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Don’t Call Me "Stage Mom"

My 18-year-old daughter is a singer/songwriter and aspiring pop star. She has been performing in public for the past five years or so, anywhere from school events to established clubs. Of course, along with that comes the assumption that there must be a stage parent or two standing in the wings, shoving that guitar in her hands and pushing her out into the spotlight while they count the days until fame and fortune buys them a beach house in Maui.

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My husband and I usually are there in the wings, but it’s only to support her — and to schlep her gear in from the car. (We are the most underpaid roadies ever.) In reality, she has booked every single one of her shows entirely on her own, through connections she’s made through school, friends and her website. Oh wait, there was that one performance she didn’t arrange herself: Last year she played at a party at the senior center but it was my 93-year-old mom, not me, who made the call and brokered that gig. So if you want to accuse anyone of stage parenting, talk to grandma.

Some find it hard to believe, but there are actually kids out there who love performing, and their lives bear little resemblance to the pressure-cooker dramas you see on reality shows like "Toddlers and Tiaras." For every 5-year-old crying hysterically while being forced to wear a wig and high-heels, there are many who take to the spotlight naturally, seemingly sprung from the womb clutching a microphone and ready for their close-up.

I spoke recently with my friend Amy Anderson, whose daughter Aubrey Anderson-Emmons plays Lily on the ABC series "Modern Family," and as we perused real estate listings in Hawaii and glued rhinestones on our daughters’ stilettos she told me about her 7-year-old’s natural affinity for acting. “Aubrey comes from a family of amateur and professional actors, musicians and comedians, so it's not really that unusual that she expressed interest in performing at an early age,” she said. “Not only does she enjoy acting, dancing and singing, she craves it."

More often than not you’ll find a kid who is on that stage or in front of that camera because they truly want to be there.

“Having been in this business for over 17 years, I was reluctant to even let her try because I know what a struggle the life of an artist can be," Amy continued. "So I certainly didn't push her into it. For her, it's a true love that happens to also be a job. She has no aspirations of fame and actually doesn't like being recognized by strangers.”

Amy went on to say that kids who pursue creative endeavors are often unfairly judged, unlike their counterparts who excel in sports. “I have a feeling if there were a 7-year-old soccer phenom who could hold her own on a professional field, the world would celebrate that kid — not feel sorry for the child and criticize her mother as a child-abusing, money-hungry monster,” she pointed out. “But that is the overall attitude toward child actors and their parents.”

This attitude was evident when teenage heavy-metal band Unlocking the Truth recently signed a $1.7 million contract with Sony Music, and comments on news stories and blogs hurled criticism that the kids were being exploited and pushed too hard by their parents. But in interviews, the three friends — 13-year-olds Malcolm Brickhouse and Alec Atkins and 12-year-old Jarad Dawkins — come across as normal, well-adjusted middle-schoolers who truly love making music and happen to have a lot of ambition. “The record deal is awesome,” Jarad told ABC News. “This is something we always wanted."

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So the next time you hear about a young person pursuing their dreams, don’t be quick to assume that there’s an overbearing stage parent pulling the puppet strings. More often than not you’ll find a kid who truly loves acting or singing or playing their guitar and is on that stage or in front of that camera because they truly want to be there. And if you look into the wings you might see me — beaming with pride before I start gathering up all the gear to load into the car.

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