An actor’s life is uniquely adventurous. Add “parent” to the list of duties and it can become daunting. Fortunately, there are tools to help performers who are parents or caregivers. To consolidate these tips and resources into a one-stop-shop for members, the Los Angeles MOVE L.A. Committee organized an honest discussion about these challenges and solutions in its panel Balancing One of Life’s Most Challenging Roles: Parenting and Caregiving, held at SAG-AFTRA Plaza on Oct. 24.
The panel consisted of SAG-AFTRA MOVE L.A. Committee Chair Susie Duff; members Alvin Chea, Assaf Cohen, Wendy Braun and Harriet Fraser; and Motion Picture and Television Fund Chief Development Officer Courteney Bailey. It was moderated by member Jen Faith Brown.
The conversation began with panelists discussing challenges such as finances, guilt and maintaining regular schedules. While the crowd’s reactions confirmed familiarity with the sentiment, panelists emphasized that such issues are dealt with by parents and caregivers across all types of careers. Clearly, performers face unique challenges, but the good news is that any obstacle you can identify, you can manage!
A great place to begin is learning how to handle overwhelming feelings. Instead of losing your cool, stop and identify what issue is driving the emotion and make a plan to overcome it. For example, between your dependents’ schedules and your own jobs, time management can be a source of stress and frustration. But, if managed optimally, developing a schedule will reduce stress. A shared family calendar in a main location of the home or on mobile devices can keep family members on the same page. Just like brushing your teeth before bed, make reviewing the calendar part of your daily routine.
An additional source of stress is finding affordable child care. Fortunately, within certain areas of the industry such as music and commercial gigs, bringing a child to set has become more acceptable, although one should always ask. When this isn’t an option, performers have resources such as the MPTF Samuel Goldwyn Childcare Center that allows performers to drop off children, elderly dependents and adults with disabilities for daycare while they make their audition. To learn more about MPTF’s services call (323) 634-3866. Furthermore, online communities and sites like peachheadfamilies.com and the Facebook pages of L.A. Actor Parents and L.A. Parents and Caregivers are additional resources created for and by L.A. parents specifically to share advice, find support and help with childcare, particularly for auditions.
Finally, perhaps the most common setback for parent and caregiving performers is guilt. The reality is that dependents can see when you are affected by it. Performers should remind themselves that the responsibility, resilience and confidence they display in balancing their career pursuits and caring for their dependents is admirable. Their experiences and strength can be used to teach dependents fundamental life lessons. Moreover, sharing your life and challenges with dependents fosters a mutual respect. Like acting, parenting isn’t an easy road, but the rewards are endless. Don’t let frustration and manageable obstacles ruin the journey for you and your family. Slow down, plan and enjoy the ride. Here are some great takeaways to help in the meantime.
Tips and Resources for Parent and Caregiving Performers
> Saying no to roles you otherwise wouldn’t have: If taking a role requires more resources (i.e., money for a babysitter) than it gives back in pay, wait until the kids are older. Don’t worry, they’ll still be making productions.
> Stand up for yourself on set: You’re in charge, so don’t be afraid! For instance, you have a prior commitment, but you are asked to work longer hours, don’t be afraid to politely ask if they may accommodate you and explain the limit on your time.
> Bringing the kids to work (with a nanny): In some areas of work, the practice has become much more accepted. Commercials and music gigs are more laid back, whereas in theater, it’s still frowned upon. Always ask first.
> Last-minute child care:
- MPTF’s Samuel Goldwyn Childcare Center is open from 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. and includes drop-in hours for performers. Financial assistance is available for applicable members. Click here or call (323) 634-3866 to learn more.
- Peachheadfamilies.com was started in 1997 and is touted as the “original support and resource group for families in Los Angeles.” Its community provides support and a place for families and parents to meet each other. On the website you can get great first-hand advice, information and assistance. Click here to learn more.
- L.A. Actor Parents and L.A. Parents and Caregivers Facebook resource pages are made by and for parents and are also great places to get first-hand advice, recommendations and support. On the L.A. Actor Parents page, fellow performers can make connections to help each other with childcare for last-minute auditions.
- Care.com is the world’s largest online family care platform and offers an array of services that enable families to find, manage and pay for housekeeping and care for children, seniors and pets. Click here to learn more.
Take Care of Yourself!
> Reaching out for help: The UCLA Psychology Clinic is a great source for counseling and provides individualized, scientifically supported therapy for adults, children and adolescents at a low cost sliding scale based on monthly gross income and number of dependents. For individualized meetings, fees range from $30–150 an hour and, for group therapy, fees range from $5–10 per session. Click here or call (310) 825-2305 for more information.
> Make time for you: Having a hard time following the advice to take time in the morning to meditate? Ha! What time? Instead, find pockets of time for yourself such as pulling over on the way home for 10 minutes or going into the house to “reset” your focus from working to parenting or vice versa.
> Dodge the guilt and appreciate your time: Beating yourself up about challenges doesn’t help, and dependents see it.
- Kids grow up very quickly, and one day they won’t be clamoring for your attention while you’re trying to record an audition. Enjoy this time while you have it, and pause the recorder for 20 minutes to spend time with them.
- And take as many pictures and videos as you can. You’ll be glad you did.
> Private school is insanely expensive, but public school is free.
- Smaller towns like Riverside, Santa Clarita and surrounding L.A. areas can provide smaller classrooms and better individualized attention at lower living costs and allow you the ability to drive in when needed. Don’t rule out relocation as an option — and save money for college!
> Crisis Financial Aid: Don’t freak out if you’ve lost your job. MPTF and The Actor’s Fund can help with financial aid in times of crisis for qualifying performers. Click here to learn more about MPTF Crisis Support or call (323) 634-3888. To learn more about The Actor’s Fund’s Financial Assistance programs click here or call (888) 825-0911.
> Elderly dependents and adults with disabilities daycare: Among its long list of services, MPTF works with UCLA Health to support performers, parents of performers over 55, and older children and adults with disabilities at an adult daycare campus with drop-off service. Visit MPTF.com or call (323) 634-3866 to learn more.
> Healthy homes: You are in charge of the energy you bring into the home. Try to keep it a haven for peace and comfort. When problems arise, discuss the issues outside. This will keep the home a place of good energy.
> Everyone makes mistakes: When you feel like you’re about to lose your cool, take a moment to excuse yourself to a place where you can take a moment to breathe. Identify the issues and make a plan to discuss them. Remember, issues that can be identified can be managed.
- Keep a shared calendar in a central part of your home or digitally on phones. (Hint: Color-coding is a must.) Everyone will be clued in on each other’s schedules and locations. Review the next day’s appointments and needs each night before bed, so you face as few surprises as possible.
- Meals together is easier said than done. To make it less daunting, prepare large portions of easy-to-serve meals for a head start to lunch and dinner.
- When you do eat together, enforce “tech-free dinners” to promote more socializing and sharing of experiences at the table.
- Have a “share night” to update schedules, errands that need to be handled and special milestones.
- Introducing what you do to your kids is a great way to teach life lessons. Use your career wins and losses to teach kids how to manage the ups and downs of life. When you fall off the horse, get back on. If you need a moment to vent or cry, that’s ok, as long as your emotions don’t hold you back from trying again and pursuing your dreams.
Photo: From left, panelists Alvin Chea, Assaf Cohen and MOVE L.A. Committee Chair Susie Duff listen as Harriet Fraser speaks at the SAG-AFTRA MOVE L.A. parenting panel at SAG-AFTRA Plaza on Oct. 24.
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