Betsy Franco is an ordinary mom who raised her children the best way she knew how. This meant that she did what she could to build her children’s budding curiosity and intelligence, while steering them on a productive path. Yet she’s also not like most moms because she doesn’t believe in pushing her kids toward achievement. Rather she allowed them the space to explore, learn, and find out about the world in their own way.
Betsy is also the mother of this year’s Academy Award host James Franco.
Betsy raised three boys, James, the oldest who is not only the Oscar host but is also nominated for Best Actor for his portrayal of hiker Aron Ralston in 127 Hours. Her middle son Tom is an artist, sculptor, and illustrator, and her youngest Dave is an actor who has appeared on the television show Scrubs. She is also a children’s book writer who has authored over 80 books.
The one question all of us moms and dads of young kids would like to know is how she inspired James to be so successful academically and in the entertainment world. He currently holds 4 Master’s degrees and has attended colleges such as Columbia University, NYU, and UCLA. He attended graduate school at Columbia and NYU simultaneously, and is currently earning his doctorate at Yale. He didn’t even take a break from classes this week before the Oscars.
Professionally, he is an actor, artist, writer, director, filmmaker and more. It seems like there isn’t anything he can’t do. (There are rumors he will also sing on Sunday!)
So the burning question for Betsy is how did she raise a child with such exuberance for life? She explains in an Oprah.com interview:
The boys were extremely curious and got into everything. They were risk takers. Time has passed, and people are putting their kids in more and more activities, at least in Palo Alto, [California]. I didn’t do that. They had time on their hands to play games. James made up all sort of games when Tom was a little baby. He would make up games where they were riding in the car to a cookie store. He would pile all the toys into Tom’s little seat that went back and forth then lay down underneath and let Tom see his face every time he went by. As they grew up, they played sports because I felt like they better be running around, but they didn’t do that many activities, so they were at home playing games a lot.
Betsy says she always had a lot of books around the house and each child was allowed to keep a junk box and fill it with anything they found on the street. “They could put anything in there that seems like it could be tossable, but meant something to them. That was very, very cool. They felt good about that. Tom now makes sculptures out of found objects.”
In today’s world of back-to-back activities, where moms are sometimes made to feel less than, if their child does not have a fully packed schedule every day of the week, Betsy’s philosophy of more creative play and less structured activity seems right on target. It has certainly worked in producing creative, curious, and productive adults in the Franco family.
I tend to struggle with structured activities because I don’t feel that having a packed schedule after school is always the best thing. Kids are often tired after school and just want to hang out, read, relax, or play with friends. I take my kids’ lead instead of them taking mine, which means if I find an activity that I think they will enjoy, I’ll discuss it with them and see if they want join. If they don’t, I don’t push.
Over the years they have participated in many things, gymnastics, baseball, softball, origami, chess, and others but it has never been more than one activity at a time. The overabundance of non-stop activity has left childhood lost a bit. Sometimes kids need to just be and let their minds wander so their creativity can blossom. Sometimes we need to let just be kids. They will survive without following a stringent schedule, and they might even thrive, like Betsy’s kids did.
Sunday night she will be another proud mom watching the fruits of her labor play out on stage for the entire world to see, but she’ll also be busy herself. This year the moms of the nominees joined together to form the Oscar Mominees. On Twitter, these moms will tweet about happenings right up to Oscar time and offer live tweets from the ceremony itself.