When Melissa Francis was eight years old, she won the role of
lifetime: playing Cassandra Cooper Ingalls, the little girl who was adopted
with her brother (played by young Jason Bateman) by the Ingalls family on the
world’s most famous primetime soap opera, Little House on the Prairie. Despite
her age, she was already a veteran actress, living a charmed life, moving from
one Hollywood set to the next. But behind the scenes, her success was fueled by
the pride, pressure, and sometimes grinding cruelty of her stage mother, as
fame and a mother’s ambition pushed her older sister deeper into the shadows.
Diary of a Stage Mother’s Daughter is a
fascinating account of life as a child star in the 1980s, and also a startling
tale of a family under the care of a highly neurotic, dangerously competitive
“tiger mother.” But perhaps most importantly, now that Melissa has two sons of
her own, it’s a meditation on motherhood, and the value of pushing your
children: how hard should you push a child to succeed, and at what point does
your help turn into harm?
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