I just returned from a quick trip to LA where I was honored to receive the Judy and Hilary Swank Award for Parenting given by the Actors Fund Looking Ahead Program, which serves young actors and their parents. When I was called and told I would be receiving this award, I thought every parent should receive this award in recognition of the hard but rewarding job of being a parent! So I share this award with all parents!!! The first thing of course I did was to cry! This award recognizes a parent who has raised a young actor who has gone on to become an exceptional adult actor and all around wonderful person, which my 35 year old daughter certainly is!! I wanted to share with you my acceptance speech. Though geared to raising a child heading towards a professional career as an actor, I think it applies to raising any child with a passion whether it be sports or music, or art or leadership or academics or community service or for being a great friend and all around wonderful kid! I hope you enjoy!! Here goes...
When Ari was a little girl, we introduced her to an array of activities, but what captured her heart was her first grade play. She had found her passion at age 6. There was no question that we were in 100%. Finding our role in all of this wasn’t always easy. We had no roadmap and we had to figure out how to manage and balance our own lives with the demands of Ari’s busy career.
We took our cues from Ari. There were boundaries, unspoken but abided by. We were NOT her managers, her directors, or her agents; We were her parents. We were her uber drivers, chaperones, food service workers, appointment secretaries, and her most ardent supporters. We did not coach her on scripts, give feedback on her performances, or tell her what project she should do; that was not what she needed from us. She had her own mind, and eventually, “her people” for that. What we could do, as her parents, was to give her the freedom, opportunity and commitment to follow her dream.
Sometimes we were faced with decisions and dilemmas that challenged our roles as parents. Like when Ari was 13, she was lucky enough to be cast as the fool in an all women’s Shakespeare company production of King Lear. Ari was the only child and non-equity performer. They were to be in residence at Smith College for the summer and then go on the road for several weeks with the show. Because Ari was not equity, there was no place for me, both literally and figuratively. But we figured it out. I slept on the floor of her tiny room and stayed out of the way until and unless Ari needed me. As the cast became a family and Ari felt ready to take on some independence, I took my leave. All that she learned that summer as a 13 year old is still very important to her. Just 2 years ago the company reunited in Scotland to perform together. Relationships and the work families she has become a part of had their beginnings in these early experiences, and I am so glad I didn’t let my own anxiety get the best of me.
When Ari was 15 she was in a production at the Huntington Theater in Boston, where we live. As often was the case, Ari was again the youngest in the cast by many years. Again she became part of her stage family. Her stage brother then 25 most especially. After the production ended, Michael invited Ari to New York City to stay with him and his then boyfriend. So I put her on the train, and off she went. My friends were aghast. "You’re letting her travel alone on the train?" "You’re letting her stay with two 25-year-old men, what are you thinking?" Here’s what I was thinking,. My only child now has a brother, an amazing man who loves and cares about her enough to invite her into his life. And now here we are 20 years later, Michael, here in the audience, is one of my most cherished friends, and is still, and will be forever, Ari’s family. Now she is Auntie Ari as Michael and Brian’s family has grown by two beautiful babies. The Power of relationship!!
In the summer before Ari’s senior year in high school we were in LA auditioning, and she landed a test for a pilot to shoot immediately. I really didn’t understand and was clueless that this meant she would need to sign a contract in 24 hours that might determine her life for the next 5 years. I felt strongly that you only get one senior year of high school. Ari was engaged in and loved her school, had amazing friends, and wanted some college experience. This opportunity could potentially erase this year of that life. Ultimately I had to make the call, Ari WOULD be going back for her senior year- no pilot! I felt no ambivalence about my decision. But I understood completely and my heart broke for the pain and disappointment Ari was feeling. I think in the end the lesson Ari took away from this experience was to really understand what is most important in life, and sometimes that means making really hard decisions.
I have been so inspired by those kinds of hard decisions Ari now makes about her career and her life. She has stayed really true to herself about the work and the art she wants to put out into the world, even when it is not the most popular decision. If even a little bit of this came from that hard day almost 20 years ago in LA, I will be grateful.
This is a tough business, so much of what an actor has to cope with are decisions made about them beyond their control. As a parent this can feel absolutely excruciating, unfair and yes, sometimes even cruel. Our instinct is to want to protect our children and fix it! Over the years I have learned from Ari that what she needs from me in these moments is not advice, but instead a safe and loving space to be understood, with the freedom to experience and express her feelings. This lesson has probably been the hardest (still working on it) but honestly it is the most valuable and powerful one for me as both a mother and a professional.