Lindsay Lohan and Warren Buffett appear to have little in common. But when two news reports came out on the same day, their stories became inextricably linked in my mind. Lohan finally got some tough love from a judge who sentenced her to 90 days in prison, while Warren Buffett talked about the best life lesson he ever learned. “There is no power on earth like unconditional love,” he told CNN reporter Willow Bay. “And I think that if you offered that to your child, I mean, you’re 90 percent of the way home.”
Many people have weighed in on why child star Lohan followed a path of self-destruction, abusing alcohol and drugs, struggling in a bad relationship, and alienating even some of her strongest supporters along the way. She fits the stereotype of the child star succeeding too soon without the inner resources to withstand the pressure. Buffett, however, has managed to identify a major reason Lohan went off track. Somewhere along the line, the love her parents offered—whether intentional or not—became conditional on the success she achieved as an actress.
When Lindsay was at the peak of her fame, raking in box office gold with hits like The Parent Trap, and Freaky Friday, her mother Dina was constantly by her side. The two often partied together, sharing the same famous friends. During these formative young adolescent and teen years, Lindsay needed a parent more than a friend. Yet while Lindsay was in the spotlight, for good reasons back then, her mother appeared only too eager to bask in that reflected glow. Now that Lindsay’s career is in shambles (one assumes her resources are not what they used to be), where is the support and love, unconditional love, she should be receiving from Dina and her father, Michael? Divorced, the two have never seen eye-to-eye on what Lindsay needs. Dina continues to deny that Lindsay has an addiction problem, while Michael issues his fatherly advice through the press. Neither approach has helped.
Buffett was adamant pointing out that unconditional love is not the same as uncritical love. A parent who isn’t willing to discipline a child, to rein in bad behavior, does the child a disservice. Here, again, the Lohans failed miserably. It’s tough to discipline a child who has become the family’s breadwinner, whose coattails are now big enough to bring along younger siblings who also can become performers. At the first sign of trouble, Lindsay needed a time out, time away from the movie set, the clubs, the hangers-on, the paparazzi, eager to capture each misstep. But taking her away from all that meant also forfeiting her income.
Most parents are not raising performers or superstars. Yet how many parents become invested in their child’s success? How many parents transmit the message—intentional or not—that their love rests on whether the child gets into Harvard? A child needs to know that a parent’s love is not fickle, based on achievements. He or she needs to feel that unconditional love.
Actually, Buffett’s advice is as old as the Bible. The father greeted his prodigal son with open arms, even after the young man had squandered away the fortune he was given. We can only hope that after her three months in prison, Lindsay will receive the same welcome.
Charlene Giannetti is the co-author with Margaret Sagarese of eight books for parents of young adolescents, including, The Roller Coast Years: Raising Your Child Through the Maddening Yet Magical Middle Schools Years (Broadway Books).