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"Money doesn't buy happiness" 
18 November 2012 01:05 - "Money doesn't buy happiness"
money
Posted as a comment in a friend's locked entry, something I've been thinking about:

I realized recently that the classic "I want my kids to be wealthier/higher-class than I was when I was a kid" American dream doesn't seem to be a big thing for most of my friends who have or want kids. Instead, they're focused on "I want my kids to have a more emotionally healthy/stable home life than I did when I was a kid".

Obviously that sort of thing can only be a priority if one has a certain degree of financial stability, but it's interesting to me that I hear it so clearly and frequently articulated in a way that feels very 21st-century to me. I hear much less about wanting class mobility for the next generation, and I'm not sure whether that's because class mobility happens much more rarely now--in other words, that it's easier to imagine teaching kids to be happy with what they have than teaching them to strive for better--or because happiness is generally more valued than money among my friends or what.

Is this true for you and/or your friends? Related thoughts?


You're welcome to comment on LJ, but I'd rather you leave a comment on the Dreamwidth version of this entry. The current comment count is comment count unavailable.
 
18 November 2012 06:17
My wishes and aspirations for my kids don't revolve around "more," I guess. My family life was stable and emotionally healthy; my parents were financially secure if not wealthy. I'd like my kids to find their happiness and keep it, to do right by other people and be done right to in turn.
18 November 2012 06:30
I'm really upset about the fact that even if I manage to have kids--and given some financial blows I'm taking right now (my prescription coverage caps out at $10K a year, and I'm about to go over that, and I get that I'm lucky to have coverage at all, except if the US were a civilized country, we would all have coverage, so I'm not, and anyway, I'm about to go over that cap by 2K, which I don't have, and I don't know what I'm going to do, because I can't go without my meds), that's in doubt--I won't be able to do as well by them financially as my parents did by me. I won't be able to say to them, as my father said to me, go to college wherever you want, we'll be able to make that happen. I know that's not the end of the world, but it really does upset me.

That said, it's even more important to me that my kids grow up in a household without yelling.

Honestly, I'm going to be happy if I even am able to have kids. And heartbroken if I can't.
18 November 2012 07:09
Oh, yes! I feel like I couldn't afford kids if I decided I wanted them (which I mostly don't, but sometimes I wonder). I'm very aware that I could never afford to do what my parents did for me, which was have one full time parent and pay for private schools (except for high school) and then any college we could get into.
18 November 2012 16:41
That said, it's even more important to me that my kids grow up in a household without yelling.

This.

I've recently come to the realization that my father doesn't realize he yells. How can he not realize that?!
18 November 2012 07:44
If I ever reproduce with the spouse, emotionally, Id want more financial stability than his childhood had and well, something approaching what I had, which would be difficult given that I grew up in a different time and place with parents both on good salaries when the earnings of the spouse and I are rather more asymmetric.
Emotionally healthy setting would be great too.

Im getting around to the idea of resigning myself to the idea that I cannot afford to be a parent easily, I am not fit to be a parent and not sure how to become so, and not sure I feel ethically right about adding to the worlds population or potentially condemning another being to living in a world that may become rather unbearable.

18 November 2012 09:23
I think this is going to look very different from a UK perspective, because my perception is that people in the US make little distinction between class and earning power, whereas in the UK earning power is more a common consequence of class than a determinant of what class someone is perceived to be.

Wanting one's children to be of a higher class than oneself is an attitude that, in the UK, I associate with my grandparents' generation. By my parents' generation, in my family and I think in aegidian's, it had shifted to wanting one's children to be of the same class as oneself. Both the working-class and the middle-class sides of our families seemed to have become more confident in their own class culture, to the point where wanting to be of a different class could be coded as a betrayal. I think this was probably because the economics and the culture of class are so conflated in the UK; it has historically been very difficult to move to a higher-earning or higher-status occupation without also adopting the customs and mannerisms of the class that have traditionally held that occupation. Amongst people of my own generation, what I now increasingly see is a demand to make it possible for people to have access to higher-earning and higher-status occupations without having to give up their existing culture, and I see at least some employers responding - for instance, I hear a noticeably greater diversity of accents amongst City lawyers today than I did while I was training - so perhaps we're finally starting to break down those distinctions.
18 November 2012 11:57
My aim has always been to give my kids the mental tools to achieve what they want, whatever that may be. Finances have always been tight - simply throwing money at their education has never been an option. But I can help them lay the groundwork of determination to enable them to seek out their own resources and grasp every opportunity they want to, and giving them as emotionally-stable a base to grow from.

