Parenting in Uncharted Territory

July 1, 2012 at 9:25 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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You know that scene in Caddyshack where the kid talks about the divisions of middle and upper class? All the caddies are in the lower or middle middle class, and all of the country clubbers comprise the upper middle, and lower upper through upper upper classes. For some reason that idea has always stuck with me, and growing up I would say our family fell somewhere in the lower middle or middle middle. My hubby, on the other hand, would have fallen in the upper middle, I would say. And with that come some key differences in the ways we were raised.

In our family, my sister and I never got toys unless it was A) our birthday or Christmas; or B) purchased at a summer garage sale. And for my sister with a July birthday, sometimes it was both. My mom clipped coupons religiously, and we only ate out once every two weeks. And that was always drive thru fast food. On very, very special occasions we’d go to Stephenson’s with the family. But for the most part we didn’t have much experience dining in nice restaurants. Family vacations were always taken in places we had family to bunk with, and we always took the family car. Our family cars were always used, and usually in questionable working condition. I have this vivid memory of the car dying on the highway, and my mom pleading with my father to just, please, make it past the bridge we were on so we’d be on a proper shoulder. By the time I went to college, I’d only been on a plane twice in my life. I had a cousin who sent me hand-me-downs (from the upper middle class, of course), and then those hand-me-downs would get passed to my sister. My mom would sign us up for occasional classes – swim lessons, vacation bible school, dance through the parks and rec, tumbling, acting lessons – but for the most part, our time was our own. I never remember being ferried from one activity to another like some of the other kids I went to school with. (With the exception of one very full summer when we had swim lessons, vacation bible school, and girl scout day-camp. I think my mom vowed never to book us that full again. For all our sakes!) But for the most part, our free time was our own. I remember taking my bike out in the morning and not coming back until dusk. I remember watching the older kids catch crawdads in the creek at the end of our street. And when they bulldozed the woods to build a subdivision and shopping center, I remember exploring it with my best friend, Helenmarie. When it snowed, we’d take our sleds to the hill and go up and down, totally unsupervised. We wouldn’t come home until our feet got numb. And most vividly, I remember using my imagination. I was a princess in the forest. I was an explorer charting new lands. I knew every inch of my neighborhood. We knew all the neighbors on our street. We played with the neighborhood kids. In junior high and high school, I had to use my allowance, earned by doing household chores, to pay for school lunch. Otherwise I was expected to brown bag it. If I wanted to go to a concert, I would suck it up and bring PBJ’s to school until I had enough saved up for a ticket. When I got my license, I borrowed my dad’s car when I wanted to go out. I never had my own car until I paid for it myself, in cash, my sophomore year of college.

I can’t speak for all of James’ childhood, but from what I gathered, his was very different from mine. They took vacations involving planes and hotel rooms. Cruises, even. Being an introvert, I doubt he was signed up for many activities, but I knew a lot of more well-off kids who went from soccer to flute lessons to cheerleading day after day. I have no doubts he got toys outside of the birthday/Christmas window. And while he drove a beat up Oldsmobile when I met him in college, it was a car given to him by his grandparents, and gas was paid for by this parents.

Now I find myself in the fortunate situation of raising a child in the upper reaches of middle class. I find myself at once thrilled to be able to buy almost anything my child wants when he wants it, but guilty for even thinking I should. It may not have been easy for my mom to deny my sister and I things, but she had to out of necessity. And in my mind, that would be easier than what I have to do now – deny it for his own good, even though we have the means to pay for it. It’s much harder than I ever imagined it would be. And we buy him way more things than we probably should. We don’t frequent garage sales. We have very few hand-me-downs. And I can already tell I’ll be one of those moms signing my kid up for activities and shuttling him from one to the other. Though, if Liam remains firmly in the introvert camp into his school-age years, I may do that less than I think. But now I’m starting to see why those upper middle class parents did all those things for their kids. When you have the money, you want your kid to be able to take music lessons. And to drive a safe car. And not to want for anything.

James, on the other hand, sees no issues here. He thinks we should buy Liam whatever he wants most of the time. But there’s something to be said for the way I grew up. We learned the value of money, and how to live on a budget. We learned to entertain ourselves with our imaginations. That’s not to say James didn’t learn those things, too. But it seems those are harder lessons to instill when you have more money and more scheduled activities.

Now we take Liam to Disney World every month, and we have season passes to Sea World.  We take him to nice restaurants way more than I ever went as a child. I take him on play dates with other kids who don’t live near us. I find I’m trying to grapple with wanting to provide things and activities for my child, yet teaching him the value of money and letting him use his free time for himself. It’s going to be a struggle as he ages, for sure. But growing up the way I did helps me see what it is he’s missing in the upper middle class. And hopefully I won’t fall into the trap that so many of us parents in this place do.

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