What do rich parents do that poor parents don’t?

My older son went on a trip with Melissa. It was so exciting to watch them leave because they always do amazing things while they’re together. But I couldn’t help thinking, while I was dropping them off at the airport, that my kids are growing up like rich kids. It’s the last thing I expected after moving to rural Wisconsin.

The reason they are growing up like rich kids is not so much the money (he could have gone on a driving trip with Melissa and had the same advantages,) but because of my mentality that I trust him to be smart and interesting and to make a life from that. And I don’t trust school.

I think a lot about the difference between how rich people think about education and how everyone else thinks about education. So I was interested to read that rich people worry less about their kids getting into dangerous situations online than poor parents do.

I am convinced that, in general, parents who have self-confidence in their own ability to navigate the world display confidence in their children’s abilities as well. This seems like a good thing. Rich parents raise kids to think that being themselves is a great thing to be.

It also seems like a bad thing to assume your child is incapable. Jared Diamond’s book The World Until Yesterday shows that throughout human history families have given kids much more freedom and much more responsibility. Jennifer Senior has collected wide ranging data to show that the more we infantilize teens the more depressed they get. And it stunts their moral and emotional development.

It makes sense to me that people who feel secure financially would feel secure in the world, and would raise their kids to feel secure in the world.

So what can you do? Recognize that how many rich people raise their kids is insightful.

1. Rich parents don’t focus on well-roundedness. We are not in 16th century Italy. Today well roundedness is too easily accessible to everyone. Today specialization is what rich people want for their kids.

2. Rich parents don’t run their lives around school calendars. Rich families go to schools that allow families to put their own schedules first. Certainly it’s for selfish reasons, like film schedules  or family vacation but the message this sends to kids is that family time is important for rich kids and secondary for kids who live their lives around a grammar school calendar.

3. Rich parents don’t do academics in the summer. No one ever succeeded in life by doing what everyone else does. Rich people realize that doing more coursework that everyone else is doing is not going to lead to success. Rich kids experience unusual, nonacademic settings in the summer. 

4. Rich parents don’t focus on homework. It’s become clear that rich kids will do fine in life if they don’t do homework and poor kids won’t. (This is consistent with research that poor kids need to be taught to read in school and rich kids don’t.) So rich people don’t need to obsess about homework because rich kids will do fine in life without doing well in school.

What I’m trying to tell you is that it’s a poverty mentality to send your kids to school. The values of school are for people who start at a disadvantage. The US school system is about making things equal for everyone. If you start out on the better side of equal, why would you put your kids in a system designed to reduce their advantage?

When you block your kids from working and playing online, it’s out of fear. Fear that they will not learn enough, or that they will be corrupted, or that they will fall behind. Parents should have much bigger fears about telling their kid to do school instead of something else, even video games. In school the danger is that your the kid will become the same as all the others.

That seems much worse to me.

And don’t tell yourself that it costs a lot of money to raise your kid like a rich kid. It just means having a lot of faith in your kid. Melissa and my son didn’t actually need a lot of money for their trip. They spent the majority of their time hanging out together in Melissa’s apartment. And they both liked that just fine.

34 replies
  1. Jennifa
    Jennifa says:

    If you replaced ‘rich’ with ‘upper class’ and ‘poor’ with ‘lower class’ this post would feel more accurate.

  2. Sheela
    Sheela says:

    Your definitions of rich and poor are, it seems to me, the uber- empowered and the rest of us. When your attitude toward life is ‘The world is my oyster’, you take control over your kids’ educations entirely. At the other end of the spectrum, when you don’t feel any agency at all, you don’t know the names of your kids’ teachers. In between are those who advocate for their kids and sometimes effect little changes, and those of us who pull our kids out but are not ‘rich’ according to the traditional meaning of the word. Nor do we want or need to be.

  3. Jennifa
    Jennifa says:

    This post still feels off to me and I’m trying to figure out why in my head.

    For one thing, I would disagree that poor people do any of the things listed above either. Maybe middle-class or poor immigrant families do, and their kids will turn out ok, maybe not completely fulfilled people with jobs they love, but ok.

    So I finagled my own list:
    1.Rich people take their kids to a variety of places.
    2.Rich people have conversations about world events, the weather, finances…in front of their kids.
    3.Rich people are not afraid for their kids to engage with other adults (poor people tend to be so desperate for someone to love them, they want to control who their kids interact with in fear they will love someone more than them).
    4.Rich people lead by example

    Now I feel better.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I like this list. Thanks. What I like about your list is that it’s actually about being present for kids. All the things rich people do require time with their kids.

