Thursday, May 25, 2006

David Brooks: Of Love and Money

David Brooks had an interesting column today which made me think even more about the parental money issues I wrote about yesterday. (Unfortunately the online version is only available to Times Select subscribers, and though I should be eligible since I get home delivery, it's not letting me sign up right now.)
I didn't save my paper, but if I remember correctly, it was basically about the growing problem of educational inequality. Kids from low income families are not only at a disadvantage financially, but in terms of attention. I'm really annoyed that I can't refer to the article now, because I'm not exactly doing it justice here! But it made me think about that love/money connection between parents and children.
I don't think anyone would say that low income parents love their children less than high income parents do (unless they wanted to invite the flame war of the century!) But I'm sure parents at all income levels use money as a way of showing affection, whether they do so consciously or not. And kids who aren't old enough to know better sometimes don't understand why they have fewer toys or less trendy clothes than their friends and probably have sulky moments when they think it's because their parents don't love them. If the parents are affectionate and involved in their kids' lives, it's easy to negate that money=love illusion. But if the parents are never home, or always too tired to get interested in what the kids are doing, it's harder.

"Love" probably isn't the right word for what comes into play when talking about parents' commitment to a child's education. Some families prioritize education and activities for their children and some don't-- that goes across all income levels, but wealthier families are more likely to be part of a culture that does prioritize education. This might be one instance where keeping up with the Joneses is a good thing, at least to some extent.
Back to the friends I referred to in the previous post, who had been left to fend for themselves after the age of 18, I'm sure they wouldn't say their parents didn't love them. They just wanted their parents to be a little more interested in whether they could go to college or not. They didn't want to feel abandoned. In one case, the parents took the view that "hey, a high school degree was good enough for me, so it should be good enough for you." At least, they thought this about their daughter, since she would obviously just get married and have kids and not really need a college education anyway-- yes, even in the 1980s people were still thinking this way! (and some still do today, no doubt.) A smart, curious 18-year old doesn't want to have doors shut in her face that way.

Children want parents to be generous with them-- but not just in financial ways. Sometimes money is just the tip of the iceberg.


Anonymous said...

Great post. Although my Mom earned her college degree, I've pretty much had to fend for myself since graduating high school. It was part of the reason I joined the Army.

mapgirl said...

I agree with you. You speak truth that children want parents to be generous with them, but not just in financial ways. I was greedy and I wanted more time with my parents when I was younger. I spend a lot of time with them right now while one of them rehabilitates, and I really enjoy the quality time. I spent a lot of time with my parents and remember them vividly as young and vital people with energy and vitality. But I still wanted more time with them. I wished they had come to my athletic events and musicals. But they were too busy working so that they could have the resources with which to be financially generous. Isn't that a pip?