13 Celebs Who Were Their Families' Main Breadwinners As Literal Children

I think we can probably all agree that it should never be a child's job to financially support their entire family. Unfortunately, this sometimes happens, and many of the most well-known instances happen in Hollywood.

Here are 13 child stars who opened up about being the breadwinners of their families at such a young age:

1.When Zendaya decided she wanted to be an actor, her mom stayed in Oakland and worked two jobs to support the family, while her dad quit his job and moved to LA with her. However, as Zendaya grew more successful, she became the family breadwinner. In 2024, she told British Vogue, "I'm almost going through my angsty teenager phase now because I didn't really have the time to do it before. I felt like I was thrust into a very adult position: I was becoming the breadwinner of my family very early, and there was a lot of role-reversal happening, and just kind of becoming grown, really."

Zendaya, in patterned jacket over bright top, with wavy hair, on "Shake It Up"
Disney Channel / Via Disney+

"Now, when I have these moments in my career – like, my first time leading a film that's actually going to be in a theatre – I feel like I shrink, and I can't enjoy all the things that are happening to me, because I'm like this [she balls up her fist]. I'm very tense, and I think that I carry that from being a kid and never really having an opportunity to just try shit. And I wish I went to school," she said.

2.In her memoir Sorry Not Sorry, Naya Rivera said that, growing up, her family often faced financial issues because of her dad's spending habits. After losing his IT job in 2001, he couldn't find work for three years. She wrote, "As Dad's stint of unemployment dragged on, I became the only one in the family who had any money...I didn't have millions — more like tens of thousands — in my Coogan account, but these were dire times. There was literally no money coming in at all, so over the next few years, my mom and I made two court visits to request a withdrawal from my account. I'd miss the first few hours of class, and we'd go to court and stand in front of a judge to petition for permission."

very young Naya as Gwendolyn sitting on a kitchen counter talking to Steve Urkel on "Family Matters"
Walt Disney Television Photo Arc / ABC

She continued, "Your honor,' my mom would say, 'this is my daughter and she has X amount of money in an account that I protect, but recently our family has fallen on hard times. We would like to withdraw $2,000 from the account to cover us for the next month. My husband is currently looking for work, and I have two other children to take care of.' The judge would listen, and then ask me if I was okay with the idea. I always said yes."

Withdrawing from her Coogan account wasn't the only way Naya provided for her family. She said, "Because I'd been a working actor, I was also eligible to receive unemployment though I was still a minor. This brought in another $700 every two weeks, in checks made out to me that my parents cashed, so for about three years, from the time I was 15 until I was a senior in high school, I was almost always financially helping my family in some way...I felt like it wasn't just my career riding on every audition, but potentially the roof over my family's head."

3.On Call Her Daddy in 2024, JoJo Siwa said, "My parents thought when I turned 18, I was gonna get my Coogan account money, take all of my money, and have it all be mine...I was like, 'I can give you so much reassurance, but I will never do that.' That's always been a fear of theirs, always has been. Just because the opportunity of me leaving them high and dry was right there. People have done it before. Child stars have done it before, but I would never do that to my family."

JoJo Siwa in a classroom setting, wearing a signature bow, gesturing with her finger raised
JoJo Siwa Entertainment / Via youtube.com

"Today my mom was like, 'I just want to say thank you for never basically kicking us to the curb. Thank you for buying us this new house. Thank you for letting us remodel it. Thank you for keeping us in your bubble,'" she said.

4.When Sydney Sweeney was about 11 or 12, her family moved to LA so she could pursue acting. However, they ended up losing a lot, filing bankruptcy, and even losing their family home back in Washington. So, to help make ends meet, she worked as a Universal Studios tour guide, cleaned bathrooms restaurants, and babysat. In 2023, she told Women's Health, "It was hard because they were supporting my dream, and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I didn’t want to fail them."

Sydney in a dress and blazer with a backpack in a school scene from "Kickin' It"
Disney XD / Via Disney+

"No matter how long it took, I was going to be in a TV show or a movie, and I wasn't going to stop until something happened."

She also said that once she found success as an actor, she bought back her old family home for her parents.

5.After winning the talent show New Faces as a teenager, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power actor Lenny Henry became "the family breadwinner" overnight. In 2012, he told Yorkshire Live, "Which you don't really want to be when you're just 17, but I took it on because I love my family."

Young Lenny in a light jacket, looking surprised
TV Times / TV Times via Getty Images

"I could buy them a new fridge and pay for the house to be redecorated," he said.

6.By first grade, Jodie Foster — the youngest in her family — was the main breadwinner for her mom and three siblings. In 2024, she told the Atlantic, "I was it. There was no other income besides me."

YoungJodie in braids and a checkered dress with a polka-dot scarf outdoors in a scene from "Napoleon and Samantha"
Walt Disney Productions / Courtesy Everett Collection

7.In her 2023 Hulu documentary Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields, Brooke Shields said that, growing up, her mom/manager would tell her things like, "If we get this job, we don't have to live in our little apartment anymore" and, "If we get this job, we can go buy a new car."

Brooke Shields in a scene from "Pretty Baby," holding a doll, wearing a straw hat
Paramount / courtesy Everett Collection

Reflecting on her mother's experience with alcoholism, she also said, "I felt such a responsibility to keep her alive. My life depended on it, so I thought. You know, you just keep the peace....You never know what to expect with an alcoholic. It wasn't abusive, but it was emotionally abusive because I felt sort of abandoned every time she wasn't herself."

