Thursday, October 29, 2009

Spoiled rotten

posted Sat, 30 Oct 2004

One of the favorite activities of those of us with no children is to talk about how children should be raised. Usually, it is not the way that those who have children are actually doing it.

The topic came up yesterday with a like-minded colleague who actually is raising her daughter in a way I find acceptable. “She turns part of that paycheck over to me every week for her health insurance,” Savannah said. “I told her, ‘Ain’t nothin’ free, honey. Get used to it. I have to pay for mine, you have to pay for yours.'”

Maybe if Marie Antoinette had been raised with a better work ethic, she might not have been sent to the guillotine.

Back when it used to cost money to make long-distance phone calls (youngsters! Ask your parents about when you used to wait until after 11:00 to call long distance!), it would startle me to hear parents complain about their children running up expensive long-distance bills. “I can’t believe how high my bill is this month!” they would moan. It wasn’t even a question at my house. If I made a long-distance call, I paid for it. My mom audited the bill. The caller paid the charges. Mom and Dad were not the long-distance phone bank.

When I got to college, I was surprised to find that there were students whose parents sent them allowances. That was in addition to paying their tuition. I was a scholarship/loan/part-time job student. It wasn’t that my parents weren’t willing to pay for my education; it was that that money just wasn’t there. One summer, I got a letter (an ancient form of communication) from a friend (who lived in Beverly Hills) telling me her mother was taking her to Europe for the summer but not telling her which countries because “she wanted it to be a surprise.” Another college friend didn’t fill out his first W-4 until his law school internship.

It is especially surprising to me to find parents whose current professional success is due to their work ethic and educational success raising their children to be everything they are not. One former boss – “Steve” – was the first one in his family to go to college. His dad was a used car salesman. Steve went to college on a scholarship, had a nasty summer job (he sold encyclopedias door to door), and has been quite successful by working very hard.

A group of us were at lunch a few days before Christmas. Steve had just gotten a phone call that his son, who was in college a few hours from here, had wrecked his car. The son was OK, but the car repairs were going to be very expensive. To add insult to injury, Steve suspected that the son had not been going to the library to study as he had told Steve – the library was only two blocks from the son’s apartment.

Steve was fuming: “Do you know how much a plane ticket is going to cost me this close to Christmas? And the car repairs?” I concentrated very hard on keeping my mouth shut because the thought that had jumped into my head was “Greyhound.” A colleague who had already put two daughters through college – and who did not report to Steve – had no such compunction. “Why is this your problem?” he asked. “Make him hitch a ride with a friend. Make him figure this out.”

Another woman I know, who went to an Ivy league school on a scholarship and who has worked her way up in a man’s world to be a vice president, is turning her daughters into princesses. One morning she mentioned she had spent the weekend cleaning the house. She had let the cleaning lady go.

This woman – “Ramona” – had two teenage girls. Her husband stays at home. Why wasn’t one of them in charge of housecleaning?

Another time, she mentioned that she had told the girls they were supposed to spend the week clearing the weeds from the back section of the yard. Once they were done, Ramona would take them shopping. “They won’t do it,” she said. “But I’ll take them shopping anyhow. They’re so spoiled!”

She jokes that her husband spoils her and the girls so much that the girls better marry rich men. I think they better marry rich men because they are never going to be able to keep a job – they don’t know how to work. These are the kids I really don’t want working at my company.

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