      If you apply this analysis to the Matthew Effect (research about why rich kids do well and poor kids don’t) Then, a reason that paying teachers higher wages does not make for a better education for kids is that what kids need to get the advantages of being rich is to have adults who spend one-on-one time interacting with them.


      • marta amaral
        marta amaral says:

        As always, you write as if the US represented the whole world.
        In my country, and in most countries of Southern Europe I know, rich people do not fit into the portrait you draw of the American rich.

        ‘Round here people are rich because they, their father or their grandfather has worked a lot. The landed gentry and all that came to an end about 100 years ago. Most rich people are nouveau riche – they work A LOT, delegate all the family stuff to servants and baby sitters and barely, if ever, spend “quality”, let alone “quantity” time with their kids.

        I wonder who are the rich Americans who fit into your description… Jolie-Pitt? Gates? The 1%?

        Come on, give us some intelectual credit!

    • Kay
      Kay says:

      I think your list is a bit more clear and relevant. I came from a working class family with parents that worked long hours. They feared giving me any real world experiences and only wanted me to focus on good grades because they didn’t really know how successful people became successful. They also tried to shelter me from making friends, because they felt guilty about working so much. Poorer people also tend to have unhealthy co-dependency issues.

      This is the problem with the cycle of poverty. Kids also create this unhealthy sense of work. They see their poor, working class parents constantly gripping about bills, work and finances, that they get a distaste for it and become so bad at it. Meanwhile, wealthy parents tend to involve their children in these things and give them a sense of confidence in making financial decisions.

      It really has nothing to do with the amount of money in a family’s bank account, but the outlook you instill in your children. Poor people tend to instill a negative perspective on working, money and finance while successful people have the confidence to instill their own positive perspective.

  4. karelys
    karelys says:

    Favorite post ever.

    I think it brings together all of my thoughts. And OMG! the book “The World Until Yesterday”! I have been looking for data like this!

    I’ve always thought it was so odd that there was a “mommy war” on people staying home and others working. I don’t think that there were “stay at home moms” a few centuries ago. The rich women had a household to run, kids to marry off, business to oversee, etc. The poor people worked along their kids and neighbors all the time. So either way, families were (very possibly) together most of the time and they didn’t need to talk about “quality time” because, well, they were together all the time.

    I’ve been trying to pin point my thoughts on this topic. And I am so glad you wrote it because I was all over the place but everything came together now.

    Terrific links by the way!

  5. Isabelle
    Isabelle says:

    This is so right on. I grew up poor (in most senses of the word), but even though I don’t have much money now, I have dropped the poor person’s mentality. My kids will grow up like rich kids, despite being very middle-class in our very high COL area. Really, it’s about whether you believe that your destiny is your own, or that you are a victim of circumstances, and whether you believe the same for your kids.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Yes, so much is mentality. My husband grew up on a farm where they were so, so cash poor. But they always had great meat and they always had huge space to play, and new animals and places to explore. And he spent tons of time with his parents.

      When I express horror at how poor they were he always tells me how he never felt poor. It’s so eye-opening to me.

    • Chiquita
      Chiquita says:

      Really Isabelle ? Lol. Are you going to believe you have more money than you actually do too? Because your kids will never grow up believing that nonsense. Are you going to make believe you had lavish vacations every year too like rich people do? You’re not well off if you have to delude yourself in this manner.

      You poor people are just so pathetic.

      • breanne
        breanne says:

        This is the most pathetic worthless advice I have ever read. Get over yourselves. Really?

  6. GenerationXpert
    GenerationXpert says:

    Good stuff here. Although I don’t home school, I do all these other things.

    – I pull my kids out of school for a week every February to go on a family trip. Sometimes it pisses off their teachers. I don’t care. The time off that the teachers’ union negotiated doesn’t work for my job.

    – I hate homework and my kids know it. I pulled my kids out of religious ed, because they were forcing more homework on them.

    – I refuse to sign up my kids for stuff that will require our family to be chained to the activity (for instance, my husband always says, “We’re a family, not a traveling soccer team.)

