Stage Dad: ‘Talking to Other Parents’: Part One by Glenn Cook

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Balance is something every parent wants. Vertigo is what we can get, if we allow it to happen.

Glenn Cook.

That’s true for all parents, but the juggling act that parents of child performers face is a constant threat to your family’s emotional and social equilibrium. We know and hear the horror stories about families that implode on each other; what we don’t hear about are those that do everything they can to help their child succeed, often at great personal and financial sacrifice.

Recently, I surveyed more than 20 parents whose opinions I value and trust about the challenges they face, what they wish they had known, dealing with family and sibling issues, and advice for parents of children interested in pursuing performing as a profession. I learned very quickly that, as one parent said, each experience is “different for every family unit and for every parent and child.”

Some parents were performers themselves growing up; others, like us, sort of fell into this with limited understanding and a smaller safety net. In my survey, I asked for candid answers; in return, I promised not to use their names if they wished.

Over the next three columns, let’s take a look at what they had to say.

Striking the balance between performing, school work, and family/social obligations was the overwhelming concern for most parents. But they also found the situation could be financially and professionally challenging for them, as they struggle to balance actor child, family, and work requirements. One parent said the monthly cost for training – private and semi-private acting, singing, and dancing classes – can be prohibitive, especially if you don’t live in New York or Los Angeles.

If you do live in one of those cities, barring whole family relocation, you likely will have to deal with long periods of separation. That’s something we encountered while splitting time between Northern Virginia and New York.

“Maintaining the family structure over a long distance is the biggest challenge,” said one parent. “There are many weeks where the only contact you have with your spouse and child is over the phone. … The second biggest challenge is financial. Although my son made enough money to live in New York while he was working, there wasn’t a whole lot left over each month. Living expenses away from home are steep.”

That parent, a teacher, was fortunate because he had time off during the year and summers as well. But others don’t have the same flexibility.

“It is very difficult to work with a young performer,” said one parent, whose daughter has been on two national tours. “I couldn’t work while on the road. I lost my health insurance because I wasn’t working, too.

‘Stage Dad’ illustration by Judy Stadt.

Another working parent said “logistics” were her biggest challenge, especially with her son performing on tour.

“Just trying to keep up with his schedule, my schedule, my other kids’ schedules, grocery shopping, airline tickets, and babysitting is probably the most challenging,” she said. “Because I keep a full time job while he does this, and I am not willing/ready to just let him be without a parent for more than two weeks, it is just a ton of juggling and patching things together. “

For parents who have been performers themselves, it requires a conscious effort not to live through your kids. “The biggest challenge for me is staying calm and separate from my daughter’s ups and downs,” said one. “I have to be a support and involved, yet remember it is her life, not mine.”

Coming next: What other parents wish they had known…

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One Response to Stage Dad: ‘Talking to Other Parents’: Part One by Glenn Cook

  1. Sean Patrick Brennan September 7, 2012 at 3:17 pm #

    It’ll be years before the kids fully realize the amount of sacrifices you and the parents have been making, both with Billy Elliot and other shows and projects. That’s why I really loved reading the conclusion to this first part of the series, the reminder that your own struggles are not part of their journey. So selfless, and so true. I am forever in awe at how much time, effort and love you all put in for your kids. I will forever “be inspired” by the parents of child performers!