Guest Author - Lori Bradley
Most television shows today, particularly reality TV shows, are geared towards promoting stereotypes of mothers as super mom super heroes and childfree people are virtually invisible. If present, childfree women and men are chiding for not having kids and relentlessly questioned about their choices.
I'm amazed when I find a television show with a positive portrayal of a childfree person, or one in a featured role. So, I was pleased to happen upon the Dance Moms show airing on Lifetime Channel after Project Runway. The title certainly doesn't suggest that this is in any sense a childfree-friendly show. Yet, it features a formidable, professional dance teacher, Abby Lee Miller, who does not have children of her own.
Abby Lee is sharp, large, outspoken and childfree - an unusual female type in television. And, clearly, the producers and writers of this show seek to make her an unsympathetic subject. Sadly, they seem to be striving at every turn to make her appear as a ridiculous, temperamental, over-the-top, and sociopath.
But, Abby prevails. Where the mothers in this show seem shrewish, overprotective, childish and brittle, the teacher remains steady as a rock. She is focused on one thing and one thing only - making professional dancers out of the seemingly spoiled and whiny children.
The show would be compelling if it featured only about Abby Lee and her students, but the show is only marginally watchable in it's current state. The shrill mothers take center stage while attention is diverted away from the professional development of the dance students to the squabbles and jealousies of so many other mommy dramas. The most interesting aspect of the show is the dignity and professionalism Abby Lee maintains while surrounded by women who seem intent on dressing and acting like their kids.
Along the way, she gives these kids valuable life lessons the moms aren't willing or able to impart, for instance: You are not imminently precious - whine, stay home sick, take a day off - someone will always be there to replace you at your task and; Success takes hard work, hard work is often painful, and even with the experience of great pain you may not succeed but the work itself is rewarding and worth the effort.
Abby seems harsh at times, but she refuses to mollycoddle her young pupils in the way the mothers want. The moms lurk around the dance studio or retreat to box seats in a glassed in area from which they can observe their daughters sweating and struggling over the arduous, repetitious dance moves.
The mothers screech and cry when they feel their daughters are being pushed too hard and don't restrain from abusing and berating the teacher. On the first show one mom turned to another and said, "Abby doesn’t have a mothering bone in her body."
Clearly meant to be the ultimate insult, I thought that remark highly complementary in the sense that Abby recognizes the separation of teaching and mothering and respects the fact that children need to spend some time in educational environments that are free from parental nurturing in order to grow and thrive.
These types of learning environments are becoming increasingly rare as teachers are often encouraged to be substitute parents - unconditionally supportive and sympathetic rather than able to impart a tough work ethic and prepare kids for the realities of the rough competition involved in academic, business, artistic, or athletic accomplishment.
As much as the mothers berate her, they run towards Abby, surround her, and swarm around her like hungry flies on a doughnut. She clearly has something they need and want desperately. They treat her as if she were their own mother and hang on her every word and judgment of their children's performances. They take all comments to heart since the mothers are clearly living out their lives, hopes and dance dreams through their talented daughters.
And, while the Dance Moms scripting and editing clearly seeks to turn Abby into an outrageous villain, she maintains her dignity, doesn't apologize for not having kids of her own, or succumb to the notion that having her own kids will make her a better teacher. She instead appears to be a highly focused, extremely serious professional, with clear goals that don't involve mothering but do allow her to give a gift to future generations of her own talent to those willing to work hard enough to receive it. In short, Abby Lee is a role model to which childfree people can aspire.