As much as I can barely stomach admitting it, my girls love to watch TLC’s Toddlers & Tiaras. TLC offers family-friendly fare that we often watch together. I’ll miss Stacy & Clinton telling me What Not to Wear. I loved the way they encouraged women to be confident in who they are made to be. I can even sometimes catch myself with a few tears in my eyes as a bride to be finds just the right dress to make her feel like a princess walking down the aisle on Say Yes to the Dress.
But Toddlers & Tiaras is a bit harder for me to stomach. I’m sorry. Everyone has a preference. Being a teeny-bopper at heart, I love Good Luck Charlie. I’ve sat through and enjoyed many a Chopped, Cupcake Wars, and Say Yes to the Dress (New York – yes, Atlanta – not so much). But enduring a segment of Honey Boo Boo or Toddlers & Tiaras is almost too much for me the minute they run the intro. I can’t imagine what my girls like in these shows. I guess I should be thankful that the kids aren’t sneak-watching shows in need of parental controls, but I can do nothing but cringe when I see fake eyelashes the size of a ruler forced on a squirming 3-year-old.
I more than cringed last week when we saw the “If I Were a Rich Girl” segment. As if parading the girls weren’t enough, the show ended with a Mom Grand Supreme contest. This allowed mothers to, like their girls (and boys), try their hand at pageantry. The episode’s tagline reads:
Traven, 7 and his mother, LaNesia, are back and they are as colorful as ever. Aja, 5 and her ex-beauty queen mother, India, clash when it comes to practicing. Jaidyn, 6 and her mother Tiffany take on Dr. Seuss as a historical figure.
It was the Aja and India “clash” that proved heartbreaking. With only minimal time to focus on her daughter, the mom rushes the child through the motions, fixing costumes, strutting around, blowing kisses, then blaming the little girl who in the end loses and faces the camera fighting tears. “Well, I hope my mom wins,” she musters. Then struggles to watch her mom perform. And win. The title of Grand Supreme mom, crown upon her head, the mom relishes in her victory while shrugging her daughter’s need to work harder.
Sadness filled the screen when the camera cut to an interview with Aja at the end of the show. She’s crying, not a pathetic whiny-for-show cry, but real sadness as she laments that her mom beat her. Leading viewers to the reality that the pageantry had so much more to do with her mom’s desire to win than anything little Aja might desire. The core of which is love and acceptance.
It made me so mad.
But how far are we from striving to win Grand Supreme Mom ourselves. It might not look like a beauty pageant. It our world it might look like a killer birthday party. Theme set, invitations matched, enviable favors gathered, venue decorated, guest list of a toddler/tween/teen who’s-who set – we make it all Pinteresting and race to look great. It is, after all, a reflection of us.
Kids arrive, serenaded by the party theme’s music that has been re-mixed to include the birthday girl’s name, and are given treats at the get-go. They are herded from activity to activity while moms and dads sip and snack on delectables, murmuring amongst themselves like the Toddlers & Tiara’s judge’s panel. And the anxious Grand Supreme contestant scurries to insure perfection … and happiness … and a stunning visual display. All for a two-year-old.
Okay – so it might be a slight exaggeration (we hope) but know the mark is not too far off. Birthday parties, attendance at cool sporting events, inclusion in the right activities that all work together to gather crowns – are we doing the same thing as that Grand Supreme Mom? And in the process, are we, like her, forgetting about the kid? Or assuming that whatever might make us happy or be the supreme success is the same for them?
All that little Aja desired was love and acceptance. Since pageants rock her mom’s world, she was happy to sign up – or be signed up. At the end of the show, a shell of a girl, one struggling to be seen by her mother, revealed desperate heartache – not victory.
I watched and wondered – where might I be doing the same with my kids.
Kay Wyma is the author of Cleaning House: A Mom’s Twelve-Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement. She shares the hilarity and the tears that come with raising adolescents & teens on her blog The Moat … because who wants to walk that road alone.