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Stagemoms: When Push Comes to Shove

I took three-year-old T to another Toys-R-Us booking last Friday. We have our routine now: I bring an abundant bag of snacks, she picks the movie. T opted for “Wizard of Oz” (“Muzard of Oz” —I love the mispronunciation phase). As Judy Garland’s unforgettable voice filled the Minivan, I couldn’t help but think of overbearing stage moms. Hers infamously kept little Judy (then Frances Gumm) stage ready by giving her speed. When she signed with MGM, the 13-year-old was addicted and the studio maximized her movie output with uppers by day and downers by night. Garland says she was never asked if she wanted to perform; she was just shoved onto stage at the age of two.

Judy Garland

Judy Garland in “Wizard of Oz”

Clearly Mrs. Gumm took things way too far, but few stars would have made it without a push. The key is to find a way to gently push in the direction where a kid shows potential, not shove them so hard they get whiplash (and lasting emotional scars/drug addictions). As my nine-year-old is pretty serious about dancing (and acting), I’ve asked any serious dancer I encounter about how much is too much. Almost all say they wanted to quit at some point when they were kids, but their parents pushed them, they stuck with it, and they’re glad they did. I guess the question is when does push come to shove? It takes work to become great at anything and kids tend to be lazy. Although Amy Chua took pushing (and shoving) to the extreme, I think her book Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mom made some excellent points about coddled, unmotivated American children.

For now, pushing and shoving don’t work into the toddler modeling equation. The wee ones have to love it or they won’t last past the first booking. On these little breaks from real life, there’s more hand-holding between T and me than there would be in our chaotic house of six. I don’t offer her speed but perhaps break a few nutrition rules when packing the snacks. I carefully assess her response when I say, “We’re going to New Jersey for pictures.” So far, this statement still yields a huge grin and a question of what toys she’ll get to play with this time. The big motivation for me, stagemom/chauffeur, is not the money (read about that here) or the tear sheets (these shots were for packaging; we’ll have to buy the toys to get the tear sheets!) or the blog material. I’m pushing open doors. Print modeling leads to commercials, which lead to acting opportunities. I was obsessed with acting as a kid, and I see that gene in two of my kids. What I would have given for the chance to audition in New York. J will be auditioning for Sesame Street this week and Matilda on Broadway this weekend. Being a realist, I suspect these experiences will be great opportunities for learning to deal with rejection. That is a lesson that is blatantly absent in most kids activities these days.

Are stage moms any different from parents who are paying for expensive extra training for their young athletes or intensive tutoring and SAT prep classes to plot a course to the Ivys? Maybe we’re worried about child actors ending up like Lindsay Lohan (see the latest news)? Comment and let us know what you think!

Stay tuned for my Stylemama pic and the skinny on Fashion Week.

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