Friday, September 14, 2012

Reality check: class and parenting

Today we learned that Mitt Romney's definition of middle class is an income below $250,000. And we collectively shake our heads at his tenuous grip on reality.

It reminds me of the undiplomatic arguments my daughter has with classmates when they declare that they are middle class when they are clearly not (unless you subscribe to Romney logic).

I don't need to see anybody's tax returns. Observing the cars lined up at kiss n drop is information enough. And then there are stories, like the family who buys a new home every time they go on vacation in the same way others pick up a small souvenir, perhaps a tea towel, to mark their adventure.

My daughter tells me that her classmates often make jokes about "hobos", the common term for the homeless here. I am more shocked by this than anything else, knowing how the people in this solidly liberal town take such pride in being good. I despair at the notion that mocking a person for their poverty is somehow acceptable; that seeing a person in such circumstances would provoke anything other than a feeling of compassion.

At dinner, my 8th grader renews his campaign to get his own laptop. He reminds us that everybody else in his grade has one and no doubt they do. I watch the food server clearing tables and tell my son to cut it out, appalled at his sense of entitlement.

I think that rather than encouraging my kids to sign up to work for a charity or overseas aid organisation in their summer breaks - a common activity for teens around here who are shaping their Ivy League applications - they should instead work in minimum wage service industry jobs. This might not look as impressive to college recruiters but will give them far more understanding of how the world looks from the other side of the counter, the side where an income of $250,000 is more impossible dream than middle class. 

My son rolls his eyes. He knows that another lecture is headed his way. I won't stop because I never want to hear a child of mine look down on a person for having less, let alone make a homeless person  their punch line.


  1. I think it is a brilliant idea. Wile times have changed, my high school and colleg retail jobs taught me a lot about how people treat people when they go from peers to salesperson/customer. It was a reality check and has made me very sure to always commend great customer service as I know how often it is taken for granted while anything negative is reported swiftly.

    1. Apologies for all the typos - that preview feature is a great thing if one puts it to use. Oy.

  2. Your fave aunt agrees with all you say, of course. So hard though to be counter cultural in this context. I think we have to experience what it's like to be 'other' in some way to really get it.

  3. Great post ... wish all who think like Mitt can read this.

    My family income has always placed us in a good position in life, yet my wife, my kids and myself have all worked minimum wage jobs in high school and college. Yes, it definitely helps to give you a sense of reality.

    Those with a sense of entitlement (and not the type your son is displaying) need to find out about how the world really is.

    1. Thanks Mark. And yes on my son. He is no different from most kids his age who want all the latest stuff, just as we did. The fact that he is surrounded by kids who seem to have it all presents some extra challenges.
      It baffles me that teens do not seem to work anymore. It is great that they are involved in lots of extra-curricular and volunteering but part-time jobs were so normal when I was growing up and provided many many valuable lessons, not to mention a sense of independence.