8.In 2017, Bella Thorne told the Happy Sad Confused podcast, "I didn't want to audition for Shake It Up! I literally said in my audition, 'I don't sing. I don't dance. I'm basically tone-deaf, and I'm not funny. So I don't know why I'm here.' And everybody just started laughing. They all thought it was a joke...[But] we were about to live physically on the street if I didn't have that role."

Bella as Cene with layered hair, wearing a detailed bomber jacket and a lips necklace in a scene from "Shake It Up"
Disney Channel / Via Disney+

She continued, "We were living off Stouffer's coupons, and that's all we had to eat every day. That may not sound like a big deal to everybody, but when you're a single mom raising four kids with debt and you have nothing to your name, it's fucking shitty."

9.In 2022, Keke Palmer told the LA Times, "Ultimately, what happened is that it just hit a point where my dad could no longer do a job because if he did a job, then there would be nobody to take care of my older sister and my younger siblings because my mom was always with me. So it was like, all of our roles were switched. I became the financial breadwinner because my career was bringing in the most money, and my parents wanted to support me, but they couldn't have their own jobs because their own jobs would not even allow them to really be able to sustain a stable household."

Keke as True Jackson in sleeveless top with bow, smiling in front of an elevator in a scene from "True Jackson VP"
Nickelodeon / Via Paramount+

She continued, "So everybody's positions were flipped upside down, which is why some years after that, I did start to feel pressure. I started to realize that I was the financial breadwinner and that if I didn't have a job, who would have a job? Or how could my parents have a job? Or how could we sustain the same lifestyle even if they did have a job? Because I was making the kind of money that many people never make. It put us in a crazy position."

10.In a since-deleted Tumblr audio clip from a few years ago, Cole Sprouse reportedly said, "My brother [Dylan] and I were put into acting when we were 8 months old by our mother because we needed money. I never made the decision to join the arts or acting specifically. And so it was never really my passion."

Dylan and Cole standing together in a scene from "The Suite Life of Zack and Cody"
Disney Channel / Via Disney+

Then, during a 2023 appearance on Call Her Daddy, he said, "I don't think I've ever talked about this… When my father was given forced custody, we had pretty much lost everything from the youngest parts of our career. That would be Friends and Big Daddy. My mother was an incredibly wonderful and artistic woman, but she was financially the most irresponsible woman ever."

He also said that, while their dad initially wanted them to be "normal kids" after the divorce, he ultimately decided keeping Dylan and Cole in acting was necessary to take care of the family financially.

11.When Jena Malone was 14, she sought emancipation from her mom and sued her on accusations that she'd wasted more than $1 million of Jena's earnings. In 2003, Jena told Index Magazine, "Financially I had come to a sink or swim situation. I ran into some strange tax problems, and the only way out of them was to get to my trust fund."

young Jena in a long-sleeved t-shirt in a scene from "Stepmom"
Columbia Pictures / courtesy Everett Collection

She also said, "Well, I wanted to be legally responsible for myself. I wanted to sign my own contracts. If a mistake was made, I would be accountable, and I would learn from it. Unfortunately it's not as easy as it sounds. It was a nine-month process of proving my mental and financial stability...Actually, [my mom and I] have a better relationship now than ever before. As with any change, you learn a lot. You see things more truthfully."

12.In a 2019 blog post reflecting on fifth grade, Wil Wheaton said, "I know that, by this time in my life, I had been telling my mother that I didn't want to go on auditions or be an actor. I remember telling her, almost every day, 'I just want to be a kid,' and I remember her dismissing that. She constantly gaslighted me about how I really did want to be an actor. She was so manipulative about it. She would tell me how selfish I was because she'd sacrificed her own career to support mine."

Wesley Crusher from Star Trek sitting at a table, smiling, in character attire
Paramount Television / Courtesy: Everett Collection

He continued, "Please note for the record that when I was SEVEN FUCKING YEARS OLD, I did not say, 'Mother, please abandon your tremendously successful acting career so that I may have one of my own.' Please also note that, as I got older, my only request, ever, was to please let me be a kid and stop making me work. Until I ended contact with them, they gaslighted me about this whenever I brought it up."

13.And finally, on a 2021 episode of their podcast 4D with Demi Lovato featuring Drew Barrymore, Demi Lovato said, "I noticed that when I came into the spotlight at a young age and then was the breadwinner, like you said, there wasn't a dossier, there wasn't a manual for my parents to read, and it [would] say, 'Here's what to do to raise a child star.' They didn't get that. So when they would try to ground me at 17, I would say, 'I pay the bills!' And I cringe now when I think about that attitude, but...when the world is putting you on a pedestal, you kind of think that you can do no wrong."

in a scene from "Camp Rock," Demi singing onstage to an audience, spotlighted, wearing a casual top with microphone in hand
Disney Channel / Via Disney+

She continued, "As I've gotten older, I see my parents just as big kids themselves."

Drew replied, "Well, I was going to say, I don't think it's the world and the pedestal; I think it's the parent-child dynamic that gets completely reversed. And no wonder you won't take an order from an authority figure who is no longer an authority figure because you've now reduced them down with finances and responsibilities."