I’ve always heard of helicopter parenting and how it can be detrimental but this may be a little over the top. As reported in The New York Times, actress Thora Birch was fired from an Off Broadway production of Dracula because her father allegedly threatened another actor:
The director, Paul Alexander, said the decision had nothing to do with Ms. Birch’s acting abilities, which he praised; she was playing the central female character, Lucy Seward, the love interest of Count Dracula. Mr. Alexander said that Ms. Birch was fired because her father, Jack, had threatened another actor during a rehearsal on Thursday night. Mr. Birch, in an interview, denied making any threat.
Mr. Birch, formerly an actor in pornographic films who is now Ms. Birch’s manager, had attended most rehearsals to provide support and guidance for his daughter. At one point during Thursday’s rehearsal, Mr. Birch confronted an actor who had been working on a scene with Ms. Birch.
We’ve all heard about how helicopter parents are just trying to help their kids, but what’s the right response when their actions cross the line?
It’s a fine line
I’ve always thought that the stories about helicopter parenting were overhyped (dealing with a helicopter spouse is quite underhyped though). I’ve had a couple instances where parents called in asking about their kid (or calling the hiring manager) but it was pretty easy to deal with, and, I didn’t fail to hire someone because their parent called to check on it. In the situations it’s happened to me, the call was easily explainable. I knew the parent or the parent knew someone at the company.
I know some job search and HR experts would cringe at that and I’m certainly not encouraging it. There is a major difference between that and what happened in this case though.
While Ms. Birch’s contract allowed for a bodyguard (and Mr. Birch was fulfilling that role), he certainly went well beyond that. Even if it was, as he claims, just him consulting the other actor, that went beyond his intended duties.
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How to deal with parents
What I thought was very interesting is how the directors and producers approached the situation. I was surprised that they didn’t speak to Mr. Birch directly about the issue or tell him, not Ms. Birch, to leave. Another tactic would have been to speak to Ms. Birch about the situation and explain it and give her some options.
What was clear from the write up was that Ms. Birch’s performance in the job wasn’t compromised by her father’s inappropriate action but she was the one who ended up punished (without an option to remove her father and thus, the problem).
While many who have dealt with unruly parents are probably applauding the action, I can’t help but think there isn’t a better way.
- Approach the parent about the situation. If a parent has crossed the line, the first person you should be talking to is them. Maybe they are acting without their child’s consent. Maybe they don’t understand the impact they are having on their career. In any case, they deserve to be educated about the situation first and get it straight from you.
- Approach the child about the situation. If the parent of an employee (or future employee) is making it difficult for you to employ them and talking to the parent hasn’t worked, it is time to talk the kid who is going to be impacted. Be blunt with them about the impact the parent is making on the workplace and ask if there is anything you can do to assist as employer.
- Take action (maybe). If the parent won’t stop and the child won’t do anything to step in, then the decision might be easier. But if the child has tried to make an honest effort to stop the action from their parent and they still persist, what’s the right action? A restraining order? And how do you communicate that situation to fellow employees?
Have you dealt with a parent that crossed the line before? What actions have you taken?