    – My kids are on the Net all the time and I find it awesome when they show my something new they learned on YouTube (one kid learned how to put her hair in a bun. the other taught her self video production.)

    – I gave my 9-year-old an inexpensive cell phone, because she takes off on her bike and we can’t find her for dinner. She knows how far she’s allowed to go, but she could be climbing a tree or at the park with her friend Anna and it’s just easier to call her.

    And people also give me flack because I trust my kids and am raising them to take care of themselves and each other. And, yes, I’m very confident that will be successful, productive members of society as adults.

    I wouldn’t say I’m wealthy, but in this instance I am “rich.”

  7. mh
    mh says:

    Oh, you mean “monied” rich.

    I’m going for “experience” rich.

    My sisters are both R-I-C-H, and for the most part, their children are joyless complainers because they spend *no* time with Mom and Dad.

    I prefer the cousins whose parents are not rich, but who do stuff together. Even if it’s cooking and fishing.

    • Commenter
      Commenter says:

      mh, it has been my observation as well that many rich families spend very little time with their children. I went to a college with many children of rich families, and many of them had started boarding school at early ages, had nannies before that, and only saw their parents rarely – a few weeks a year for some of them. Those kids were the most messed up individuals I knew at college. Consequently, paying close attention to your children and spending a lot of time with them are not things I associate with being rich. Great vacations in the few weeks a year you see them, yes. But not many moms on Park Avenue are homeschooling.

  8. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    How were you able to let him go and not have a panic attack? This is all theoretical to me right now….application will take some meds I think. I will go gray the day I let my kids fly somewhere without me.

    • Jessica Blischke
      Jessica Blischke says:

      My son started to fly alone at eight. People need to review history. Never in history have children been this coddled. To the women whom stated she would never let her children fly alone. Let your little birds fly and discover the world on their own when they come back to you and share in the riches of their discoveries you too will be all the richer. Additionally, all the extremely weathly children I know are sad, depressed and addicted to drugs. Bottom line; love your children, spend quality time with them and set them free on the world to discover and pursue their passions and above all children are mimics of what they see conduct your own affairs wisely.

  9. Sadya
    Sadya says:

    Why isn’t anyone talking about money?

    When a poor kid points at a toy , the parent says ” no we can’t afford it”.

    Rick kid does the same, parent says ” hmm, ok / but you already have so many toys/ no we already bought that other thing ….”

    Isn’t materialism a part of education? Rick kids brings better stationery to school, wear nice sneakers. Poor kids always are the ones to notice them

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I really don’t think it’s the accoutrements. I think it’s a mentality that things will be fine.

      If nothing else, my parents left us at home from 7 in the morning until 8 at night, and we rarely had the right stuff for school at any point in time. But my brother and I had the benefits of being rich kids.


    • Chiquita
      Chiquita says:

      Exactly. It is a part of social education on a personal level. Poor kids look at everything they don’t have and get very upset. But honestly, if one of them is willing to do something about it then they too can rise from the rubble they were born into with hard work/education and make a better life for themselves and their children.

      Mostly all I see on here is poor people bragging how they get things for free. Only poor people do this, because they are so grateful for the scraps that are thrown to them. People like me inherit a lot of my belongings, or I’m given as a gift for just being family.

  10. Heather
    Heather says:

    This is an interesting post. I agree with the point your making. Having been raised within a impoverished environment, it pretty was tough going to a school where most of the kids there were from wealthy backgrounds. I later spent 5 years working as a nanny, in London, for some very wealthy – and hugely successful families and the one overriding difference was the sense of freedom and confidence that was instilled in these children.

    To grow up in a world where you’re so well cared for that you’re not even aware that people have basic human needs, frees the mind to explore. It’s a huge privilege, to be born into and, interestingly, it’s also one that is often quite invisible to the receiver.

    On a personal note, although my upbringing was impoverished and littered with neglect, I had a sense of freedom, that made it feel quite natural for me, at the age of 18, to walk right out of that childhood, onto a plane, and into a new hemisphere, without any sense of loss. I learned to self soothe and be self sufficient, from a young age and that confidence has paid dividends. I started my own business at the age of 30 and am about to launch a brand new one, over the next few months. It’s not all bad, being born poor. For those of us, with one of two, good role models (mine where my English teachers), the only way is up.

  11. Yardyspice
    Yardyspice says:

    “And don’t tell yourself that it costs a lot of money to raise your kid like a rich kid.”