That's not been easy; I divorced when my eldest D (the one you briefly met) was only a year old - but S and I stayed good friends, which is how K came along. I stayed on good terms with S's mother as well. The girls went to live with their dad and grandmother when they were 5 & 3, but we all worked together and I was very involved in being there for the girls. S died following a motorbike accident 6 years ago last month, and the girls came to live with me a year later.

Those aren't ideal circumstances from which to build stability, but we've all done our best, and the eldest two have a strong vein of independence as a result. K in particular has a lot of drive and ambition; she got herself into the Brit School (very prestigious performing arts academy that's produced quite a few British stars) and recently passed an audition for a special West End masterclass. She's been talent-scouted by Sony (we're waiting to hear the results). And she can do that because she's always known I'm behind her 100% and she has been raised to be confident in her abilities without resting on her laurels.

I don't think I've ever taught my daughters to be merely happy with what they have. Certainly they've learned from me how to manage with very little - but also to grab whatever opportunity comes their way. They understand life doesn't owe them a living, but at the same time I think they have a realistic idea of how much comes down to things they control and when to recognise that circumstances are beyond it.

F and any sibling she may end up with will have a more stable background, but they'll have the same emotional education, support and encouragement. They will be able to learn all the skills I and her father have, and encouraged to pick up other ones. They will make of themselves what they want and are able to achieve; notions of class really don't come into it. I will never teach a child to "just make do and never look higher".
18 November 2012 14:27
I don't have kids, although I would like to and I probably still have time. I don't plan to because, unless I find the kind of partner who I can rely on to be "the wife" in the stereotypical sense -- the one willing to go wherever my career drives, the one with the stable reliable job, the one who doesn't blow off the kids when a writing Zone hits -- I would be a fantastically shitty parent. Most artists are, in my experience, unless they've got a "wife" (of whatever gender, sometimes married and sometimes hired) to make up for the artist's erratic eccentrism. In my parents' case the wife was also erratic and emotionally unstable so basically I drew a bad hand, but most artist families I've seen have been a little better than that. (Or maybe that's the envy talking.) So stability/happiness/self-actualization is a privilege that I would love to offer my children, and which I did not have myself.

But I also don't have kids because my own existence is too marginal. I've known many women who've done it by themselves; I feel no special need to have a partner to have a child. But you need money to do that safely, and my family has no generational wealth beyond education and my mother's (underwater) house. I'm trying to scrape together the pennies to buy some property for myself, but it took me 10 years just to get out of debt when I "started out", and property values are rising way faster than my savings. So I'd be happy to be able to promise a child the same financial stability I have. Right now all I can offer is poverty, and I don't think that offers much emotional stability.
18 November 2012 15:57
I couldn't care less about the boys material wealth (yes, I want them to be financially stable, but rich isn't on my list of goals for them), I just want them to be happy & loved.
18 November 2012 16:12 - There are also elements of history and privilege here to be considered
I think the desire to give kids a chance to be wealthier or higher class is a remnant of the Great Depression--yes, even now, nearly 80 years later. Our grandparents, and in some cases, our parents, experienced a kind of deprivation unprecedented in American history, and the fallout of that privation was a desire for more-better-higher for their kids. It's the "I'll never go hungry again, not me nor my folk" thing. I also think it's a part of the immigrant experience; when you come from a poorer country to America, you want the American dream--your own home, your own business, and so on. This generation bringing kids into the world now, at least, this middle-class white generation, hasn't had that experience; they've benefited from their parents' aspirations, whether their parents were financially strapped or they were first-generationimmigrants. There's been a lot of privilege and a lot of opportunity for the people who are becoming or are parents now. With the assumption of a certain level of financial stability (as a result of the aforementioned desire), with the assumption of a little more equality in social status (and equality in general, whether racial, sexual, or other ways) comes the ability to focus one's energy on other less tangible priorities. That said, there are still segments of American society where the desire for more wealth or more social status is still a parent's first priority, places where financial uncertainty lays the groundwork for this kind of prioritization. I don't think that people in this this lesser-privileged segment are seeing that shift in values quite so across the board.

