What’s the most unfair advantage a kid can have?

Quora is a fascinating site because good questions are so hard to ask, and Quora is an aggregator of good questions.

In the past I have loved questions like, What does it feel like to have a trophy wife?. Recently, Victoria Kirk sent me the link to the question: What’s the single most unfair advantage?

Predictably, many of the answers involved politicized answers like “food and water”. But the answer that got voted up the most, by far, was “nurturing parents”.

At first I thought, “Good. I’m that. My kids are fine.”

Then the question sat with me a little longer, and I started to wonder: what is it to be a nurturing parent?  I am engaged with my son enough to know him intimately — what books to buy him (Dance Class #3: African Folk Dance Fever), and what clothes he’d want to wear (he loves the band One Direction.) But predictably, most people do not connect consumerism with nurturing.

Wikipedia says a nurturing parent is one that provides protection for a kid to go off on his or her own and explore. This seems like unschooling. So  of course I didn’t bother looking for more definitions of a nurturing parent.

Then I realized it’s time with the parents. Surely not every parent who spends a lot of time with their kid is nurturing. But you need to spend a lot of time with your kid to be nurturing. Which begs the question, “What should you be doing with that time?” And I think the Wikipedia definition answers that: parents should give the kids freedom to explore.

So I’m going to say that it used to be that people thought the unfair advantage was top-tier schooling. That’s why we have a huge controversy in the courts about affirmative action, and we have schools like Harvard guaranteeing everyone enough money to go there if they get in.

But at this point in our society’s evolution, education is not an unfair advantage so much as a waste of time. And the unfair advantage is being born to parents who know that.

7 replies
  1. Mark Kenski
    Mark Kenski says:

    A little while back you wrote about a similar insight: “It’s such basic, non-controversial advice, and it says something huge about the world that this is the bleeding edge of education reform.”

    I agree with the point you’re making in this post. But isn’t it amazing that such a basic, non-controversial approach to something as basic and universal as parenting could be a thing that gives a kid any advantage, let alone an unfair advantage?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Yah. Mark. You’re right. And you make me think about how a direct result of the feminist movement was to devalue time with kids. As if the only way to justify women going to work was to say kids don’t need time with parents.

      Society is really invested in the idea that quantity doesn’t matter when it comes to time with kids. And I see now that it’s all wrapped up in school, too. Because if we have kids in school all day then we can’t also value time with them.


  2. BenK
    BenK says:

    I’ll have to disagree that a top-tier university education is a waste of time; rather, it can provide a nurturing environment at a degree of specialization that parents cannot; at a point in development when more independance is required; in the context of potential peers. It represents an extension of the advantage.

    Historically, many children (ok, boys) became apprentices and then journeymen at some point; a nurturing master might be that same sort of advantage that I am describing in the elite university.

  3. A.
    A. says:

    A parent’s time is an true unfair advantage. Nice answer.

    Have you heard this comment before? If you ask a kid how to spell love, the (metaphorical) answer is T-I-M-E.

    Supposedly, it’s a common expression, but I read it recently in a book on meeting a kid’s emotional needs (what your child needs from you by Coulson).

  4. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    I love this answer Penelope! It’s going to be tough for the workaholics to swallow but I have to agree. Time for kids (or ANY relationship that you value) is the unfair advantage.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      You’re right that the time thing applies to all relationships! If parents model for kids that good relationships are worth putting time into, then the kids do that with all the relationships they value.

      So much of adult life is peppered with language about being too busy to pay attention to relationships. I think it’s a result of raising kids in a world where we devalue time with kids in order to send kids to school.


  5. MoniqueWS
    MoniqueWS says:

    My dear friend Renee wrote this recently about unschooling. I think this is the *unfair* advantage. Time without connection is just time.
    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
    Unschooling involves thousands of moments of connection. Small touches, looking into your child’s eyes, (or if they don’t like that intense focused attention) look at the thing they have been gazing at with as much interest as they have. Asking questions or being quiet at the right moments. Stepping in when needed and stepping back when not. Listening to the words and the tone, reading between the lines. But not reading too much into things. Being there.

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