Dealing With Problem Parents

September 30, 2008

If you’re like any of us, you’ve probably had a blowout with your mom in the dressing room over a ripped costume, or you’ve yelled at your dad for arriving late to a competition and missing your solo. Your teen years are tough enough—the last thing you need is a pesky parent to add to the stress. “My mom always complains about having to help at competitions and about the other studio moms,” says Bri, 13, from Sayreville, NJ. “My parents make remarks about extra classes and summer intensives. They don’t like paying for them or taking me there.” Whether your parents are totally overbearing or just don’t care about your dance career, we’ve got some feud-free solutions.

“I don’t care how tired you are, get onstage. Do you really want to blow this? This trophy is important to us…er…you.”
—The Pushy Parent

The problem:
You adore dancing but worry that your parents love it (and the medals) more. Remember Maureen’s overbearing mother in Center Stage? She was constantly harassing her daughter about why her leaps weren’t high enough and telling her who she should be partnered with. Maureen finally grew so exhausted from the pressure that she developed an eating disorder and quit dancing.

How to deal:
Talk to—don’t yell at—your parents. “Tell your mom and dad, ‘I appreciate your involvement. You obviously care a lot about this, but I’m getting to the age where I need to figure this stuff out by myself. You have to trust me now,’” advises sports and dance psychologist Dr. Harlene Goldschmidt, PhD. Thank your parents for their support, but ask them gently to back off.

“I can’t believe Cindy’s kid got the lead; did you see how awful she looks? Those pirouettes are pathetic! And I heard Debbie’s daughter gained 12 pounds over the summer!”
—The Gossiper

The problem:
Your mom (or dad) drops you off at the studio for class but instead of leaving, she sticks around—to gossip. So while you’re sweating your way through across-the-floor combinations, she’s giving other studio moms the rundown on who doesn’t look so hot and who isn’t solo-worthy. Not only is she running her mouth about trivial matters that don’t affect either of you, it’s embarrassing and makes you look bad.

How to deal:
Your mom’s gossiping is distracting you from perfecting your port de bras, so let her know that her presence is taking your focus away from your dancing. “Say that you need space to work,” Dr. Goldschmidt explains, “and that her presence and her gossiping are complicating things for you.”

“Good luck at your competition this weekend, sweetie. Can you get a ride with Chelsea’s dad? I’m busy.”
—The Uninvolved Parent

The problem:
Your parents have no problem shelling out dough for classes and costumes, but when it comes to showing up for recitals and competitions, their attendance is subpar. Maybe mom and dad are working overtime to pay for additional ballet classes, or you’ve got siblings who need attention as well. Alternately, your parents may show up for the events, but sit in the audience reading the newspaper or talking on their cell phones.

How to deal:
There are lots of reasons why your parents may not be 100 percent behind you, so think of some possibilities before approaching them. Are they going through a divorce? Is there a new baby in the family? Do they understand just how meaningful dance is to you? And on a purely logistical level, are you telling them when your performances are, or do you just assume they know?

First, let your parents know how much you appreciate what they are doing for you. Dr. Goldschmidt advises pinpointing a special upcoming event and telling them how important it is to you that they come. “Say, ‘I know you can’t make it to every recital, but this date (write it down!) is when all the parents come and bring flowers. I know you’re stressed, but it would mean the world to me if you came.’” The reality is that sometimes parents just don’t get it. “Explain how important dancing is to you,” Dr. Goldschmidt says. “Instead of talking down to them, educate them.”

“You want to take how many classes this year? And try out for the competition team? No way.”
—The Unsupportive Parent

The problem: Whether your parents don’t want to pay for classes or don’t support your dance dreams in general, not having them cheer you on can be a huge blow. Your mom and dad might be against your desire to dance, but it’s also possible that the problem is deeper—they may not have the financial resources to support such an expensive dream ($130 for a costume is a lot!) or may be working multiple jobs, which doesn’t leave them much free time to attend recitals.

How to deal:
Don’t yell or give your parents the silent treatment. Instead, put your feelings into words. Explain why you want to try out and how it would better your life if you made the team. You also have to be willing to compromise with mom and dad (groan, we know). If your parents are sick of driving you to class and worry that with additional activities it’ll mean more driving (and more gas!) for them, strike up a deal—if they drive you to class, you’ll get a ride home with a friend. Talk to your studio owner about becoming a teacher’s assistant in exchange for a tuition break and, if you can, get a weekend job so you can help pay for classes.

Dr. Goldschmidt’s Bottom Line:
“It takes a while to find the right words to have a mature dialogue with your parents. It’s like choreographing! You find the steps that are right for you, then you make a performance for someone else.”