I also wonder, here in the midst of the Great Recession, whether or not we're going to see a resurgence of the desire for improved financial or social status amongst new parents. Plenty of folks are struggling these days. It wouldn't surprise me at all.
18 November 2012 16:20
I want them to be happy and loved, yes, but having struggled financially, I also don't like the pretense that money sure doesn't matter as long as you hug them. Money matters a fuck ton in making sure that you can get your kids medical care when they need it, that they live in a safe place and that, for example, if you need to get out of a bad situation you can do it instead of "we can't afford not to stay".

That rant over, I think part of it may be that being wealthier/higher-class is a) a lot more difficult than it used to be and b) involves behaving in a way that is difficult long-term. When I was a kid, it was still possible for a high-school dropout to get a factory job and expect that he could afford to send his kids to a decent college, where they would 'do better than me'. Not anymore, and there is so much upward pressure that expecting your kids to step up is not realistic when the steps are so crowded. Also, being wealthier/higher-class means ridiculous hours and uber-competitive behavior in a corporate culture where loyalty is absolutely not rewarded. It's one thing to say, I'm going to work 12-hour days and never see my kids but I'll have a stable job and they'll be better off than I will; another thing to realize that you'll get fired the first time a new kid who'll work for half your pay comes along, and you don't get those years with your family back.
19 November 2012 00:41
i don't think it's so much a pretense that money doesn't matter, as that a lot of us have simply grown up with the internalised expectation that we will make enough money to manage month-to-month without having to struggle or worry about it, and will be happy if our kids simply have more of the same. e.g. in my case my grandfather gambled his life savings away, so my father grew up very anxious that his kids have financial stability. but my dad was already reasonably well-off by the time i was old enough to know the difference, so we *had* financial stability. therefore any worries about hypothetical kids of mine being provided for financially would be more intellectual than emotional; i feel no deep need for them to be better off than i was, because i was pretty well off.
18 November 2012 16:39
I think should I ever have kids, I'd want them to have the same social/political values as me. Stability, happiness, and health are a given, they do not need to be expressed explicitly. And among my values is education, and with education often comes stable or improved wealth/class.

As someone who has always been stably middle/professional class though, and content with what class I am, I see no need to go higher, and I'd have to screw up pretty badly for any kids I have to go down in class. (And yes, I know I'm speaking from a position of relative privilege when I say that.)

Reminds me of an interesting conversation I've had with T$ multiple times: figuring out what socioeconomic class our respective families/parents are, and how they compare to each other. We've pretty much agreed "middle class" for each family, but disagree on how they compare to each other. T$ feels they're the same, that his parents went through economic hardship in the past with raising around 5 kids total on the salaries of a government worker and part-time employee, and that the house they bought was really cheap, and thus they are middle-middle class. I feel his family is highly educated (both his parents have terminal degrees), that as public employees and working in academia they have always been well into the middle class, they've sent all 5 kids to college, and they have a huge house in a high-income area, so they're at least upper-middle class, possibly upper class. Plus if you compare the spending habits of his parents to mine, they definitely have drastically different money values: his parents save for the good expensive stuff, my parents splurge because they want to see the use of their money and they want to always have enough things b/c money can disappear. It's a debate that fascinates me, in that I feel that he comes from a more privileged point of view than me, and thus is unable to see how much more privilege he has, but frustrates him because he feels I'm making a mountain out of a molehill.
18 November 2012 16:48
Class mobility is alive and well. We're just in a position to not worry about it. http://compassworkingcapital.org/index.php
18 November 2012 19:31
I commented to a friend a few years ago, "The goal is to have children less in need of therapy than I am," and he replied, "I think that's the goal of our entire generation." So yeah, that's true for us.

