I think we have, as a society, become aware of what happens when adolescents and young adults use their words and influence to bully people who are different: whether it’s sexuality, weight, poverty, intelligence, or physical beauty. We have seen the vlogs of kids getting ready to kill themselves, stared in shock at the footage of shooting victims, we have heard the cries of the anorexics.
The “It Gets Better” campaign is a marvelous grassroots effort to assure those that are different that it will, in fact, improve. Each day is its own challenge, and each day is a fresh start. With adulthood comes the power to turn one’s back on the naysayers.
But you know what I don’t hear people talking about much? Parents who bully. Good, loving parents who browbeat the dreams right on out of their kids. I am not talking about parents who hit their kids, neglect their kids, or even verbally abuse their kids. I am talking about parents who are so ruled by fear of risk, by fear of the unknown, by fear of failure, that they attempt to micromanage every decision that their child makes.
In my profession I have the opportunity to encounter all sorts of kids and the parents who create them.
There are the helicopter parents who hover over every moment, the tiger parents who manage every choice, the absent parents who exert no influence whatsoever, the damaged parents who barely limp through their own pain and are not equipped to nurture their offspring, the healthy parents who support and guide their kids but let them make their own choices.
I had a mixture of parents: a mom who was mentally ill and drug addicted and could not be a mother and a dad who was lonely, damaged, and overworked (both have passed).
My husband had the kind who could not bear to let their son be who he was. They love him, I know they do. But his memories are filled with being told what extracurricular activities to participate in, what college to choose, and what major to undertake. The Arts were his true passion and calling. Anyone who has been around him in the last fifteen years knows I am speaking truth. He was good enough to be a professional actor. With the right training, he might have spent a life acting, directing, coaching, or casting. He most certainly could have paid the rent. Browbeaten into submission, he tried the safe route. It has been a difficult path. I have watched him fight depression, addiction, weight, and despair. He has spent his entire life trying to please the two people who should have been cheering him on from the beginning, and I have spent our married life picking up the pieces.
Now we are fighting the same battle on behalf of our children.
I have ever, as a mom, believed that it was my role to help my kids discover who they were created to be, equip them for it, then get out of their way when it was time to stumble on those first uneasy steps to self discovery and adult fulfillment. Rather than watching my children despair as they tried to fit into a mold of someone else’s design, crafted of someone else’s values, I believed they needed the freedom to try new things until they discovered their passions and aptitudes. My task has become to listen to their hearts, teach them to do the same, and show them that fear and failure are inevitable.
Hilary has chosen to get a BFA in Acting and Directing. She’s really good at what she does. She has three nominations, some great roles, and Dean’s List certificates to prove it. I am amazed by her. Will she be an A-List celebrity? Who knows. Probably not. But I do know that she can make a living doing what she loves. Take a look at these statistics from a recent study on the impact of Arts employment in Houston:
“According to the report, 146,625 individuals in the Houston metropolitan statistical area had creative jobs in a creative or non-creative industry, or non-creative jobs in a creative industry, in 2011. That’s more than are employed in the city’s finance and real estate sector, more even than the Texas Medical Center employs…Plus, the median earnings per creative worker are higher in Houston than anywhere else, at $21.58 per hour, which — coupled with great demand (only about half of the $21.93 billion spent on creative goods and services in 2011 was produced and sold locally) — renders the city an ideal spot for creatives.” (Taken from the Houston Arts Alliance, by Whitney Radley)
My daughter is bright and capable. More than that, she is brave. She is brave enough to go to auditions and be told no, then do it again and again. She is hardworking enough to bring people food and drink so she can pay her bills while she starts her career. Most importantly, she knows that if she fails, she will have the utter satisfaction of knowing she tried. She will not spend her entire adulthood grieving over chances never taken. She has parents, a love, and friends who will cheer her on for as long as she needs us.
I think the other ones will be artists as well. We have always known Travis Austin would not follow the typical path of college and 9-5 job. Libby, a member of the All State Theatre cast, is clearly as talented as her sister. She radiates on stage. When she is dancing, it is as though she is transported.
I know Trav and I will hold them when they cry at failure. But we would rather comfort them in failure than watch them chafe at safety.
I just wish their grandparents felt the same, for my kids’ sake, and their dad’s.