I was talking to a colleague the other day about his children. They’re in their teens. He said that the single biggest issue he and his wife argue about is how to deal with their affluence.
Not only is the whole of society enormously richer than we were thirty years ago, but if you’ve got the added change (as he had) of having jumped classes from working class to upper class, then you don’t have a road map of how much to indulge your children with things they would like to have.
I can see myself struggling with this in future too (well I already do, but at least there is no peer pressure yet). If I have enough money that I can buy a little toy for myself without really thinking about it is it fair that I should deprive my children when they would like to buy some little toy? Once we’ve got over our fear of taking two small children on a long haul flight, we really want to take them all over the world with us. But that’s a very affluent thing to do; one that certainly wasn’t available to any of my peers as a child.
Right now, the way we deal with this is to almost always buy them a book if they beg for it in a bookshop (since that is what we do ourselves), but almost never buy them anything else if they ask for it. But we do buy them toys pretty often – the limiting factor is space, not money. And we’re going on holidays to Cairns in a month’s time.
But, since we have both supported ourselves since we were 18, we also are expecting our boys to stand on their own two feet fairly early. The life I led when I started supporting myself wasn’t that different to my life being supported by my parents. I didn’t buy anything much, and I never went out anywhere (except on campus). And I was lucky, that all my peers had less money than me (as I had a scholarship).
But when my boys are supporting themselves, the contrast will be much greater with their lives before; quite possibly with their peers too. How will we handle it? And how do we bring them up to have some appreciation of what they have?
As I write this, I realise that for my parents (particularly my dad) my life was enormously more affluent than theirs as a child, too. And I think it’s taken the perspective of adulthood to realise it. So maybe I shouldn’t worry so much about them appreciating what they have. But it does feel like the gap is bigger now. The difference now is in the sheer amount of stuff we could (and often do) buy for our children.