Now: we're a well-off family. And part of that is that we're a four-adult family in which two of the adults are currently employed in well-paying white collar jobs. (And a third will be out of school in a year and has similar earning potential on a DIY schedule, at which point we will be ridiculously well-off by my standards.)

So on the one hand it's hard to uprank - we're upper-middle-class as is. At the same time, though, I look at the world out there and I'm fucking terrified of college expenses, which were high when it was relevant for me and are now overwhelming. (And, at the same time, part of my damage is in going to college even though I didn't know what the fuck I wanted to be doing, so there's a huge set of emotional knots involved with the whole college question. Bleh.) I don't have any faith that my kids will be able to maintain class status - I didn't, on my own, after all. I married well. :P My brother didn't, either - he's got two master's degrees and can't land a damn job, though at least he has health insurance now.

Also, I get the impression that for a lot of people in my social groups who come from MC to UMC backgrounds, the 'better life than parents' model expressed in our childhoods as a really dysfunctional stuff obsession, just constant acquisition of things. And a whole lot of us are part of the backlash against that - downsizing, upcycling, back to natural roots, buy sustainable wooden toys for the kids rather than plastic, etc. - much of which is necessarily privileged both on monetary cost and willingness and ability to invest time into the process of doing it.

And at the same time, the keeping-up-with-the-Joneses stuff-obsession culture has produced some seriously wounded people. And "this stuff isn't making me happy" leads to therapy, and that leads, I hope, to a lot of people who hope their children aren't trying to generate happiness with toys, cookies, and other external medications for mental health....
19 November 2012 00:49
Connie and I have two sons and a daughter, all in their 20s. All I ever wanted for them was that they lead happy lives. I felt that at least a decent living and good health were subsumed within that wish. However, I also made it clear that what mattered for their lives was what made them happy, not what made me happy. I make a decent living, and Connie hasn't worked outside the home for 24 years, but I never cared about, nor was impressed by, high salaries or great wealth. Life is short and I want to enjoy it. I want my children to do so as well.
19 November 2012 05:21
First task: making sure the kid grows up with the emotional stability to find happiness in whatever situation he finds himself in, John Gottman-style.

Second task: making sure he grows up to have as much control over his financial prospects as possible. I'd rather he start his own business over going to college, but that will be up to him.
20 November 2012 16:48
Oh, what an interesting question.

If we do have a kid (and we want to, sometime soon), I want.. well, several things.
I want to have one.. for the experience of it (I don't mean that in a distant intellectual sense. From everything and everyone that I've ever talked to, I know that kids have a way of really _connecting_ you to life and the world, in a painful and beautiful sense). And as a long-term collaborative project with my wife. I also want to remain sufficiently selfish, focused on myself and my wife and friends etc, rather than primarily on the kid. (I also know that billions of years of evolutionary neurochemistry-hacking, as well as dominant cultural memes, will try to change our brain structure to just focus on the kid).

So, for the kid, I want them... to grow up resilient and clever and able to love. And I want to give them a better cognitive/social education than what I got. A better set of life skills. I want them to be well-matched to the world that they're coming into, as much as possible.

I like lilairen's quote, "The goal is to have children less in need of therapy than I am". Same here. I don't need them to be in a higher social class, or grow up in a happier environment, than I did. I just want them to be able to set goals and go after them, to be emotionally intelligent and have good realationship skills, and to have good relationships to work and play and money.

20 November 2012 18:08
I would be worried about being able to put a theoretical child of mine through the kind of college I'd want them to be able to go to... I'm still supporting my ex as well as myself, and if I have to pay off the $80k that my house is underwater (still in negotiations), well, that was someone's college education right there. I'm not very worried about teaching a kid of mine to be happy; I kind of take that as read. I was happy, my sibs were happy, I think I have a handle on how to create a happy and supportive home. Money is more challenging.

I am abnormal among my friends, though, in that I came from money and plenty of emotional support, and would feel stressed if I were not able to give my child every opportunity to pursue their interests and passions. Most of my friends were nowhere near as lucky as I was. So I feel like there's a really high bar for me to live up to, if I want to do as well for theory-kids as was done for me.
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