    This line is what I have been trumpeting for years because my husband and I are not rich but we educate our child like we are. He has these amazing experiences that are usually totally free or low cost because I have made the choice to treat him as he is not another kid on the school assembly line.

    I am a big fan of your blog and I usually just lurk but I had to respond to this post.

  12. Gabriel
    Gabriel says:

    If I may, I would like to correct the something about this article. I am very aware that the upper class, or the “rich” folk do these things because of their understanding of the world. The majority of the people who are considered as rich, have gotten to that point with at the very least, some experience as to how this world functions, and they know that there more avenues that can be taken other than just going to school. I’m glad that school was still mentioned as an important part of a child’s growth, because it is. On the other hand, although I agree with much that was said, I don’t believe that this particular mentality that is scientifically proven to be superior should be deemed as “rich” people thinking. While it remains to be prevalent among the higher class of society, it is just a state of the mind, a way of thinking, a different mentality and view of the world and it’s available options. I am glad to see that the issue of not being wealthy was addressed, because you don’t have to rich to have this kind of mentality, however, this would explain why people that reside in the “poor” class status believe that going to school is the beginning of becoming equal… Because in their minds, it is. This mentality traces it’s roots to the family’s socioeconomic history. Now, I would like to pose the question: Who will be the ones to step up and be the chain breakers of such mentalities?

  13. Michael
    Michael says:

    This is a great article.
    This is a comment from a 25 year old, with rich (money) parents, with an extremely poor person, as discussed in all the comments above.
    I can confirm that it is a mentality. Not how much money one has. My father was born into extreme wealth, only worked for his father, never graduated, partied, a lot. He was cut out of the business but still given enough money to live on. That was 20 years ago and what that has led to is a spoiled, obnoxious, irresponsible person who has learned and done very little with his life, and therefore has very little to offer to his children. To be more specific, can only offer what he knows, anguish, being unsuccessful, relying on others, having minimal work ethic.

    Parents need to be tested. If failed mandatory classes!
    I say this from the bottom of my heart, with the perspective that (it takes a village sometimes to raise a child). That used to work when people lived in villages and really knew each other. Tough to do that in a big city, which is why the testing with mandatory classes takes it’s place.

    Wow that felt great

      • Michael
        Michael says:

        That’s quite the negative attitude towards what I said.
        First off, I believe in liberty over yourself. Having that attitude changes when kids are in the picture though. You do have a responsibility now, that’s why you had a kid. To be responsible for that kid, and that means doing certain things and not doing certain things. A lot of parents figure it out on their own, and a lot don’t. And it can work differently for everyone. People are all different. A lot are wrapped up in ther own bs.
        As per your comment above, about preferring cousins who are not so monied rich but rich in experience with their family, that is not the case for a lot of people. A lot of parents do not do the things they should do to raise proper children satisfactorily.
        You said the rich kids don’t spend time with mom and dad, maybe rich mom and dad (they’re the ones who have the money, and lead the experience for the family for the better or worse) are not spending time with their kids.
        Now to the testing.
        Some, actually a lot, of parents seek out professional help on their own to help their families, in the form of guidance, group work, counselling for parents, all of which often includes written, and definitely oral and mental testing and evaluation.
        When things get really bad social workers and family support systems have to step in and evaluate the situation by questioning and examining the people and the setting.
        What I am talking about already exists, testing and evaluating of parents. It is done when some parents can admit they need to be evaluated and do so willingly. I emphasize that it is done, a lot, and willingly. It is usually necessary in these cases, and kudos to parents who honestly get help and evaluate themselves. That can be hard. But it usually helps.
        When social workers step in to a bad situation to evaluate and test parents, it is almost always necessary.
        There are a whole lot more cases that fall in the middle, but along the edges, that don’t get fixed or discussed. Parents may not know what to do. Kids may not know what to do. Kids don’t speak out. Parents mentally abuse and manipulate their kids rather than physically hurt them to leave a visible mark.
        I know, personally, my family have benefited from my parents having to be more responsible, and I would have benefited from having someone evaluate my life and my interactions with them and my taught expectations and understandings of what is normal a way to live.

        With liberty comes responsibility. We make sure parents are responsible for their child’s physical well being, and a lot of wealthy parents do that no problem. I think with further understanding of mental health, children’s mental health will be more protected and child rearing and raising will be more openly discussed. Better ways of parenting will ultimately be discovered and encouraged.

