Raise your kids like rich kids

Most of the time that I’m writing on this blog, I’m relaying to you the daily process I go through of reaffirming in my mind that there is no way I could send my kids to school. Because believe me, if I could somehow justify it in my head, I’d do it in a second.

Last week we hung out in Florida with people who have a lot of money. I did a lot of watching, and (when the weather warmed up enough to take off our winter coats,) I found myself on a deck chair next to a talkative mom, and I chatted.

I talked to a mom who sends her kids to private school where they have five hours of homework a night, and so much homework in the summer that kids can’t go to camp. And she was telling me that she’s starting to think all the homework is just to cater to the parents’ insecurities about their kids being special enough.

That sounded true to me. And I almost wanted to be her friend. At least long enough to see if I thought her kids were really learning anything remarkable.

Part of my pool reading was New York Magazine. It’s my favorite magazine in the whole world. This week there’s an interview with someone who helps kids get into elite schools. This is a huge business in NYC, and I need to tell you that the final crushing blow for me deciding that I couldn’t raise kids in NYC was when I wrote a check for $10,000 to a consultant to get my kid into preschool.

So anyway, here’s what the consultant in New York Magazine had to say about parents who are nuts about their kids’ education: “Most people go where their parents went. And their parents went to good schools. Or they know the board of trustees. I have a lot of kids who are hooked up. Really hooked up. It’s outrageous! The rule of thumb for themost part: The more money a parent has, the less intense they are. They know their kid will be okay.”

I want to project this onto my kid: You will be okay.

The big difference between rich kids and regular kids is a sense that they really will be okay. Yes, wealth can be damaging—I have had friends with trust funds that killed their initiative — but generally speaking, teaching your kids that they will be okay just being who they are seems like a good thing to me. And people who don’t do that are projecting fear onto their kids.

The Conrad hotel and resort group  advertises with the slogan: The luxury of being yourself.

That is a luxury. It’s a luxury to hear your parents tell you that you can choose what to learn because you have good judgment. It’s a luxury to have all day to play and explore and be a kid instead of go to a classroom and be taught to follow orders.

When I was a child, people would read Robert Louis Stevenson’s poems to me. He describes a childhood where he is free to explore—trees and people and books—and a governess that follows him around making sure he learns some manners and doesn’t hurt himself. That seems like the perfect model for childhood education, and it’s something only secure parents can do. It requires so much faith in the child’s innate ability to succeed as an adult.

Today this isn’t the purview of only the rich. But it seems scary to take the leap that kids who do not have friends on the board of trustees at Yale or Harvard can also be fine if the parents relax about schooling and  believe in their kids.



9 replies
  1. Tanya
    Tanya says:

    I have to tell you that I thoroughly enjoy the insights about homeschooling that you share with us, your reader. It’s reaffirming to me that other parents think about similar issues. This trust in our kids that they’ll be OK and then imparting that message on them is a difficult one – not because I don’t believe it, I do with my whole heart, but because at every turn we are bombarded by people and society who do not believe children will be okay if their lives and their education are not heavily controlled. It is difficult to not get caught in that web, and I worry that my voice, my message to my child that he’ll be okay and thrive will get drowned out by society’s message that he’s not good enough until some wisdom in the name of education is imparted on them.

    Did you see the movie, Race to Nowhere? I cried for those parents and those children. Not because they didn’t get into their prized school of choice that was seemingly their only ticket to a decent education and therefore a decent life… but because they actually believed that nonsense, that their whole life depended on it. So very sad that they had no faith and belief in themselves and their children and that they were passing that message onto their kids. I think it was one of the saddest movies I’ve ever seen.

  2. MichaelG
    MichaelG says:

    IMO, it’s not just about schooling, but also about expectations. If your kids grow up in an environment where they see accomplished people who work towards goals, they will want to do that too.

    If they grew up a world where no one works and everyone thinks work is a chore, they are not magically going to become self-starters just because they were allowed to explore as kids.

    If your kids want to fit in to their local social group, what will they end up doing?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      The part about how the kids are influenced by who they are surrounded by — this really hits home to me.

      I am raising my kids in a community that is completely different, culturally, from the community in which I grew up. It’s very hard to watch. I see now that we see possibilities by watching people around us. I think a lot about how to show my kids more possibiliities than what exist in our community.


  3. karelys
    karelys says:

    i could NEVER put my finger on it. my husband grew up in middle class (which is super rich in comparison to my poor upbringing in mexico).

    he believes that you can just get over it. but it’s not true. i didn’t have fun for most of my life because i thought it was good to sacrifice all fun stuff now in order to be okay later.

    my parents wanted us to be ourselves but we never got the sense we’d be okay.

  4. Christina @Interest-Led Learning
    Christina @Interest-Led Learning says:

    This was so well said, Penelope. Kids that are free to grow up free to learn the way that’s best for them, and to learn those things that interest them and that they find facinating, those kids are truly elite. Not many people in the world experience true freedom – especially not children. It’s not just giving your kids the speech that they can be whatever they want to be in life, it’s giving them the tools they need to really take care of themselves in the future and succeed – the ability to think for themselves, direct their own days, be creative and innovative, and how to come up with problems to solve instead of solving other people’s problems to name a few.

  5. Robert
    Robert says:

    “You will be okay…” A powerful message to children who have so many insecurities driven by pop culture, media, peer pressure, and self doubt. Thanks for a great post!

  6. Julie
    Julie says:

    I went to school with a bunch of legacy kids. Only the ones that never actually accomplished anything of worth on their own had the attitude that “I’m intrinsically OK”; the epitome of that attitude was actually the rich kids that would wind up doing drugs, majoring in liberal arts, and not even attending class (they were basically subsidizing actually hard working kid’s education). And you know what – they WERE OK, but their lives were a DETRIMENT rather than a boon for their family legacy; a couple generations of unmotivated offspring like that and a family can reduce their inheritance extremely quickly. On the other note, there are also incredibly motivated wealthy kids, whose parents put a lot of pressure on them to perform, maintain, and grow their wealth; they lived in a hyper-competitive, dog-eat dog mentality, and usually were on a variety of “light” drugs – like Ritalin – which they took not because they had ADD, but because it helped give them a study advantage. The gift shop at the school had a plentiful supply of “No Doze” as well. In short, I don’t think it actually matters if you have a false sense of confidence or not; reality brings out your strengths and weaknesses – regardless your status in life, you can only add to your life by taking a rigorous approach to establishing your self worth. It’s true that hard work does not necessarily equate success in America today, however, an uncultivated mind can lead to problems even for those who should have a distinct advantage. It can only help to have a good work ethic and a reasonable lack of unwarranted self-esteem in terms of honing yourself to be the best you can be. While I love my child, I would never want to tell them to just relax and love themselves for who they are; I LOVE them for who they are – I know the world won’t: I expect them to make consistent, daily efforts. Smart ones too.

  7. TKL
    TKL says:

    I actually don’t believe this has to do with wealth, exactly – though it’s true that it removes some barriers. (Thinking Maslov’s Hierarchy of Needs.) I also think we can’t minimize the importance of guidance for morals, work ethic, etc. However, I do agree with the fundamental premise. But I also think that’s only one part.

    Giving children the luxury to discover and be who they are is only the beginning. Next is for the adults to show that the discovery is valuable. Ultimately we hold on to and invest in and protect that which we’ve learned to value. Thus by being able to discover who they are and have that be deemed valuable means they aren’t as likely to give it up when times get tough or when they feel insecure. Comfort does not always mean confident. It does, however, give one something concrete to hold on to.

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