My child, who is very lucky, also works hard. He is a series regular on a Disney Channel show named Bizaardvark; to be a Disney kid is a dream come true for him. There are so many perks, too many to name, associated with this fortunate situation.
However, creating a good show that the target audience of children wants to watch and become invested in, requires a lot of sweat equity from the whole show production team, including the child actors. At the end of the day, this is a business. My child often works 50+ hours with a combination of table reads, rehearsals, run throughs, and filming, interwoven with a full-time school program. This is in addition to other premieres, promotions, and activities he may have in a given week. Since there is no job that is 100% joy and fanfare, there is a certain amount of ‘suck it up’ to be endured by both the set parent and the sometimes-very-weary child. This is to be expected.
So, I decided to compile some tips which may leave set parents better able to enjoy and savor the joyous moments, while minimizing the drama or overwhelmed sensation that inevitably creeps in. And, as a mom of one of these kids, trying to ensure there is some semblance of balance between working in this dream scenario and having a childhood.
Boundaries and Secrets, Korean style
Keep some boundaries people! I lived with my family in Seoul, South Korea for four years and made some good Korean friends. While I admire many aspects of Korean women’s friendships, one particular aspect stands out -- a RESPECT FOR PERSONAL BOUNDARIES (I’m not yelling it; I just think it’s important J). I’ll try to illustrate with a few examples. If and when I bring up an issue, sympathetic ears listen, and kind words are offered to me by my friends. For example, if my child is struggling academically in kindergarten (a true crisis in Korea), my friend would not say, “I heard your child has no stars on the reading chart. Does he have ADD? You should have him tested. You and your husband are smart so I’m sure it’s not that.” A Korean friend does not butt in with personal, invasive questions that might embarrass me (unless that is her mission, but if she is my friend, this would never be the case).
Or, if we are sitting having lunch and our friend walks in, looking very pretty, actually radiant, we notice. But a Korean friend would never say, “Pretty soon we’re going to have to wear construction hard hats to all of our lunches with all the work you’re having done!” The Korean friend (and if I were there as well) would merely remark how amazing our friend looks and hope maybe she will share some of her secrets. These scenarios directly transfer onto a set where you spend 3-4 years of your life, endless hours a day, with people who are thrown into your life because of the show.
Americans can by nature, be very different. Americans often feel entitled to ask any personal questions they want or comment on your situation. This quest for information is often telling about the questioner, the national enquirer, of the set and everyone on the set has to work together to keep this person from interviewing or interrogating others. A lack of personal boundaries causes problems on a set where everyone spends so much time together because people still want and need to have some healthy boundaries. I try to take a page from my Korean friendship book and not ask about personal situations. But I’m always here to listen should they want to discuss it.
Every set has secrets. Keep them. I’m not talking about covering up bullying or sexual harassment. Do not keep secrets if someone is being harmed in any way but rather, don’t air everyone’s dirty laundry. Every set, like every home, has things they are trying to work through, struggles they are facing, things that are messy when the curtain gets pulled back. It could be a difficult child, a different learner, puberty moodiness, marital strife, an eating disorder; the possibilities are really endless. Everyone is working through something or working on themselves in some way, and, people deserve some privacy.
My Korean friend Yun told me that too many times an American woman she meets for the first time will tell her about her children and their issues, her marriage (or terrible divorce), her weight, health and every other detail in the first few hours. Don’t be that person. I think of a hanging scale. Korean women tend to exchange like amounts of information with each other, and they don’t bring up a situation where their friend will ‘lose face’ or feel uncomfortable. Yun told me when I first moved to Seoul, “Don’t be like a typical American and give away all your personal information. And if a Korean is barraging you with questions but not offering any information about herself, it’s a power play. She will walk away knowing all about you, your kids, your husband, and, your house and life while you know nothing; this gives her the power.” While I don’t want to come up with grand calculations or over analyze every scenario, the overall idea of handling boundaries and secrets Korean-style on any set is useful.
Equally important is to be a very good listener. If my set buddy brings something up and wants to talk, I’m all ears and empathy, ready to vent or offer advice as appropriate, whatever she needs. I’m very selective about who I confide in as well. A friendship on the set, like a great sauce, simmers over time and becomes real and lasting. Over time, our set did that really well. Respected that people need boundaries and that some set secrets are best kept, and we had a great set atmosphere overall.
Have a great day. Part Three of Survival Tips for Set Parents is coming soon!
With Aloha, Eileen