I have the good fortune to live in an affluent neighborhood. I also have the misfortune to live in an affluent neighborhood.
I say misfortune because of the impact that affluence can have on some kids. I’ve already had one daughter go through middle and high school. I have another that will be in middle school before my wife and I know it.
Today’s kids (particularly girls, it seems) have high-end tastes. I remember being at lunch in the school cafeteria one day as one of my daughter’s classmates showed off her new Kate Spade purse that cost over $400. (How do I know it cost over $400? The little girl told me, of course.)
I wouldn’t buy my kid a $400 purse if doing so would bring back the nickel Coke but that’s just me. If this little girl’s parents are willing to drop that much dough on their little girl, that’s their business.
But it becomes something of my business when this girl’s attitudes rub off on my own daughter. It’s my business when my interactions with this little girl reveal that she doesn’t feel the need to say “please,” “thank you,” “yes, sir” or “no sir.” In fact, she has never been taught to show adults any respect at all.
Raising kids is hard enough. I don’t need the further complication of explaining to mine that $400 purses aren’t appropriate at age seven. What happens when she’s eight, does she get a Cartier watch? I don’t need the aggravation of retaking previously conquered ground by having to remind my kid that rolling her eyes at me and saying ‘whatever’ when I tell her something isn’t appropriate, no matter how often she’s seen her little schoolmate do it.
My daughter’s little friend is entitled to $400 purses because, from her perspective, her possession of high end consumer goods is the natural order of the universe. She has absolutely no idea of how many hours the average parent has to work in order to have an extra $400 lying around for the purpose of buying his or her daughter a purse.
Nor does she have any idea that when she receives her Kate Spade purse, she should be grateful. It’s not her fault. We’re not born being grateful. We are naturally selfish. Gratitude is something that has to be taught. By parents.
As I have said before, raising kids is a tough job. It is not always fun or rewarding. Done correctly it eats into leisure time and the pursuit of hobbies. Having kids means (or should mean) that you and your spouse can’t just jump on a web special for a long weekend in St. Croix. Raising children will often result in a severe career compromise for one or another of the parents.
Unless, of course, you choose the “Parenting by Proxy” model as apparently the parents of my daughter’s Kate Spade-carrying schoolmate have done. Under the Parenting by Proxy model, one hires an employee to deal with the kids. She (it’s almost always a she) either lives in the house or arrives early enough to tend to getting the kids some breakfast and delivered to school. She picks them up after school, gets them to soccer and ballet and gymnastics and then home where she again feeds them. (That way the parents can eat dinner without being “disturbed” by the kids.)
The Parenting by Proxy model is incomplete absent a gold or better American Express card. The card is used to purchase the favor of one’s children by the frequent provision of expensive playthings. Such purchases serve the further purpose of assuaging parental guilt born of the fact that the nanny sees more of the parents’ children than the parents do and the parents like it that way.
And thus this little girl goes through life possessed of the very finest of everything except for manners and social grace and respect for her elders.
I don’t have a quarrel with parents who both pursue careers and in so doing, hire someone to help with the children. I have a huge quarrel with parents who abdicate their roles as examples, disciplinarians and mentors, vainly substituting material goods for time, attention and ongoing parental engagement.
Show me the kid who is short on the latest fashions but long on committed parents and I’ll show you a wealthy kid. The consistent application of committed parenting is worth more to the child you created than anything your platinum AMEX will buy.
Raise you children correctly and they will grow up to be sufficiently successful as to buy whatever they want with the money they have rightfully earned. And because you taught them that nice things are to be earned, they’ll appreciate what they have. (And they will be possessed of sufficient good grace so as to not volunteer how much the thing cost.)
And here’s the biggest payoff.
In your dotage, when your kids are grown and raising kids of their own, they’ll love you for having cared enough to put away the plastic and to have taken the time and trouble to be their mom and dad. They’ll pass that love and commitment to your grandkids.
And the best part of you will live on.