Q: We have a very talented and driven 13-year-old ballerina who was good enough to dance in the movie “First Position,” but her goals have put a severe financial strain on our family, as well as on our finances.
We see other families rooting for each other and cheering each other on but her four siblings resent the time and attention their sister receives and they never want to attend her competitions or recitals, even when they’re held in our own hometown. In fact, one sibling said, “I hope you lose so we can see more of Mom.” To which the ballerina replied, “If you were as talented and hardworking as I am, I know that Mom and Dad would do the same for you.”
Apparently she doesn’t know that we’re tapped out. We do so much for our 13-year-old and spend so much money on her that we have nothing left to give to the other children even if they needed it.
Given the resentment that my daughter’s ballet-o-mania has created, is there any way to restore harmony in our family?
A: Children with special talents are blessed, but when their talents involve a stage, a ball or a horse, these blessings can almost seem like a curse. The cost of toe shoes, soccer camp and stable fees not only escalate higher and faster than most parents expect, but sometimes their child’s dreams of gold and glamour are too seductive for many mothers and fathers to resist. This, alas, can make their other children feel left out and unimportant and it can tear a family apart.
Don’t fall into this trap. Each one of your children has the right to be heard, the right to be loved and the right to feel special because they belong to you and you belong to them, whether they can dance en pointe or not.
While you want to do whatever you can to help your 13-year-old become a professional ballet dancer one day, you shouldn’t make a big deal about her accomplishments if her siblings are around and you shouldn’t expect them to go to her recitals and competitions either. That’s their decision to make, not yours. The more you encourage their unwilling participation, the longer it will take to heal the wounds of sibling warfare.
Money — or the lack of it — is also an issue for your family and it needs to be addressed. Begin by keeping a record of the money you spend on your daughter’s ballet needs and on her training and then show this report to her each month. A monthly total will help her realize how much her tights, her tutus and her lessons really cost, which should encourage more frugality on her part and perhaps an offer to pay for some of her expenses.
If she doesn’t make that suggestion, however, simply tell her that ballet is as expensive as it is demanding and that you expect her to help out as much as she can. She is old enough to babysit on Saturday nights, to walk dogs after school, and to tell the old lady next door that she will be glad to scan her photographs into a computer when she has time (for a fee) and to help her identify and organize her pictures, too.
You may think these jobs are more than a 13-year-old can do (or should do) but if your daughter is old enough to think about a career in the arts, she is old enough to start paying for a few of her expenses. If she can do that, she — and you — will know that she has the courage and the confidence to dance, day after day, when she grows up, no matter how much her feet hurt and her muscles ache; to go to auditions, and collect rejections, week after week; and to live on grits and Ramen noodles for a long, long time.
And if she doesn’t have the stuffing she needs to be a ballerina? She may as well find out now, rather than later, because her disappointment will be much greater when she’s grown.
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