competitive parents.