A new “Worst Mother in America” is crowned every week. Currently wearing the tiara of disapproval: June Shannon, mother of “Toddlers & Tiaras” breakout star Alana Thompson, a.k.a. Honey Boo Boo, whose spinoff show, “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” premiered Aug. 8 on TLC.
The new show covers both Alana’s forays into the hair-spray-lacquered pageant circuit and the rural Georgia family’s decidedly less glamorous downtime activities: four-wheeling through the mud, telling fart jokes and eating cheese puffs.
Six-year-old Alana may be the star, but June is the lightning rod. In online tirades, outraged viewers criticize her for giving her daughter “Go-Go Juice” (Mountain Dew plus Red Bull) to energize her for a pageant, stage-mothering her midriff-flaunting dance routines (“Work it, Smoochie!”; “Shake your butt, baby!”), and indulging her first-grader’s catchphrases, e.g. the oft-quoted: “A dolla makes me holla, Honey Boo Boo.”
FOR THE RECORD:
Here Comes Honey Boo Boo”: A commentary in the Aug. 19 Calendar section about the TLC reality show “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” said that June Shannon, the mother of the show’s 6-year-old star, Alana Thompson, lives with her husband, “Sugar Bear.” They are not married. Also, a quote from Shannon referring to another daughter as Erin should have said Anna. —
But the ritual stoning of June Shannon is getting a little ludicrous.
Anderson Cooper decked her out for his show in a frilly pink pageant gown matching Alana’s and asked June if wearing that outfit — she weighs, by the way, more than 300 pounds — made her “rethink” dressing her daughter that way. Apparently impossible to fluster, she said it was “fun.” He called her, rather patronizingly, a “good sport.”
Dr. Drew all but feigned seizures when he tasted Go-Go Juice on his show, “Lifechangers.” “I’m starting to sweat. I can’t speak. My tongue is getting thick,” he whined. Maybe red-staters really are made of stronger stuff. My toddler cousins in Texas knock back Dr Pepper before breakfast and don’t need a producer to peel them off the floor.
“‘Go-Go Juice’ Pushing Pageant Mom Should Go Straight to Jail” is a real Café Mom blog post. If we’re going to lock up every parent who lets his or her young children drink caffeinated beverages, then the organic, locavore, sugar-free households of Berkeley and the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn are going to be pretty packed with foster kids. (There is no small amount of class snobbery in the parent-shaming you see lobbed at Shannon.)
Excepting cases of genuine abuse, I always cringe when I hear someone else’s parenting attacked. We all do some things well and screw up other things, and we’ll never please everyone with parenting choices we make. For me, a good parent gives their children shelter, food and unconditional love. The details are subject to personal preference, resources available and who your kid happens to be.
You do see parents on “Toddlers & Tiaras” whose love for their children seems conditional at best. The Sterlings’ Grimms'-fairy-tale-esque mom makes her twin daughters compete against each other, knowing that one — the sweet and shy (and totally pretty!) AshLynn — is going to lose every time. Her mother is shameless in preferring the more outgoing BreAnne, and it’s painful to watch. (Move to New York in 10 years, AshLynn: You’ll have a better life in the long run than your glossy sibling!)
But I don’t feel that way watching “Honey Boo Boo.” Shannon clearly cares for her family and takes good care of it. She manages her household carefully, calling herself the “coupon queen.” This house has enough paper towels to last through the Rapture. More important, the stay-at-home matriarch seems to genuinely enjoy her chalk-miner husband, nicknamed “Sugar Bear,” and to love all her daughters for who they are. The kids have what they need. They seem secure and happy. What exactly is the problem here?
“For me, to be a good parent is to be someone your kids can come talk to,” Shannon said by phone from Georgia. Alana’s older sisters are 12, 15 and 17. The eldest is pregnant on the show; she gave birth this summer to a little girl, Kaitlyn, making Shannon a grandmother at age 32.
“At first, I didn’t want to accept it,” Shannon said. “I thought she was too young. I know how hard it was for me to raise a child on my own.” (She had her first two children at ages 15 and 17, making her happy home even more impressive a feat.) “But I am real proud of Erin. She is going to be graduating this year. She decided to finish high school.... We have to be there to support her. And that’s what we’re doing.”
For Shannon, letting reality-TV cameras into their home was her way of supporting Alana: “She likes cameras. She likes attention. She loves being in the spotlight… As long as she enjoys doing it, we’re going to keep doing it. Whenever she says, ‘Mama, I’m ready to step outside the limelight,’ then we will.”
She’s paying attention to who her child is. Pageants may not be a life I’d want for my child, but there isn’t enough Go-Go Juice in the world to give my child the endurance to spend weekends dressing up in itchy clothes and performing dance routines before judges.
“I wasn’t very close to my family,” Shannon said. “I thought, ‘I will be more open with my kids.’ My kids will tell you, ‘My mama lets us be ourselves.’”
And Alana, she said, is indeed the self-confident, slang-spouting, quasi-maniac you see on TV.
“She is a little spoiled by her sisters and her dad and me because she’s the baby of the family,” Shannon granted, but “you have to let your kids develop into who they are. If you shelter them, you’re holding them back. I let Alana’s personality shine.
“America loves her. People overseas even love her. But no one will ever love her as much as me and her family love her.”
Calhoun is the author of “Instinctive Parenting: Trusting Ourselves to Raise Good Kids.”