        • mh
          mh says:

          I am unclear why your unsatisfying upbringing puts you in a position to demand mandatory testing for would-be parents.

          I would be curious to know which human activities you, personally, are comfortable performing without government oversight.

          • Michael
            Michael says:

            My experience with irresponsible parents (family wealth yet chronic unemployment,substance abuse, verbal abuse, untreated mental health issues), and reflection of that experience, puts me in a unique position to make a comment if I choose. On an open comment board on a relevant article and comment thread. Demand mandatory testing? It’s a comment, suggestion, a starting point for discussion. If I could demand it though I think I would.

            Such suggestive questioning also…like I think general government oversight is good? No where have I said that. You don’t know my ideas on anything else. I’ve made two comments suggesting some form of evaluation or testing of parents I am not going to list for you all the activities I approve without government oversight, and then debate those. Also why would you, personally, like to know them all? That’s a little much for this comment board, I’d rather stick to the topic, and it’s about being responsible for yourself and your kids. Though I can tell you the list, and I would think obviously, changes when you have kids. It matters to me a lot more if you do hard drugs, or drink every day, when you are a parent as opposed to living on your own or with other willing people. It’s about being responsible for yourself and for your kids.

            Who else gets to spend extensive time around children, besides their own parents (maybe other family or close friends) in a nurturing role, without some form of testing, evaluation, coaching, mandatory classes…? Doctors, nurses, teachers, counsellors, coaches… All trained, tested. It is about making sure the parents are staying on top of their own shit and not being irresponsible themselves. The professionals mentioned above, at least the good ones that stay around and don’t get into trouble, are responsible for children.

            Im not trying to drown you out or anything with long posts, just working my thoughts to paper. Also do you agree, disagree?

          • mh
            mh says:

            Michael, at first I thought that you were being ironic, so I was mockingly engaging with you.

            Now I realize that you mean what you are saying. There is no common ground between us. Yours is the path of eugenics and the master race. I wish you well. Good day to you, sir.

  14. Chiquita
    Chiquita says:

    This blogger does not know anything about living a wealthy life style, it’s blatantly obvious. All he’s done is read some random statistics on the internet.

    Perhaps if this blogger had paid more attention in school they wouldn’t have made so many annoying grammatical errors in their blog either.

    Rich people do care about education. It is important to me my child will one day be self sufficient, rather than coast through their education and not be able to qualify for the proper universities.

    Rich people travel, but they don’t sit around in a room all day. They go out and experience the country they are in, and immerse themselves in the new culture. They go out every day and eat at nice restaurants and they shop at places you can only dream of affording one wallet from.

    So please, don’t talk about being rich like you really in reality are not.

  15. Average Kid
    Average Kid says:

    I think rich parents have higher IQ’s. Their kids then are likely to have higher IQ’s. Nurture can only do so much to compensate for a lack of natural gift, hence why extra study doesn’t level the playing field. We are all different. Some are gifted at art, music, maths, logic/puzzles etc. Very few are naturally very good most things, so must play to their strengths.
    IQ is a good barometer for how well someone is ‘likely’ to do in life. Of course IQ is useless if the individual has no ambition or drive. In contrast Someone with an average IQ can outperform someone of a higher IQ if they apply themselves better.

    I had an average upbringing, not well off but not poor either. I was lucky to have a fairly high IQ, but I’m not particularly great at applying myself. However being able to learn quickly/instinctively has saved my bacon a few times.

  16. Andrew
    Andrew says:

    I have to agree with almost everything this author writes purely from my own experience. My own parent were extremely insecure and basically weak people. While growing up when someone asked what i wanted to become in my mind i pictured to be someone as far as opposite to my father. My parent did did not have confidence and they were always afraid i would be in troble, they were always afraid of this or that. As an an adult i can surely say it has affected me. Today i am somewhat of a average earner with a degree, i’ve learned martial arts and am physically strong (something my father was not) As an adult I am afraid to have children fearing i will pass on my parents baggage on to my kids and ruin them.

  17. joe
    joe says:

    This is a stupid article. yes, rich kids grow up different, their families have MONEY! Hello McFly! While everyone else is worrying about how to BECOME rich they alredy have money and can go on vacation. CORRELATION DOES NOT IMPLY CAUSATION!

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