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Celebrity parenting: the new spectator sport

Our obsession with famous kids evolves ... with an easy grading curve
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

By now, we've all been bludgeoned with the joyous news: Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes welcomed a baby girl into the world! The proud parents will now enjoy a grace period of sorts — a time for well wishes and unmitigated congratulations, and a temporary cease-fire when it comes to criticism of their parenting methods.

Soon, however, I imagine we’re going to need to ask some hard questions: Did Tom’s overzealous home sonogramming leave baby a little … off?  How soon is too soon for driving  lessons? Or a spin on the handlebars of Daddy’s motorcycle? What are the moral implications of hiring another non-celebrity baby to test out Suri’s high chair?

Based on the clamor over Britney and Kevin’s misadventures in child-rearing, their new reported bundle of joy on the way and the recent spate of high-profile celebrity births, I predict that Extreme Celebrity Parent Judging will sweep the nation, replacing Extreme Celebrity Pregnancy Conjecturing as the great American pastime.

But how to judge celebrity parents fairly?  Even the toughest critic would have to admit they face a unique set of challenges in addition to those already faced by a normal parent.

In defense of celebrity parents: I have a huge suspicion that most of us were dropped as children. Maybe not from a great height, or sustaining any real damage, but dropped.  Or left alone with a mean cat. Or, at the very least, were the last one to be picked up from school once when Mom lost track of time at the Junior League.  The difference is this: Our parents were free to inflict minor damages upon us in relative privacy, with only future teachers, significant others and employers to hypothesize years later as to what may have happened.

Celebrity kids don’t have that option.  One tabloid cover blaring “skull fracture,” and for the rest of his life Sean Preston Federline-Spears will have to endure knowing looks every time he pushes a door clearly labeled “pull.” No doubt his presumably forthcoming brother or sister will face similar glances, depending on what publicly scrutinized mishaps befall Britney's second.When you take into account the unique challenges of childrearing in a media fishbowl, and the grim trail blazed by celebrity children of the not-so-distant past (we’re talking about a world wherein Melissa Rivers is a best-case scenario) it seems only fair to grade celebrity parents on a heavily curved scale, one that  starts with “adequate,” moves towards “merely traumatizing” and ends with “utterly doomed.”

Tier 1: Raising Functional Human Beings
Not all celebrity children turn out to be drug addicts, adult-film actors/enthusiasts or dilettantes, spending their parents’ money while pursuing nothing loftier than a reality TV cameo or a high score on “Vice City.”  (Or whatever it is the kids are playing these days.)  Some actually seem to be borderline normal, contributing human beings.

Tier 1 Members: As far as I can tell, both Ryan Philippe and Reese Witherspoon and Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith have done nothing to damage their respective broods.

Tier 1 Products: Liv Tyler, Kate Hudson (sketchy rock star husband notwithstanding), various smiley “It” girls of the past, many normal people you’ve never heard of — and, if they remain well-adjusted, you probably never will.

Tier 2:  Your Run-of-the-Mill Train Wreck
Tier 2 parents are the most likely to be splashed across the tabloids. You almost have to admire their public-relations genius. Tier 2 parents are adept at walking a fine line — making the public fear for their child’s safety just enough to snag some coverage, but not so much that anyone will drive to Malibu and attempt a mercy kidnapping. Tier 2 parents take the baby to clubs because “he really likes the music.”  They subject him to low-carb baby food and obscure holistic remedies. Confounded by the numerous buckles on car seats, they tell the kid to “hold on tight.”

In later years, Tier 2s buy their children provocative clothing and encourage them to consider a rotating cast of backup dancers, groupies and experimental artists to be their “aunts” and “uncles.”

Tier 2 Members: Britney and Kevin (God love ya), Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne and the dynamic parenting duo of Cher and Gregg Allman (that Elijah Blue is one wacky kid).

Tier 2 Products: Nicole Richie, Kimberly Stewart and, of course, the irrepressible Carney Wilson.

Tier 3: Your Children Are Doomed
Tier 3 parents are the reason the bar on celebrity parenting is set so very low.  These parents alternately dangle their babies over balconies or dress them up in head-to-toe bodysuits made of felt. Tier 3 parents approach hungry crocodiles with an infant in one hand and a dead chicken in the other.  Tier 3 parents call Valium “mother’s little helper,” and mean it. 

At some point in your life you will encounter a Tier 3 child on a dark street and, for no reason other than a gut feeling, you will cross to the other side.

Tier 3 Members: Michael Jackson, “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin and a Tier 3 so classic it feels like a cheap shot: Judy Garland.

Tier 3 Products: Coincidence? Best buddies Michael Jackson and Liza “with a Z” Minnelli. 

It’s too soon to tell how the latest crop of celebrity children will turn out.  But if Extreme Celebrity Parent Judging is the craze it promises to be, we can expect every scrape, lost tooth and diaper rash not only to be heavily documented, but obsessively scrutinized.  (Not to mention the exposés in years to come when, if history is any indication, celebrity children come of a certain age, steal cars, marry in Vegas, and launch ill-advised music careers.)

So, welcome home, baby Suri.  Baby Brangelina, we’ll keep the light on for you.  I’m sure you’ll both be just fine. And if you’re not? Just listen closely: That sound you hear is a thousand child-development experts, calling their agents and begging to talk about it on daytime television.

Paige Ferrari is a freelance writer in New York City. She blogs at .